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National Museum of Australia

Where our stories come alive

Collection Explorer

4

Scales

Object information

Physical description

A balance for weighing babies, with a metal base containing a painted cream coloured dial and a cane basket. The balance measures up to 20 pounds in ounces. At the top of the base are curved metal arms forming a cross shape to support the basket.

Statement of significance

The South Australian Government established a quarantine station on Torrens Island in 1877 (although there had been a quarantine camp on the island since 1855). It operated as a quarantine station for humans to 1980 and for animals to the mid 1990s. The last large group of people to be isolated at the Torrens Island Quarantine Station were the passengers and crew of the P&O liner Straithaird in 1954.

For over a century the Torrens Island Quarantine Station endeavoured to protect the population of South Australia from yellow fever, cholera, plague, smallpox, typhus fever, leprosy and influenza. In 1911-12 the Commonwealth government took over the management of the quarantine station and greater cooperation and coordination with other stations around the nation was achieved. The Torrens Island Quarantine Station collection contains objects from most of the phases ofthe quarantine process employed at Torrens Island Quarantine Station during the middle decades of this century.

Most of the collection dates from the period beginning with the influenza epidemic that followed the Great War (1914-1918) and was used through to the end of post World War migration in the 1960s. Two obvious 19th century exceptions to this are the book Mayhew's German Life dated 1864 (seven years before the creation of the German nation) and a mid 19th century government issue bed believed to have come from the Port Arthur penal establishment in Tasmania. The closure of Port Arthur and the establishment of Torrens Island Quarantine Station were barely 12 months apart and it is possible that government stores were transferred from Port Arthur for use at Torrens Island Quarantine Station.

The number and comprehensive range of objects in the collection allow a wide range of possibilities for interpreting the collection and for displaying aspects of the role of quarantine stations in Australia and the experiences of those who passed through them as inmates and as quarantine staff.

The collection includes objects from management of the arrival of the suspect vessel and its passengers, crew and cargo; from the fumigation process; from the accommodation and treatment of both sick and healthy people undergoing quarantine; and from the general administration of the station, its hospital and equipment.

Object information

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