The album, most likely compiled by Dr.
C. H. B. Adams-Wylie, the plague medical officer at the General Plague Hospital in Poona
(Pune), India, from 1897-1898, records the work of that hospital in great detail. The
photographs portray the daily work of the hospital and include portraits of hospital staff,
views of the hospital wards and grounds, and detailed close-up studies of plague patients.
Photographs taken outside the hospital compound document the measures instituted by Pune's
Special Plague Committee and enforced by the British and native soldiers, such as forced
house inspections and the holding of residents within observation and segregation
Bubonic plague, as part of the widespread third plague pandemic, reached the Indian
subcontinent from China, where it had first appeared in 1855, around 1896. Appearing first
in coastal cities, it spread to the inland city of Poona (Pune) in the state of Maharashtra
late in 1896, and by February 1897, with a raging mortality rate double the usual epidemic
norm, half the city's residents had fled to outlying areas. In order to bring the plague
under control W. C. Rand, an Indian Civil Service officer and head of Pune's newly-formed
Special Plague Committee, instituted what were seen by the native population as excessively
strict safety measures. These included the use of British and native troops to enforce entry
into private dwellings for the examination of occupants and the discovery of afflicted or
deceased persons; removal of residents to hospitals or observation and segregation camps;
the destruction of possibly contaminated personal possessions; preventing plague victims
from entering or exiting the city; restriction of the burial of plague victims to designated
rather than traditional burial grounds; and the banning of traditional Indian medical
practices. Although the extreme measures quickly brought the epidemic under control,
response to their severity fomented rebellion in an already politically charged district.
Despite the fact that the measures were lifted a few months later on May 19, resentment was
such that on June 22 Rand and his military escort, Lt. Ayerst, were assassinated by the
Chapekar brothers on their way home from the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee
at Pune's Government House. Such events, along with the spread of plague to rural areas,
caused the British government to switch tactics and focus instead on mass inoculation using
the plague vaccine developed by Waldimar Haffkine, a Russian Jewish bacteriologist.