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What Plagued India and Bangalore in the late 1890s

August 12, 1898, Bangalore: A servant of the railway superintendent arrives in Bangalore from Hubli. He is inspected and tests confirm that he has the plague. That becomes the first reported case of plague in Bangalore*. 

Later, the disease gains epic proportions, taking lives of thousands of Bangaloreans. Reports suggest that there were over 10,000 deaths between September 1898 and March 1899*.

Gippsland Times (Vic. : 1861 - 1954), Thursday 1 December 1898, page 3
National Library of Australia

Where it came from

It was in China that the third big plague outbreak in recorded history occurred in the 1890s. This plague devastated many parts of India. A WHO report puts that figure at over six million between 1898 and 1908. 

In the Bombay Presidency

It is now believed that the first cases of plague occurred in Bombay as early as March, 1896. However, the first cases were reported near the docks on the Port Trust Estates in Mandvi district in August 1896. The ‘Moltanies’ who lived there are said to have had dealings with China, explaining the spread of plague in the region. Sometimes, plague was mistaken for fever or diphtheria. It was only on September  23rd, 1896 Dr A G Viegas of Bombay suspected that one of the cases he got was a plague patient.


Once matters started going out of hand, the well-known W Haffkine** was brought in to confirm that it was indeed the bubonic plague that had taken over Bombay. This was in October. Soon, it began to affect other parts of the Bombay Presidency, including Dharwar. Between June 3, 1898 and June 2, 1899, in a matter of a year, there were 147,748 cases of plague in the Bombay Presidency. The number of deaths stood at 115,084. (

In the Mysore state

According to reports and documents from the late 1890s (A report in the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 3, Issue 5, May 2013 by Dr Thriveni, Department of History, Davangere University), the Mysore government passed the Mysore Epidemic Diseases Act, II of 1897 to check the spread of disease.

An advertisement in The Ruling Chiefs of India Series No 11
Mysore, Edited by C S Raghunatha Rao. (published 1908)

Many houses belonging to those affected by plague were demolished and compensation provided. Interestingly, Bangalore’s two famous extensions, Basavanagudi and Malleshwaram were formed to accommodate people. Bangalore saw the appointment of Dr D A Choksi, a civil surgeon as chief plague officer, according to the paper by Dr Thriveni. The paper also points out that the new extension of Basavangudi was opened at a cost of Rs 22,000! Unimaginable in today’s times. Similar steps were taken in other towns in and around Bangalore, including KGF.

In the book, ‘Transactions, Epidemiological Society of London’ Volume 19, (For the session 1899-1900), there is a description of the plague outbreak in Bangalore.

An extract from the book, “As regards the value of train inspection as a plague measure, the instance of Bangalore may be quoted. Some time before plague reached Bangalore, all passengers entering the place by the several lines of railway serving it were medically inspected...” The book describes that suspicious cases were detained while those cleared would be escorted personally to their homes by the police and observed for ten days.


* Transactions, Epidemiological Society of London’ Volume 19, (For the session 1899-1900)

** Waldemar Haffkine was responsible for an effective antiplague vaccine. He conducted several field trials in India during the 1893-96 period. Suggested reading: (

The Ruling Chiefs of India Series No 11
Mysore, Edited by C S Raghunatha Rao

A report in the International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 3, Isue 5, May 2013 by Dr Thriveni, Department of History, Davangere University on plague outbreak and its eradication in Mysore (colonial Mysore).


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