Using quarantine as a method of reducing the spread of disease in the population is a very old idea. The Bible (Leviticus chapter 13) goes into great detail about keeping leprosy victims separate from everyone else. When we do not have a cure or a vaccine, the only way to prevent the spread of a disease is to isolate those with it as we did in 2020 with Cavit 19.
Islands have often been used as quarantine stations as, being surrounded by water, it is easy to keep the patients separate from the rest of the population.
On December 24th 1872 Motuihe was purchased from Robert Graham for 2,500 pounds for a quarantine station because a ship with cases of small pox on board arrived in the harbour and the entire island was set aside as a human quarantine station by the Board of Health of the Port of Auckland. Work started soon after on establishing the necessary buildings. These included two large barrack buildings made from timber salvaged from the Albert Barracks during its demolition, hospital wards, a brick fumigation building with a tall chimney, stables and a cemetery, but the cemetery was rarely used. The “Dorrette” was the first vessel to be quarantined in 1874, (NZ Herald 16 April 1874: 2/2) but the first burial in the cemetery was of Mary Long, a 16 year old passenger on the “Hydaspes” who died of scarlet fever the same day that the vessel arrived at Auckland, 6th November 1874.
One of the two buildings built for the quarantine station.
The South eastern end of the island was used for animal quarantine purposes by the Department of Agriculture from 1892, and continued until 1941. The quarantine periods for animals were 14 days for horses and 6 months for dogs, sheep, pigs, cows, bulls, and racehorses.
1918: Spanish Flu:
Motuihe was closed as an internment camp on 17th December 1918 after the 80 interred aliens had been transferred to Narrow Neck Camp at Devonport. In 1918 an influenza epidemic swept the country and a small line of seaman's graves to the north dates from this time.
In November/December of 1918, the Makura was quarantined at Motuihe with influenza on board. The tragic epidemic of the Spanish Flu which ravaged the world in 1918, including Auckland and the Dominion, killed 200 million people worldwide and 6,700 in New Zealand. Five graves in the cemetery date from this period.
The mail steamer Niagara returning from England was detained here during that time as there were passengers infected with the virus. However the Prime Minister, Bill Massey, who was on board, controversially insisted on continuing to Auckland with the remainder of the passengers and crew, despite the risk to the population.
Ethel Browning is buried here in the cemetery. Ethel came over to Motuihe to be with her husband who was captain of the Makura. While here she helped to nurse those who were sick with the flu, but caught it herself, and died. She is buried here together with those others who succumbed. Members of her family visit the island from time to time.
The graves from this period are the following: Private F. D. Bradbury (died 12th November 1918); Kenneth McLeod (died 6th November 1918); Thomas Rowan (died 9th November 1918); J. Johnston (died 10th November 1918); Ethel Browning (died 19th December 1918).
The graves on Motuihe following the 1918 flu epidemic.