The Bubonic Plague from Hong Kong to San Francisco

How did the plague travel in 1899?

The story of the Nippon Maru and its nearly 6000 nautical mile journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

In episode 47 we discussed various epidemics and pandemics and the damage they’ve done throughout history. When most people think of plagues, their minds flash to medieval times but the truth is, we were dealing with the Bubonic plague as recently as 1950.

The Ship

Nippon Maru – Built in 1898 by Sir J. Laing, Sunderland 6,178 Tons
Toyo Kisen Kabushiki Kaisha (TKK) Company

The Timeline

In 1899 the Nippon Maru made the voyage from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Qurantine set them back seven days. They were quarantined again in Honolulu before arriving to the port of San Francisco on June 27th.

  • May 21st – The Nippon Maru leaves from Hong Kong port
  • May 24th – leaves from Shanghai port
  • June 3rd – Quarantined in Nagasaki for 7 days. Leaves port.
  • June 6th – Leaves Kobe
  • June 8th – Leaves Yokohama
  • June 10th – The ship is due to arrive in Honolulu
  • June 12th – Nippon Maru late to Honolulu, bad weather blamed
  • June 13th – Three days overdue, authorities believe it may be held up in quarantine
  • June 15th – May have sailed straight to San Francisco
  • June 16th – Feared sunk
  • June 17th – Arrives in Honolulu a week late, possible contagion on board 700 tons merch and Japanese/Chinese immigrants
  • June 19th – Body of dead chinese man burned on board
  • June 20th – Quarantine is lifted and the Nippon Maru sets sail for SF 7:00pm
  • June 24th – Due to SF – No show
  • June 26th – word spreads across America that contaminated ship is coming
  • June 27th – Nippon Maru arrives in San Francisco port from Japan and China, via Honolulu

In the Media

Bubonic Plague spreads through Honolulu’s Chinatown District

The Board of Health inacted controlled burns of entire blocks of Chinatown. Until they lost control.

San Francisco refused to admit that they had a problem

The dedliest epidemics in history

Listen to Episode 47 of the podcast. “Disease on the High Seas”

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