The opening up of the Levant trade, following the relocation of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company to Southampton in the early 1840s, brought the issue of a local lazarette - or quarantine hulk - to the fore.

A quarantine station had existed for many years on the Motherbank, off Ryde in the Isle of Wight, restricted to a summary quarantine of passengers and crew and to the fumigation of letters before being forwarded to London. However, if the vessel brought in as little as single bale of goods as cargo, it was compelled to visit the only lazarette in the south of England, at Stangate Creek on the Medway, to undergo more extensive quarantine. The lazarette at Milford Haven offered the only alternative.

This restriction threatened Southampton's position as the natural port for P & O's lucrative trade with Constantinople. The company's vessels may leave Southampton fully freighted, but having performed pratique at Stangate Creek it was logistically more sensible to take their cargoes on to London, and pick up new cargoes here, thus bypassing Southampton altogether.

In early 1844, memorials signed by 60 to 70 tradesmen of the town were sent to the Lords of the Treasury from both Southampton Town Council and the Pier and Harbour Commissioners praying that a lazarette be established either at Calshot Hove - just within and on the right of Calshot Castle, sheltered, with 10 to 15 fathoms of water and away from the main navigation channels - or on the Brambles Bank at the mouth of the estuary. The chief proponents were Joseph Stebbing and the energetic collector of customs, Samuel Pryce Edwards, who used his influence within government to support the memorials. The only opposition came from members of Royal Southampton Yacht Club, fearing that yachtsmen might avoid Southampton from apprehension of infection.

The Lords of the Treasury ruled out a mainland lazarette but decided to upgrade the existing facilities at the Motherbank. The Menelaus hulk was converted into a lazarette, with a full complement of crew - its officers mainly from Stangate Creek - and equipped with lifting equipment. Launched from Portsmouth Dockyard in April 1810, the Menelaus was a 38-gun fifth-rate frigate. In 1812 she was part of the naval fleet blockading Toulon. Transferred to the Atlantic service, she saw service in 1814 in the war with America, mainly off the coast of Maryland. Her captain, Sir Peter Parker, was killed during an engagement off Baltimore. She was laid up at Sheerness in 1818 and hulked in the 1830s. She continued as a quarantine ship off Ryde until sold for dismantling in May 1897. The first ship to use the lazarette was the P & O steamer Braganza. This set the pattern of use. She had sailed from Southampton on 26 October 1844 for Constantinople with a cargo largely of British manufactured cottons and woollens for Greece, Turkey and Egypt. She arrived back from Constantinople at the Motherbank on 14 December 1844. Two days later the order for the liberation of the passengers from pratique was received, and one of the company's steamers brought them to Southampton. The Braganza had on board 150 boxes of dried fruits, 233 cases of silk, 154 cases of goats' hair and 400 packages of sundries. All were delivered to the lazarette, with the exception of the dried fruits and other "not enumerated" articles not subject to fumigation. With the Braganza occupied at the Motherbank, the Pasha steamer brought the fruit into Southampton docks for onward transmission by railway to the London markets. The Braganza herself came into Southampton docks on 17 December, unloading the last of the figs and raisins. Her silks, goats' hair and other articles stayed in quarantine at the Motherbank, undergoing fumigation, for a further 15 days. They were then removed to the bonded warehouses in Southampton docks.

Many in Southampton thought a lazarette to be an irrelevance, a product of that "plagueomania" unleashed when the day steam-voyages to Alexandria began. To the Liberal Hampshire Independent, all quarantine regulations were an abrogation of free trade. Much was made of the absence for many years of any imported infection. This was a fool's paradise. In 1847, the Motherbank lazarette was taking in fever victims among Irish emigrants escaping the potato famine. A year later, it was housing cholera victims.


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