A cleft tin rat-guard fixed too close to the wharf.
The third pandemic of plague (in its bubonic and pneumonic clinical forms) struck the globe between 1894 and 1959. As Yersinia pestis spread from country to country and from continent to continent, it left behind it not only a trail of death and devastation, but also a vast visual archive. It was the first time that plague would reach and establish itself in all inhabited continents. But it was also the first time that any epidemic would be photographed. As plague spread from harbour to harbour, and amongst cities, towns and villages, so did photographs of the pandemic through reproductions in the daily and illustrated press. Rather than forming a homogeneous or linear visual narrative, these photographic documents provided diverse perspectives on the pandemic, which, more often than not, were not simply different from region to region, but in fact conflicting within any single locus of infection. Moreover this photographic production came to establish a new field of vision, what we may call “epidemic photography” which continues to inform the way in which we see, depict and imagine epidemics and their social, economic, and political impact in the age of Global Health.
An important link between British India and Europe, the British-administered port city of Aden quickly became a focus of plague-containment efforts during the third plague pandemic. Here both maritime fumigation and rat-proofing of ships was applied in an effort to eradicate rats on board of vessels and disallow the disembarkation and embarkation of rats therein. Rat guards, metallic devices attached to mooring ropes and docklines, were applied across the globe to inhibit rats from climbing in and out of boats.