Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (19 - 21 June 2013)

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Date of Auction: 19th - 21st June 2013

Sold for £10,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

The rare Hong Kong Plague medal in Gold awarded to Nursing Sister Sara E. Barker, Government Civil Hospital

Hong Kong Plague 1894, gold issue (Sara E. Barker) with gold suspension bar, claw tightened/refitted, mounted for wear, nearly extremely fine £6000-8000


Ex Sotheby’s June 1973 and July 1980.

Sister Sara E. Barker was one of the nurses commended by Colonial Surgeon Dr L. B. C. Ayres, in a submission to the Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 30 July 1895. He wrote:

‘I have the honour to address you on behalf of the Matron and Nursing Sisters of the Government Civil Hospital of Hong Kong concerning the very great service they rendered during the Epidemic of Plague in the Colony last year.

These Ladies trained in the London Hospitals were by the terms of their agreement when appointed to their present posts, only bound to serve in the Government Civil Hospital, but on the outbreak of the Plague they one and all volunteered for duty at the Government Plague Hospitals.

When they undertook this duty I recommended to the Government, - that for the time they were so employed they should receive an allowance equivalent to half their pay in addition to their usual pay, this would amount to $30 (Mexican) per month or equivalent to $3, for the three months they were on duty, this would amount to $9 extra pay. This was at the time sanctioned by the Government, But up to the date of my departure from the Colony on leave on the 1st May 1895, it had not been paid to them, that was seven months after the Plague had ceased.

I submit for your consideration that this is but small recognition by Government of the services of these Ladies, whose noble example brought others to the assistance of the Government. To all of them it entailed doing double day, both those remaining at the Government Civil Hospital, and those on duty at the Plague Hospital doing twelve hours consecutive work.

It was arranged from the first that their duties should alternate weekly, to relieve them as much as possible, but changes in some cases had to be made more frequently owing to the exhausting nature of their work at the Plague Hospitals, and at the end of this Epidemic it had told on the health of all of them more or less severely, so they had to be sent on short leave to recover their health. Those who had suffered most were sent first as they could be spared. In one case, that of Sister Gertrude Ireland, it was deemed necessary to send her home to England.

It is most difficult to describe the horrors of the work the Sisters undertook, they had the risk of infection from a disease at that time little known but those terrors are historical. The majority of their patients on admission being in a state of furious delirium, needing constant attention and causing the most distressing scenes. They had to serve for long consecutive hours in wards where the heat of the atmosphere, in spite of the finest ventilation that could be given, was most oppressive, amid odours of the most offensive description from the involuntary exertions of the patients, whom they had to clean.

Besides which there were the fetid suppurating sores they had to dress, all with in the overpowering fumes from chloride of lime, carbolic acid and other disinfectants. This work they did cheerfully during the hottest months of the year, work sufficient to try the nerve and endurance of the strongest men.

That the danger they ran was a real one had they not been very careful in carrying out their instructions, it is sufficient to state that one of the Sisters of the Italian Convent contracted the disease while nursing Plague patients, and died within three days.

The devotions of these brave ladies in the performance of their duties has received the recognition of the citizens of the Colony, but I submit for your consideration that they have well earned a recommendation to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen for the Order of the Red Cross, which if granted would I am sure be acknowledged with gratitude, and give great satisfaction to the community of Hong Kong.

The work done by the Sisters during this trying time has done much to overcome the dislike of the Chinese to the Government Civil Hospital mentioned by the Medical Commission lately when reporting on the Medical Staff of the Colony.  It has now become so popular with the Chinese that it is difficult to find room for the applicants for relief, instead of as hertofore when many beds remained empty in the Wards for the Chinese.

Few greater benefits have been conferred on the Community of Hong Kong than the appointment of the Ladies and Nursing Sisters to the Government Civil Hospital, and none better appreciated.

The following are names of the Sisters on the Government Civil Hospital Staff in full as far as I am able to give them;

Matron Clara Eastmond
Sister Emma Gertrude Ireland
Sister Eliza Francis Higgin
Sister Catherine McIntosh
Sister Gertrude Annie Brookes
Sister Caroline Walker
Sister Evelyn M. Palmer
Sister Sara E. Barker
Sister Anna E. Penrudocke

In the earnest hope that this representation may meet with your approval,
I have the honour to be, etc etc’

Additional information about the Hong Kong plague outbreak of 1894 in general, and further biographical information on medal recipients including Sara E. Barker, may be found in The Whitewash Brigade: The Hong Kong Plague of 1894, by Platt, Jones and Platt.