Lock hospital

Cartoon showing inmates of a lock hospital, 1802. The man at left is undergoing paracentesis (draining of fluid from the abdomen). In the centre, one patient reads handbills for quack medicines. At right, a prosperous and smug apothecary (pharmacist) rides in a coach with footmen; his family motto is Memento mori, "remember you shall die."
London Lock Hospital, 1831
Plan of the lock hospital of Southwark: it includes a "pleget room," devoted to the changing of dressings.

A lock hospital was an establishment that specialised in treating sexually transmitted diseases. They operated in Britain and its colonies and territories from the 18th century to the 20th.[1]


The military had a close association with a number of the hospitals. By the mid-19th century most of the larger army bases in India were home to a lock hospital.[2] There were more military than civil lock hospitals in India, due to the prevalence of venereal diseases amongst British troops.[3] In 1858 the Admiralty paid to have one opened in Portsmouth and in 1863 another in Plymouth.[4]

The earliest lock hospitals in India were established around 1797 at Berhampur, Kanpur, Danapur, and Fatehgarh. They were usually within bazaars, surrounded by a mud wall and staffed by a doctor and a female nurse. The local police were in charge of rounding up women suspected of being diseased, who could return home only after obtaining a certificate of discharge.[5]

Lock Hospital operated in Hong Kong from 1858 to 1894 to deal with venereal diseases.[citation needed]

The term "lock hospital" originates from their use as leprosariums, after the "locks", or rags, which covered the lepers' lesions.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Loundes, Frederick W. (1882). Lock Hospitals and Lock Wards in General Hospitals. London: J. & A. Churchill.
  2. ^ Dartnell, George R. (1860). "On the prevalence and severity of syphilis in the British army and its prevention". British Medical Journal. 1 (174): 317–319. doi:10.1136/bmj.s4-1.174.317. PMC 2252720.
  3. ^ Sehrawat, Samiksha. "Institutions: Lock hospitals: Measures to halt venereal diseases". Medical History of British India. National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  4. ^ Stark, Suzanne J. (1998). Female Tars: Women aboard ship in the age of sail. Pimlico. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-7126-6660-2.
  5. ^ Wald, Erica (5 May 2009). "From begums and bibis to abandoned females and idle women". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 46 (1): 5–25. doi:10.1177/001946460804600102. S2CID 143874173.
  6. ^ "Lock Hospital, Hyde Park Corner". Sara Douglass, Old London Maps. 2006. Retrieved 2010-02-02.

External links

  • Reports on Lock hospitals in India
  • Australian news article about Bernier and Dorre Island history
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