Robert Koch
Relevant Non-Istrians


Malaria on Brijuni (Brioni) Island, Istria

The Brijuni (Brioni) islands were purchased in 1883 by Paul Kupelwieser (1872-1930), a retired Austrian magnate (the manager of Vitkovice steel plant in Moravia), from its former Portuguese owners. He then hired an Istrian, Alois Zuffar or Alojz C(h)ufar (1852 -1907).to supervise and manage the pioneering work that was needed to provide reasonable habitation facilities on Veli Brijun. Paul’s son Karl joined Zuffar and stayed on Veli Brijun while Kupelwieser went to England where he became very ill and nearly died of an unidentified illness. During his long absence unwieldy woods and thick macchia were cleared, the few existing buildings were made more habitable and some new paths set out using the plentiful rubble they found in the many abandoned quarries.

Paul Kuperwieser

The convalescent Paul Kuperwieser returned to his island in the summer of 1894, and started planting various tree shoots and vegetable seeds that he bought from specialized nurseries. Work was simultaneously started to construct a few new buildings together with the clearing of lands for agriculture and animal farming. An imported steam engine of 20PS ran their electric generator and geared various power tools in an improvised workshop. At first, rain water was collected into repaired cisterns, then a windmill pumped water from the natural lake into a new concrete reservoir of 200m³ situated on a dam 10m high. The former Venetian inhabitants had left an old narrow gauge railway with small tipping wagons was that was reinstated for use as transport on Veli Brijun. One utilized the plentiful stone debris from the abandoned quarries to fill up roadbeds and to build the depilated quay wall that had previously consisted only of large stones. A proper quay wall and an appropriate levee were constructed with concrete blocks some time later. In 1899, conservation works began on the ancient ruins and archaeological sites that were marked for later research.

During summer months, however, the number of malaria sick people increased rapidly becoming a serious impediment to the works in progress on. According to the local health practice this sickness was treated with strong dosages of quinine but that was rather expensive. Despite his diminishing finances Paul Kupelwieser joined a party on 7-week long visit to Egypt in 1900. He bought there 36 rooted palm trees that were 2-3m high and brought them to Veli Brijun to be replanted. The palms survived several winters but would not grow and then dwindled in numbers after a few harsh winters.

Above: The relief in memory of Dr. Robert Koch who suggested and effectively helped to eradicate the malaria plague on Brijuni Archipelago's islands. Below: the relief's inscription.

Kupelwieser read in a newspaper that Dr. Robert Koch had investigated the malaria sickness at Grosetto near Rome. He wrote to Dr. Koch in Berlin about his experiences of malaria on Brijuni. Shortly afterwards came Drs. Frosch and Elsner from Koch’s Institute for infective diseases to make an inspecton of the island. Instant examinations provided the proof of tertiary malaria cases and an abundance of Anopheles mosquitoes causing this sickness. Soon afterwards Dr. Koch arrived to conduct some simple experiments, and then measures were agreed upon on how to eradicate the mosquitoes on the Archipelago. Kupelwieser drafted a long report on the malaria and how to medically treat the illness and he submitted it to the Ministry of Health in Vienna in January 1902. This unusual report on medical matters coming from a layman created a stir at the Monarchy's Ministries, in particular because the naval engineering projects on the Archipelago were being considerably hampered by the losses of workers and soldiers suffering from malaria.

Dr. Koch returned to Veli Brijun in 1902 together with a large company of German doctors to see the progress of the sanitation work being done there. Following his instructions, all the pools and ponds as the breeding places of the Anopheles mosquito were filled and levelled in. Thus the German doctors learned first-hand how to eradicate the mosquito’s plague on Brijuni Archipelago. Later they continued with their research on other potential sites of malaria  all over Istria and some surround islands, including Lošinj and Cres. There have been no report of mosquitoes on Veli Brijun since the summer of 1903, and the malaria there was wiped out.

There is a monument in honor of Robert Koch carved in relief on a live rock, on a quarry wall above what had been one of the largest mosquito breeding places on Veli Brijun. There is also a bust of Koch (where?). This famous physician and scientist gave impetus to the prevention of malaria not only on the Brijuni islands, but also in Istria, by the drainage of swamps.

See also:

  • Biografia - Robert Koch: una vita per la scienza (Italiano) -
  • Mülder, Karsten - Malaria: Robert Koch auf Brioni (Deutsch)



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Created: Monday, October 23, 2006; Last Updated: Sunday, November 04, 2012
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