Mystery apparatus

sebian barrelbure 3










An apparatus made from barrels played an important public health role in the early 20th century.

What is the name of the apparatus shown in these photos ?

Where and when was it used?    What was it used for?

There is a clue in the second photo which is a reconstruction, not the original,  made by the National Museum of Valjevo,

the photos are taken from  with permission.

Posted in Quiz.


  1. From your clue of Valjevo, I wonder if these are disinfection barrels or ‘Serbian barrels’ used to disinfect clothes during the great Serbian typhus epidemic of 1914-15. They were used to great effect by the British Military Sanitary Mission to Serbia under Dr William Hunter. Hunter and his unit did a remarkable job in controlling the epidemic very quickly. Later he wrote to The Times on 29th November 1917 a very generous tribute to Elsie Inglis and a unit of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals who had arrived to help. “…No more lovable personality than hers [Elsie Inglis] or more devoted and courageous body of women ever set out to help effectively a people in dire distress, than the Scottish Women’s Hospital.”
    (Having writen all that I hope it is the correct answer!)
    I’ve come across a recent blog which suggests that the Austro-Hungarian forces left a large number of louse infested wounded at Valjevo as a deliberate act of bacterial warfare. Does anyone know if that is credible?

    • Yes Iain you are correct. I think the Serbian barrel came in various versions but basically steam was used the kill the lice. Wooden barrels were chosen because they were abundant in Serbia. The B+W photo seems to show several barrels linked up to a steam generator by pipes. The museum reconstruction is a smaller version with the steam generated by a heated container below the barrel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.