Influenza pandemic, 1919

A virulent worldwide influenza pandemic occurred during 1918 and 1919, in which up to 40 million people are believed to have died. The disease arrived in Australia through Victoria in early 1919, and spread to New South Wales by 27 January. By the time it ended in September that year, more than 6,000 people had died of the disease in the State.

Tensions were exacerbated with the return of large numbers of troops from Europe following the end of the War. The telegram from the Premier to the Acting Prime Minister reveals the concern of the authorities about possible unrest and violence that might be triggered by the strict quarantine controls.
There were also problems with aspects of the administration of border controls between New South Wales and Victoria. H S Robinson, an engine driver, was sufficiently put out to write to the Minister for Health to report that the ‘usual lot of wasters’ from a race meeting at Corowa appeared to have been given favourable treatment in being allowed to cross the border after a race meeting. This particular breach of the regulations (and hint of possible corruption) was deemed to be sufficiently serious for it to be brought before Cabinet.

The death toll from the pandemic might have been much higher, but for a variety of measures adopted by the authorities; including compulsory notification, nursing and medical assistance, hospital accommodation, extensive use of vaccination, restrictions on travel and assembly (including the closure of schools and churches), and the wearing of masks in certain circumstances.

Source: NRS 12061 Premier’s: Letters received – Special bundles 1907-76. Influenza epidemic, 1918-19. Copy of telegram 25/2/1919 from Premier to Acting Prime Minister re potential trouble from soldiers quarantined at North Head. Copy of letter 24/3/1919 from H S Robinson engine driver re irregularities in NSW Victoria border controls (prepared as Circular for Cabinet) [4/6247]

Related information

Previous Home Next