The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789

Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, June, 2008 by Craig Mear

In April 1789, just over fifteen months after the First Fleet of British convicts, sailors and marines had arrived in Port Jackson, the Aborigines of the Sydney region were seen to be dying in large numbers in the vicinity of the British settlement and up the harbour towards the Heads. Why did these Aborigines die in 1789?

From the journals of the British in the First Fleet it is clear that they died from a smallpox virus, for the people of the First Fleet knew smallpox when they saw it. In Britain it was universal. (1) People in cities lived with it every day of their lives. In the country, periodic epidemics swept through towns and villages killing large numbers. In spite of the growing widespread practice of inoculation in Britain during the late 1700s smallpox was still common, and apparent on the pock-marked faces of survivors walking the streets. It is also clear from the writings of the First Fleet diarists that the Aborigines in the Sydney region had never encountered this disease before, and, as a naive (previously untouched) population, died in their droves when it struck. Not one of the journal writers remarks on any smallpox scarring among them from the time of the Fleet's arrival till April 1789.

Studies of the impact of other smallpox outbreaks in other parts of the world estimate the death rate in naive populations at between 50 and 70 per cent. (2) This is due mostly to the lack of that immunity found in populations already exposed to smallpox. Communal living and the fearful reaction to this virulent and frightening disease by those lucky enough to avoid it or condemned to get it but still to show symptoms, no doubt contributed to the death toll. Unable to understand or counter the sickness they often fled, leaving the sick with some food and water to fend for themselves. First Fleet journal writer Midshipman Newton Fowell of H. M. S. Sirius confirmed this in a letter to his father when he wrote that the British found the Aborigines:

  • laying Dead on the Beaches and in the Caverns of Rocks, forsaken by the rest as soon as the Disease is discovered on them. They were generally found with the remains of a Small Fire on each Side of them and some Water left within their Reach. (3)

So the Aborigines fled the scene of disaster, thus spreading it further along the coast and to the hinterland, until it was carried down the Murrumbidgee River to the Murray and Darling Rivers. Remnants remained, but the loss of productive members of society badly disrupted hunting and gathering leaving many to suffer, and rendering those with the virus even more likely to die. Others would have drifted back from exile, but the die was cast for the groups close to Sydney. Only those aged five to fourteen, the age group least susceptible to smallpox, would have retained a significant proportion of their numbers. Mature adults, the leaders of society, would have been reduced by at least 50 per cent, while the losses of pregnant women and children under five, who were most susceptible to dying from smallpox, (4) added another nail in the coffin of the Aborigines in Sydney and the southern regions, including areas as far away as South Australia, where the virus was carried. The field was now open to the British newcomers to create their society with little effective resistance from the Indigenous people.

The British had not seen smallpox in anyone among themselves in their time in Australia. Although there were fears about the health of some of the convicts embarking in England, none of them had smallpox, and Surgeon General to the First Fleet John White dismissed these health problems as being 'slight inflammatory complaints' (5) after inspecting the convicts. There would have been scarring on the faces of some but this only proved their immunity. They could not carry the virus. Smallpox is contagious for approximately two weeks while the sufferer develops rashes and festering pustules. After that the sufferer dies, suffers blindness or survives with the sores. (6) By then the virus has passed to someone else for the same brief period, but importantly it cannot lie dormant in a carrier to explode on an innocent people such as the Aborigines in Sydney in 1789. (7)

Some in the First Fleet, and others since, have blamed La Perouse and the French for the arrival of smallpox in Sydney, but this is impossible for the same reason. As J. H. L. Cumpston, Director of Australia's Federal quarantine service, wrote in 1914 any incidents of smallpox among the Aborigines, even if they had not been a naive population, would have been apparent to the British in 1788 as they explored the Sydney region. The devastation in the Sydney population seen between April and June 1789, was enormous and not something such keen observers would miss if smallpox had taken hold earlier.

Apart from the British and French ships, which arrived in Sydney in January 1788, no other ships had approached Sydney before the epidemic struck. H. M. S. Supply had been to Norfolk Island and back, but as that place was previously uninhabited it was not the source. The only ship to come from outside the two tiny settlements in this outpost on the far side of the world, the Sirius on its return trip from the Cape of Good Hope with supplies, arrived well after smallpox had been observed. Lieutenant William Bradley gave one of the first indications of the severity of the disaster which had just struck the Aboriginal population of Sydney when he described his shock at the small number of them to be seen on the harbour and its shores compared with previous times, as the Sirius made its way to Sydney Cove. (8)

So why did this virulent human virus erupt and strike down perhaps up to 70 per cent of the Aborigines in Sydney who had never before encountered it in their thousands of years of occupation of the area?

There are two theories as to why this happened. One argument, originally put forward by the pathologist John Cleland in 1911 and supported by Alan Frost in Botany Bay Mirages and more recently by Judy Campbell in Invisible Invaders, a detailed study of smallpox in Australia, has it originating from Macassan 'trepangers' who began visiting the north coast of Australia, specifically the Coburg Peninsula, in large numbers after around 1700. In this thesis the virus travels from the north-west and either over the Great Dividing Range and down the coast to Sydney, or down the Darling River before crossing the mountains to Sydney. From here it moves back inland along the rivers to South Australia.

The thesis most commonly supported before this one is that the Variolous matter (smallpox) brought, according to Lieutenant Watkin Tench, in bottles by the surgeons was released either accidentally or with clear intentions. This is the theory that J. H. L. Cumpston postulated in the early 1900s and that Noel Butlin put forward in Our Original Aggression. The British authorities, a group or an individual, may have released it and Butlin speculates without evidence that the Eora themselves may have accidentally done it.

This paper focuses on the thesis that supports the Macassan introduction of smallpox, and finds that it fails to establish a convincing case, creating more contradictions than answers to the question of where the smallpox epidemic in Sydney originated. The paper comes to the conclusion that the theory of an introduction by the British offers the most feasible explanation for the outbreak of smallpox in Sydney and the south.

How did the smallpox virus get to the Sydney region in 1789?

Judy Campbell in Invisible Invaders argues that the Macassan trepangers, looking for beche-de-mer (sea slugs), a delicacy in Asia, brought the virus with them on the north-east monsoon winds, mainly to the Coburg Peninsula, and infected the local clans. They had been coming to this coast for hundreds of years, yet this was the first time that they had brought the deadly virus with them. When the Macassans left on the south-east monsoon winds the Aboriginal clans, either fleeing or moving to new ground in the dry, spread the virus across sparsely populated territory to the eastern seaboard of Queensland or to the Darling River country. From either area it spread to Sydney. Campbell is vague about exactly which route smallpox took for a good reason. There is no convincing evidence that it was in the Northern Territory, Queensland or on the Darling in the 1780s. Indeed, the only known source of smallpox in Australia at the time was held by the British at Sydney Cove.

The basic premise of Campbell's thesis, is founded on the finding by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the smallpox virus becomes inactive over a period of time in intensely hot and humid conditions. (9) This has led to most recent historians and commentators dismissing the possibility of the smallpox brought out with the First Fleet still being active nearly two years after the Fleet left England. Likewise it has led to the dismissal of the possibility of smallpox in fomites (clothing or bedding) being responsible. Doubts, however, must be raised about the validity of this presumption on a number of grounds.

Firstly, the tests used to determine the infectivity of smallpox virus, on which this presumption is based, were carried out at a temperature of 35[degrees] centigrade over a period of weeks. These tests carried out by Huq in 1976 showed that, 'infectivity fell off rapidly at 35[degrees] centigrade, but at 4[degrees] centigrade viable virus was still present after 16 weeks'. (10) The authors of Smallpox and its Eradication go on to note that the inactivation of the virus at various temperatures occurs rapidly at first then drops to, 'a much slower rate' (11) then ask whether, 'this phenomenon provides an explanation for the successful long-distance transportation of vaccina virus ... during the 19th Century'. (12)

Certainly the First Fleet never faced temperatures approaching 35[degrees] centigrade on its voyage. Surgeon White records the top temperature on the voyage as 85[degrees] Fahrenheit (29.5[degrees]C) in June 1787. (13) Temperatures varied considerably on the voyage and there must be doubts about the inactivation of smallpox in these circumstances. In July 1788 Lieutenant Watkin Tench wrote that, 'The thermometer has never risen beyond 84, nor fallen lower than 35, in general it stood in the beginning of February at between 78 and 74 at noon'. (14) The extremes of heat now taken for granted in a Sydney summer did not occur in 1788 and would not have affected the virulence of smallpox matter held in the settlement.

Upham Steadman in 'Smallpox and Climate in the American Southwest' discusses research conducted to 'determine the optimal climatic conditions that favour the persistence of Variola virus outside of a host'. He cites research by Downie and Dumbell 1947, MacCallum and McDonald 1957, Mitra et al. 1974, and Huq 1976. From their results Steadman concludes that, 'in environments with temperatures between 22[degrees]and 30[degrees]C and with relative humidities between 25% and 55%, Variola virus remains stable and infective for a number of years'. (15) The idea that smallpox brought out by the First Fleet would necessarily have become inactive, particularly if it were stored sealed in glass, out of sunlight, over the time between leaving England and April 1789, is therefore questionable.

Another problem with the results published by the World Health Organization was that, 'unfortunately, except for ceiling temperature [the highest temperature at which the virus remains infective] tests with alastrim virus, there was no laboratory test of which the results were invariably correlated with virulence for man'. (16) Apart from admitting no direct link of the loss of infectivity for people, this statement makes it clear that the tests were conducted on the mildest form of smallpox, alastrim, or Variola minor. Jonathan Tucker described the difference thus:

Variola major caused a serious disease that killed between 10
percent and 30 percent of its victims, whereas variola minor gave
rise to a much milder illness called alastrim, with a case
mortality rate of less than 1 percent. (17)

In Smallpox and its Eradication the authors compared the 1 per cent fatality rate for Variola minor with that of Variola major stating that:

Different strains of variola virus differed in their virulence ...
Most strains, for most of history, were associated with much higher
case-fatality rates (5%-15%, and more commonly about 25%); these
strains are designated variola major virus. (18)

It would appear to be an unrewarding exercise to compare the inactivation of the virulence of Variola minor and that of Variola major, especially telescoping the results of tests carried out in the 1970s, to conclude that these are relevant to the infectivity of a strain of the smallpox virus in the late 1700s.

There have been, in fact, various strains of smallpox over time and place, and records show that although present in epidemic form in Western Europe for hundreds of years it was more destructive in certain centuries than others. By the end of the seventeenth century, Variolous major had clearly succeeded plague, leprosy, and syphilis as the continent's foremost pestilence. (19) It was, however, in the eighteenth century that smallpox was at its most virulent. The 'London Bills of Mortality' show that smallpox, 'recorded an average of 210 deaths per 100,000 persons ... between 1647 and 1700 ... whereas between 1701 and 1800 they recorded an annual average of 300 deaths from smallpox per 100,000 persons'. (20)

The authors of Smallpox and its Eradication recognise this by discussing types of Variola major such as 'haemorrhagic' and 'flat' adding:

that with a virus that was initially extremely virulent, several
different strains which differed substantially in virulence arose
within a few years and persisted in nature ... it seems highly
likely that a similar range of strains of variola virus of
different virulence for man occurred in countries in which smallpox
had been endemic for years. (21)

A case fatality of 5 per cent in England at the end of the sixteenth century, 'rose to over forty percent by the middle of the nineteenth century'. (22) The strain in Bangladesh was more potent than that in Brazil during the twentieth century, again showing the difference in time and place. Razzell expands on the variants in smallpox viruses by posing the idea that some are more efficient in various temperatures. He discusses the work of Dumbell, Bedson and Nizamuddin, 'who have successfully produced a thermo-efficient strain of variola major virus. Two strains were grown at increasing temperatures ... and both became genetically stable viruses capable of greater growth at higher temperatures'. (23) Some virus strains are more efficient at higher temperatures.

Conversely Razzell writes that 'cold variants' of the smallpox virus were created by inoculators continually taking the virus from skin pustules where the temperature was lower than deeper in the body. (24) These differences in smallpox strains add to the uncertainty around the findings of the World Health Organization's tests on smallpox infectivity. It seems clear, then, that tests carried out in the late twentieth century when smallpox was on the wane in the world do not necessarily help our understanding of the virulence of smallpox in the eighteenth century. It is believed that the British supply of smallpox brought to Sydney with the First Fleet was in liquid form soaked in cotton wool, upon which it would have dried, (25) the traditional European method of storing the matter. The Chinese stored and used smallpox matter that came from dried scabs. This appears to have had a much longer shelf-life. Fenner et al. acknowledge this when they write, 'variola virus in scabs is, for a virus, very resistant to inactivation, especially at moderate temperatures and out of sunlight', (26) and note that, 'in temperate climates smallpox scabs retain infectivity at room temperature for several years'. (27) Further to this they write that:

Downie and Dumbell (1947) recovered variola major virus from crusts
stored at room temperature, in the dark or in daylight, for up to 1
year; Wolff and Croon (1968) recorded the persistence of viable
alastrim (variola minor) virus in scabs kept in envelopes in a
laboratory cupboard for over 13 years. (28)

It is instructive to look more closely at how this occurred. Wolff and Croon had not planned to use the scabs and had left them in unsealed envelopes in a cupboard in their laboratory, that is, subject to any changes in the environment. Their description of the changing conditions in the laboratory is worth quoting as it shows clearly that the heat and humidity faced by the First Fleet on the voyage out, and during the fifteen months in Sydney would not necessarily have affected the infectivity of the smallpox supply it carried.

In winter, the temperature of the laboratory in which the cupboard
containing the envelope with scabs was situated was kept above
20[degrees]C in the daytime, but might drop as low as 15[degrees]C
at night; during week-ends the temperatures were slightly lower. In
summer, temperatures as high as 30[degrees]C were noted on some
occasions, but, again, the night temperature would be 15[degrees]C
or sometimes even lower. The relative humidity in the laboratory
varied from 35% to 98%. As an egg-incubator was situated in the
laboratory, air saturated with water vapour at a temperature of
39[degrees]C was blown into the room. This egg-incubator, however,
was used at irregular intervals. (29)

It is clear that smallpox virus could retain its infectivity over a long period in high humidity and at relatively high temperatures. That smallpox matter retained its infectivity over an extensive period of time is confirmed by the vicar of Mid and South Yell who described the work of Johnny Notions (John Williamson), an inoculator in the Shetland Islands during the late 1700s, who used matter that he had kept for years. (30)

Not only was it possible to store smallpox matter in a cold climate such as Scotland's, but it was also possible to store it in hot climates. Regarding the lifespan of smallpox infectivity Razzell quotes J. Z. Howell's book on variolation in India, published in 1767, in which he states that the Indian inoculators always used 'matter from the inoculated pustules of the previous year'. (31) Indeed it appears that hot temperatures affected infectivity in an unexpected way. Thomas Christie writing about Sri Lanka, 'claimed that the higher temperatures in that island, and the adjoining continent of India, meant that variolation in general was less successful than it was in European countries', because it was responsible for more deaths from inoculation. (32) More deaths because the matter was too strong.

Fomites too, posed a threat to an unwary population. From their study, Wolff and Croon also speculate about smallpox outbreaks in post World War Two Europe that, 'It is conceivable that some of these may have originated through the infection of individuals coming into contact with scabs present in old clothes, rags or books'. (33) The first epidemic of smallpox in South Africa arrived in Capetown on the clothing of sailors who had suffered the virus en route from India in 1713. It spread first to the laundry women who washed the clothes and then throughout the community, spreading, 'like wildfire' and killing Europeans, slaves and especially the Khoikhoi tribespeople. Like the Cadigal later in Sydney the 'Strandloper tribes virtually ceased to exist'. (34) Smallpox fomites could infecta previously untouched population, and they could remain infective after long sea voyages.

Stories of infection of naive populations through fomites in clothing, cloth or blankets abound in New World history, beginning from the time of the Spanish conquest of Central and South America and going through at least until the twentieth century.

Adrienne Mayor wrote that:

The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss reported with disgust that
by 1900 the Indians of Brazil had been methodically wiped out by
wealthy creoles whose "favourite pastime had been to call at the
hospital for the clothes left behind by those who had died of
small-pox; these they would then strew, along with other presents,
along the lanes still used by the natives". (35)

Most of the accounts of smallpox infection through fomites come to us from folklore, oral history or histories written well after the events described, but one example is well documented from the rime. Smallpox in fomites was given to Native Americans by the British in Fort Pitt during Pontiac's rebellion in 1763. Famously General Amherst gave the order to release smallpox through blankets and cloth to Pontiac's people. (36) There is no record that Amherst's plan was put into effect, bur he was trumped anyway by William Trent, a trader who wrote that at the close of a parley with Indian representatives at Fort Pitt the Indians asked for, 'a little Provisions and Liquor, to carry us Home', and that, 'we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect'. (37) Documents show that, whatever the source, 'smallpox struck hard among the Indians around Fort Pitt in the spring and summer of 1763'. (38)

It is clear then that smallpox virus, even the alastrim strain, could remain infective, if in the right form, for much longer than was once supposed and fomites had infected populations in vafious areas of the world. It is feasible to suggest that a liquid form of virus, kept in a sealed container, with no humidity and out of sunlight in the bottom, for instance, of a sea chest, would have been still infective enough to cause ah epidemic among a naive population such as the Aborigines in Sydney in 1789. Once exposed to air this matter would dry and turn to powder. Inhaling such matter would expose people to smallpox.

Fishermen from the Indonesian archipelago had been coming to the north coast of Australia for hundreds of years, perhaps back to around A.D. 1000. (39) Archaeological evidence, the arrival of the dingo and written evidence are proof of the longstanding connection. (40) Tim Flannery cites research that shows, through the study of a sucking louse that evolved in Australia, not only that there was pre-European, pre-Macassan trade between northern Australia and the Indonesian archipelago but also that the trade travelled both ways. (41)

Campbell Macknight, who has made ah extensive study of contact between Macassans and Aborigines, believed that the trepang industry probably began at the start of the eighteenth century. In 'Macassans and the Abofiginal past' he wrote that 'Macassan trepangers had certainly reached the north Australian coast by the middle of the eighteenth century'. (42) This was a substantial trade which took in fishing grounds in the islands of the archipelago as well as western and northern Australia. Macknight notes that, 'the earliest written reference to trepang coming from Australia, that of 1754, refers to voyages from both Timor and Macassar'. (43)

Judy Campbell writes that the trepangers began arriving on Australia's coast in the early 1700s, (44) bur that they did not bring the disease until the 1780s. There is ample evidence that smallpox had been present in the Indonesian archipelago for hundreds of years and that, 'Wherever it came from, smallpox was present before Portuguese and other European seafarers began to explore the East Indies early in the sixteenth century'. (45) if so, and this was the source of the epidemic that struck Sydney in 1789, why did it take so long to arrive in Australia?

Campbell believes that it is entirely possible for a trepang fleet to take on crew in the early stages of smallpox infection and arrive in northern Australia while those members were still infective. While this seems possible, Butlin questions its probability, noting that it would take a single prau perhaps fourteen or fifteen days to travei non-stop from Macassar to the nearest Australian fishing grounds on the Coburg Peninsula. A fleet travelling at the pace of the slowest vessel would take longer. He writes, 'An on-board outbreak depended on the presence of a very recently infected person on departure from Macassar', and further says that others on board would be infected quickly in such close quarters. The limit of the virus' spread would quickly be established. (46)

If brought from South Sulawesi smallpox would have arrived in the 'wet season' with the trepangers as they came on the monsoon winds sweeping east. At this time the Yolgnu (Northern Territory Aborigines) would have been relatively sedentary, isolated in small communities waiting for the 'wet season' to pass and the 'dry season' to arrive before they travelled anywhere. Such a naive population as that in the Northern Territory should have exhibited a drastic drop in numbers, a drop of up to 70 per cent, if smallpox swept through it. This may have occurred but Campbell offers no evidence of it and the first Europeans in the north of Australia certainly seem to have encountered strong, and functioning local communities. This should not have been the case if smallpox had swept through the area two generations before. Indeed the Assistant Surgeon of Raffies Bay before 1829, R. M. Davies noted, 'nothing in the form of epidemic, or contagious disease, in the population'.

Campbell's theory depends on smallpox circulating in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities before moving out of the area in the dry season. She notes that during the smallpox eradication program, 'among Mandeelo nomads [in Somalia], 19 cases occurred in a group of 46 people over a period of five months, while they ranged over an area about seventy kilometres by thirty-five kilometres'. (47) It must be remembered that smallpox was well-known in Somalia where these nomads roamed and older members of the population may have had immunity and would have been able to care for the sufferers while still maintaining their nomadic lifestyle. This case, however, is not relevant to the experience of a naive population in northern Australia, in which the virus would have stricken a large percentage of the population, leaving few to care for the sick and drastically curtailing movement. If there was movement it would have been movement of fleeing survivors leaving victims to die, and these people would not necessarily have been welcomed by their neighbours. It is more likely, given the timing of the fishermen's arrival, that the virus would have swept through those communities in contact with the trepangers and died out within a few weeks.

The above case of the nomads in Somalia is discussed further in Smallpox and its Eradication where it is stated that this case was one of only ten of prolonged transmission while, 'Outbreaks among nomads constituted 68% of 843 outbreaks in Somalia in 1977'. (48) The authors wrote that, 'On general principles, it could be predicted that smallpox would rarely persist for long in such small isolated populations, even in the absence of control measures ... This was indeed usually the case'. (49) The authors explain this as not only happening because of the small population, but also because, 'most of the activities of nomads occurred in the open, where opportunities for face-to-face transmission by large-particle aerosols were greatly reduced. As noted above, these circumstances usually led to the spontaneous termination of outbreaks (in 98.2 percent of outbreaks)'. (50) This is a very strong argument for the termination of any smallpox outbreak in northern Australia well before it moved any distance from its source in small nomad populations living in open air camps.

Campbell believes that smallpox, introduced in the Northern Territory in the 1780s, moved east across deserts before crossing the Great Dividing Range and travelled to Sydney before heading to South Australia through the river system, but there are problems with this hypothesis. As Diamond has shown in Guns, Germs and Steel, such physical barriers as deserts and mountain ranges, stopped the transfer of technology throughout the world. Indeed it seems clear from studies of local populations in New South Wales that coastal groups had little contact with those over the mountains, except during ceremonial times. S. Bowdler discusses Aboriginal occupation sites along the Great Dividing Range from Central Queensland to Tasmania and concludes that although some of the highlands were permanently occupied by Aborigines, there was generally only one group in each area, and that their numbers were small compared with those on either side of the ranges. (51) Population density estimates for Australian regions confirm the comparative sparsity of people in the uplands with those groups either side of the Great Dividing Range. (52) They were therefore unlikely to be a conduit for the transmission of smallpox.

Hopkins shows that nowhere else in the world where it was introduced by invaders did smallpox spread over the distances that Campbell claims for it in Australia. In South Africa its first importation into Capetown in 1713 caused disaster in the Cape, but it was not until the second epidemic in 1755-56 that smallpox reached as far as South-West Africa (Namibia). (53) Inhospitable desert country and a smaller population meant there was virtually a two century gap before the virus could cross from its bridgehead in Mexico to New Mexico and California. The virus would face a similar, even more formidable desert barrier in Australia. (54)

Arguing for a possible introduction of the virus in the south-east of Australia, Butlin points out that smallpox introduced by Macassan trepangers would have 'had to move across river lines from Port Essington [Coburg Peninsula] over a distance of some 1500 kilometres before it was reasonably firmly pointed in the right direction to link up with the river systems of central Queensland and southeastern Australia ending a further 3000 kilometres away'. (55)

The main Aboriginal trade routes from the north headed west into the Kimberleys or south through Coopers Creek into South Australia to trade 'pituri' and other goods. Campbell claims people travelling 'during the incubation period after infectious contacts farther north ... became links in chains of infection'. (56) Ceremonial activity in Central Australia took place in winter and spring (57) and smallpox, introduced in early summer by Macassans would have needed a large supply of victims for it still to be present then. If so it defied the usual length of outbreaks in non-endemic populations, which was measured in weeks rather than months. (58) Clearly there were fewer people in the desert areas than in the coastal zones. It is difficult to imagine small bands of perhaps twenty people, with up to fourteen or fifteen members increasingly stricken with smallpox being able or willing to travel anywhere to spread the virus.

Although goods were traded over long distances in Australia, tribal members rarely travelled far. (59) The distances covered by large groups of Diyari in Central Australia are an aberration of isolation rather than the norm for trade. Aboriginal trade was usually carried out by one or two members of a group going into the adjacent tribal area for customary exchange of goods. As Mulvaney and Kamminga write 'While the ceremonial gift-giving ensured that objects travelled great distances, personal movement was more restricted'. (60)

In Countrymen: The life stories of four Aboriginal men, Bulla tells of the ceremonial exchange route, the winan, and how it operated in the Kimberley region.

They had pearl shells from Broome this way, what they call djaguli.
They might have about tenor twelve in a bag. Well they bring this
and gire it to that man. That man passes it over to the next man.
See, I pass it over to Dicky, and Dicky passes it over to him, then
he passes it over to Banggaldun, and Banggaldun passes it away on
to somebody else. That's how the winan goes, just like the post.

This was an Australia-wide practice. Taplin discussed the role of:

'perfectly trustworthy agents to transact the business of the
tribes-agents who will not by collusion cheat their employers and
enrich themselves'. Thus one, 'sent spears and plongges (clubs)
down to his agent of the Mundoo blacks, who was supplied with mats
and nets and rugs to send up to him, for the purpose of giving them
in exchange to the tribe to which he belonged.' (62)

It seems highly unlikely that this form of trade over thousands of kilometres would spread smallpox. What chance is there that in each instance a group chose ah individual suffering from smallpox to travel, only for the next group and the next to do the same? Smallpox sufferers became very ill days before they became infective, and would generally have been bedridden for a number of days before the pustules appeared. Hopkins describes the symptoms at this time as being, 'headache, fever, chills, nausea, and backache, sometimes with convulsions or delirium'. (63) The authors of The Eradication of Smallpox state that, 'Patients in the prodromal stage of Variola major, before the rash had appeared and before they could transmit infection, were usually quite ill, with toxaemia, headache and backache.' (64) It is improbable that such sufferers could travei any great distance to infect others.

When smallpox pustules do appear they occur first on the extremities of the body, that is, the face, hands and feet. Further to this Butlin points out that, once the pustules appear, hunter-gatherers are especially disadvantaged because:

The local effects on hands and feet are particularly destructive
because of the thick skin layers so that pustules there are
combined with extensive and painful cracking and splitting even to
the extent of the total destruction of the soles of the feet.
Hunters could not hunt and gatherers could not gather. Even if they
might otherwise survive. they and their dependants would starve or
die of thirst without some readily available source of food and
water. (65)

This persistence of the lesions on the feet for extended periods of time among perhaps a majority of the band would have made survival in such harsh conditions as Central Australia difficult if not impossible for the group. The idea that such a group could travel and spread the virus in these circumstances is difficult to accept. If Campbell is right and smallpox was introduced by Macassan trepangers in the 1780s its spread defies all logic. To postulate that smallpox, which needs a large population to reproduce itself, could spread so far over such a long time, in groups which were by the nature of their existence small and fairly self contained, moving contrary to existing trade routes and custom is drawing a very long bow.

The spread of smallpox from northern to south-eastern Australia through trade was distinctly improbable. Its documented spread in the south came from a naive population desperately fleeing the site of initial infection in great numbers. As Lyons and Dixon have written about more recent outbreaks of smallpox, 'in spite of many opportunities the spread of infection was more limited than is usually assumed. High attack rates only occurred in very close contacts, in the family, among personal friends, or close contacts at work'. (66) A more populous group situated in a relatively small, resource rich area, such as Sydney, was more likely to get the virus in large numbers and disseminate it by fleeing than thinly spread groups in resource poor areas. Ali the records, written and oral, support this view.

It remains clear that smallpox did not go to Sydney via the north coast, or along the Murrumbidgee and over the Yass plains. It also did not cross the Blue Mountains.

It is clear that the number of Aborigines inhabiting the Sydney region would be more likely to have launched an outbreak of smallpox than to have had one launched against it from a thinly populated region such as the Blue Mountains. Smallpox needs people to survive and there would have been few there in March 1789 when the cold highlands of the mountains would have been getting very inhospitable.

How did smallpox spread from the Sydney region?

Smallpox broke out among the bands living between Sydney Cove and the Heads, the Gadigal, Gamaragal, Gayamagal, Borogegal and Birrabirragal, (67) in early April 1789. Many would have caught it in March and we know that by April the dead and dying were everywhere, so many that, 'every boat that went down the Harbour found them laying Dead on the Beaches and in the Caverns of Rocks, forsaken by the rest as soon as the Disease is discovered on them'. (68) We also know that from there it spread north where, in early June, two months after it first appeared in Sydney, Phillip's exploring party came across a, 'poor Young Creature who had Just recovered from the Small Pox'. (69) If it had come down the coast from the north, as Campbell speculates, this girl would have had the smallpox much earlier. On the return journey to Sydney from Pittwater they, 'fell in with several dead bodies who had probably fallen by the Small Pox, but they were mere Skelletons (sic) so that it was impossible to say of what desease (sic) they died'. (70) The closer they came to Sydney the more advanced were the effects of smallpox.

At the end of June, Phillip led another excursion up the Hawkesbury River through the north-west of Sydney to Richmond Hill in the west. Watkin Tench, who was not there, claims that many 'natives ... were labouring under the small-pox'. (71) Hunter, who was with the party, did not mention meeting anyone with the disease on this journey, although he was acutely aware of its presence in Sydney and was looking for signs of it along the river. He wrote of a woman fleeing on their approach and leaving two children who, 'appeared in great distress, apparently for want of food' (72) yet further up the river they came across a 'considerable Number of people in the Wood', two of whom, 'came to the waterside with much apparent familiarity and confidence'. (73) A few days later they, 'saw a few natives, who came off to us in their boats with much chearfulness [sic] and good humour'. (74) Again Hunter makes no mention of telltale smallpox marks on any individual so we must disregard Tench. That these events happened two months after smallpox appeared in the harbour suggests very strongly that the Darug and Darginung (75) speaking people of the inland may have been just then beginning to suffer from smallpox, and that it originated around Sydney Cove rather than to the north or north-west. At the end of June Tench too led an expedition, to the west of Rosehill, coming across signs of the Darug people's recent presence but significantly seeing no signs of death or sickness. (76) This is significant. If smallpox had been or was in the west one would expect that Tench and his companions would have found the sick or dead, as they had been found in Sydney and at Pittwater. The Darug of western Sydney had made themselves scarce as they had previously done when the British had ventured overland. If they were sick they would not have moved. If they were dead in large numbers the British would have found their bones.

Around Sydney Cove, the 'ground zero' of the outbreak, the Gadigal was reduced to three members and, 'The number that it swept off, by their own accounts, was incredible'. (77) Hunter wrote, 'that it was truly shocking to go round the coves of this harbour, which were formerly so much frequented by the natives; where, in the caves of the rocks, which used to shelter whole families in bad weather, were now to be seen men, women, and children, lying dead'. (78) The evidence of smallpox's effects at that time in the west is non-existent, and in the north-west is scant. Even though there was a settlement in the west at Rosehill, all the reports of smallpox come from down the harbour towards the Heads where Arabanoo was taken and, 'not a living person was any where to be met with'. Arabanoo soon learnt 'that the few of his companions who survived had fled up the harbour to avoid the pestilence that so dreadfully raged'. (79)

If it arrived from the north why did Newton Fowell, in a letter to his father write, 'When we arrived not a canoe was to be seen, the Natives having all left the Harbour and fled to the Northward.'? (80) If it arrived from the interior why did Judge-Advocate David Collins write, 'From the native who resided with us we understood that many families had been swept off by this scourge, and that others, to avoid it, had fled into the interior parts of the country.'? (81)

Many would have fled south and south-west into the Illawarra and the headwaters of the Nepean and Georges rivers beyond Campbelltown. From either area access to the Goulburn and Lake George districts and the many water sources available there was relatively easy. There was a lot of contact between the Illawarra Aborigines and those in the Southern Highlands. They were part of an extended social and familial group, the Yuin. Numbers of people fleeing smallpox across the relatively open and hospitable country to Sydney's south-west would have carried and passed on the virus to their neighbours. From here the virus would have been transmitted to the groups living on the Murrumbidgee and Yass rivers. Once in the river system it was only a matter of time before the smallpox spread into the Murray and thence into most of south-eastern Australia. Compared with a journey of thousands of kilometres over vast desert country and then across rugged mountain ranges to the west and north of Sydney this is a plausible scenario.

George Augustus French, visiting South Australia in 1847 wrote about the 1789 epidemic in Sydney that, 'It was this epidemic of which the natives of South Australia speak: they say it came down the Murray from the country far to the eastward...'. (82) The Lutheran missionaries C. G. Teichelmann and W. Schumann, compiling the vocabulary of South Australian Aboriginal language in 1840 wrote that 'Nguya' meant 'a pustule; the disease of smallpox ...They universally assert that it came from the east, or the Murray tribes'. (83)

In the 1830s people such as Charles Sturt and Thomas Mitchell found evidence of large-scale mortality on the Darling and Murray fiver systems. (84) Sturt and Beveridge came across large numbers of skeletons (85) and E. M. Curr discussed cooking ovens in connection with a large decrease in the Indigenous population along the Murray River and the previous presence of smallpox. (86) He wrote that many local Aborigines bore smallpox scars. (87) Curr's recollections and conclusions, and the previously mentioned accounts by Mitchell, Sturt and Beveridge, add to the evidence for smallpox having travelled down the Murray in the period just after the First Fleet arrived, causing massive depopulation among the inhabitants. It supports the belief of South Australian Aborigines that smallpox travelled from the east. It also shows that smallpox was present there in the 1830s. What it does not support is the belief that the first major smallpox episode in the country came from the Northern Territory. Indeed the lack of evidence for comparable destruction of the Indigenous population on the Coburg Peninsula acts against any such theory. There have been no such discoveries in sites there, nor were any comments made by the first Europeans in that area to suggest a previously larger population or sudden depopulation.

That it could have spread from Sydney on the other hand can be explained in demographic and environmental terms. There was a much larger population there to flee an outbreak, and transmit it over a short period of time to the richly peopled fiver systems of the south. As winter approached it is likely that groups would have huddled together in the ubiquitous sandstone caves of the region or around warming fires, thus spreading viral aerosol particles to their neighbours. What is also clear is that it defies all logic and probability that an introduction of smallpox by Macassan fishermen in the Northern Territory would find its way to South Australia through coastal Sydney.

If Macassan fishermen did introduce smallpox in the 1780s why did it not travel to South Australia through the well-worn and recognised Central Australian trade routes? Why was the Kimberley region spared in the same period? Why would smallpox behave differently in Australia from the way it did in other areas of the world, where it almost invariably died out quickly among semi-nomadic peoples? How would smallpox survive for years, as Campbell postulates, with such a small population to draw on in Australia? Even if it did behave differently, how and why would people suffering from this dreadful scourge, sick from its onset and stricken by its emergence on their bodies, travel over vast tracts of difficult and waterless country to spread it into Queensland? How then would small bands of infected people, breaking from traditional trade behaviour and moving amongst people often inimical to them, move into the hostile environment of the Great Dividing Range, where even fewer people lived, to spread the virus down onto the narrow coastal strip in Queensland? If it moved down the Darling River and into the inland river system of New South Wales the same physical and demographic conditions would defy its spread. A thinly populated, cold and inhospitable Blue Mountains or the forbidding ranges to its north seem an unlikely route for the virus. First Fleet journals discuss the gulf of distrust between Cadigal and Darginung when they met, and note the animosity felt by coastal people towards the inland groups. (88) There was in fact very little contact between these groups before the arrival of the Europeans, and smallpox reduced their numbers to the point where they had to accommodate each other.

There is no evidence that Macassan fishermen brought smallpox to the Northern Territory in the 1780s. British and European witnesses there did not record signs of previous smallpox on those in the relevant age groups. Nor do they mention disparities in gender or age group numbers, which indicated a previous smallpox epidemic, as those observers along the Murray did. (89)

What is certain in all this is that the British brought variolous (smallpox) matter with them to Australia. Tench states it in his journal and, Surgeon Vice-Admiral Sir James Watt confirms it, writing that, 'Inoculation was widely practised in the Navy in the immediate pre-vaccination period and [Surgeon] White's previous captain, Sir Andrew Snape Hammond, had had personal experience of its efficacy on the coast of North America', and, 'would therefore have advised White to carry some material'. (90)

Whether the smallpox matter had become inactive after eighteen months is open to question. Certainly in countries in Europe there are records of smallpox matter being infective for years after its procurement, and records of it being effective for inoculation for at least a year in the hot conditions of India. We also know that fomites are infective for long periods of time and have been responsible for smallpox outbreaks in the past. We simply do not know what strains of smallpox were prevalent in the late 1700s and how their virulence was affected by climatic conditions. The World Health Organization tests, published in 1988, on the mildest form of smallpox, alastrim, showing that it became inactive at a constant 35[degrees]C at high humidity seem to have little bearing on, or relevance to the question of smallpox in Sydney in 1789. Yet these tests are the premise on which the claim for the introduction of smallpox from the north of Australia by Macassan fishermen in the 1780s is made.

No-one in Australia welcomes the explanation that the smallpox matter brought out by the British in 1788 was the source of the epidemic that wiped out at least half of the Sydney Aboriginal population, and apparently killed large numbers along the Murray River into South Australia. We have never been comfortable with accepting the blame for such an outcome. Captain Phillip himself blamed the French, although it is clear that this suggestion is fanciful. Tench, and the other journal writers of the First Fleet, were either apologetic or unbelieving about the possibility that it had come from them.

There is no proof that smallpox was deliberately released by the British in Sydney but, uncomfortable as it is to modern Australians, it is clear from the evidence that the idea that it was introduced by Macassan fishermen in the Northern Territory and travelled to Sydney at just the time the British arrived is untenable. Somehow the British brought smallpox with them on the First Fleet and it was released into the Aboriginal community in 1789 to wreak havoc, and begin the destruction of Aboriginal societies in Australia.

Thirroul, NSW


(1) Peter Razzell, The Conquest of Smallpox: The impact of Inoculation on Smallpox Mortality in Eighteenth Century Britain, Sussex, 1977, p. ix.

(2) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, Chicago, 1983, p. 207; Judy Campbell, Invisible Invaders: Smallpox and Other Diseases in Aboriginal Australia 1780-1880, Melbourne, 2002, pp. 10, 39-50.

(3) Newton Fowell, 'Letter to father, John Fowell', PRO CO 201/4, Mitchell Library, NSW.

(4) Peter Razzell, The Conquest of Smallpox, p. 110; F. Fenner, D.A. Henderson, I. Arita, Z. Jezek, I. D. Ladnyi, Smallpox and its Eradication, World Health Organization, Geneva, 1988, pp. 176-177, 196-197.

(5) John White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales with Sixty-five Plates of Non descript Animals, Birds, Lizards, Serpents, curious Cones of Trees and other Natural Productions, London, 1795, p. 4.

(6) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, p. 4.

(7) F. Fenner, et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 19.

(8) William Bradley in John Cobley, Sydney Cove 1789-1790, Sydney, 1963, p. 35. Bradley wrote, 'We did not see a Canoe or a Native the whole way coming up the Harbour, and were told that scarce any had been seen lately, except laying dead in and about their miserable habitations'.

(9) F. Fenner, et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, pp. 115-116.

(10) F. Fenner, et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 115.

(11) F. Fenner, et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 115.

(12) F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 115.

(13) John White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales..., Appendix.

(14) Watkin Tench in L. F. Fitzhardinge, Sydney's First Four Years, Sydney, 1963, p. 69.

(15) Upham Steadman, 'Smallpox and Climate in the American Southwest', in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 88, No. 1, March 1986, pp. 115-128.

(16) Upman Steadman, 'Smallpox and Climate in the American Southwest', p.101.

(17) J. B. Tucker, Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox, New York, 2001, p. 2.

(18) F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 208.

(19) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, p. 32.

(20) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, p. 41.

(21) F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 102.

(22) Peter Razzell, The Conquest of Smallpox, p. 35.

(23) Peter Razzell, The Conquest of Smallpox, p. 38. Peter Razzell, Edward Jenner's Cowpox Vaccine: The History of a Medical Myth, Sussex, 1977, p. 100. Razzell stresses the importance of virus ceiling temperature to the virus' infectivity when he makes the distinction between Variola major and Variola minor with the 'former virulent virus having a higher ceiling temperature than the latter,' adding that, 'temperature is one of the critical conditions for growth, and that there is some relationship between the virulence of a virus and the ceiling temperature at which it will grow in various cell environments. Interestingly Razzell goes on to write that, 'very recent research has thrown into question the validity of using ceiling temperatures as a measure of the natural virulence of smallpox viruses'. Note that he not only discusses ceiling temperatures but also uses the term 'viruses'.

(24) Peter Razzell, Edward Jenner's Cowpox Vaccine, p. 101.

(25) James Watt, 'Health and Settlement 1788-95: Surgeons and the Environment' in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, Volume 59, 1989, p. 924.

(26) F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 1343.

(27) F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 115.

(28) F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 115.

(29) H. L. Wolff, & J. J. A. B. Croon, 'The Survival of Smallpox Virus (Variola Minor) in Natural Circumstances' in World Health Organization Bulletin, 1968, No. 38, p. 492.

(30) Peter Razzell, The Conquest of Smallpox, p. 23, Notions, 'is careful in providing the best matter, and keeps it a long time before he puts it to use--sometimes seven or eight years; and in order to lessen its virulence, he first dries it in peat smoke, and then puts it underground, covered with camphor. Though many physicians recommend fresh matter, this self-taught practitioner finds from experience, that it always proves milder to the patient when it has lost a considerable degree of its strength'.

(31) Peter Razzell, Edward Jenner's Cowpox, p. 85.

(32) Peter Razzell, Edward Jenner's Cowpox, p. 103.

(33) H. Wolff & J. Croon, 'The Survival of Smallpox Virus (Variola Minor) ... ', p. 493.

(34) Edmund H. Burrows, A History of Medicine in South Africa up to the End of the Nineteenth Century, Cape Town, 1958, p. 64, 'The town's streets were deserted, there were no slaves to collect fire-wood and, indeed, after July no wood at all to use for coffins. All life came to a standstill. The total number of deaths is not known but in 1715 the figures for the white population show a decrease of fourteen per cent over the 1712 census. One fifth of the company's [Dutch East India Co.] slaves died'.; D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, p. 179.

(35) Adrienne Mayor, 'The Nessus Shirt in the New World: Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend', in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 108, No. 427, (Winter, 1995), p. 61.

(36) Elizabeth. A. Fenn, 'Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America: Beyond Jeffery Amherst', The Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 4. (March 2000), pp. 1555-1557. Amherst proposed the following to Colonel Bouquet on hearing that smallpox had broken out in Fort Pitt, 'Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians'. After Bouquet replied he would 'try to inoculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands' Amherst responded, 'You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts,'; Francis Parkman, The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada, Vol. 2, London, 1893, p. 39, Parkman quotes Amherst writing to Johnson on 27/8/1763, 'Indians to beware ... of Carrying Matters much farther against the English, or Daring to form Conspiracies; as the Consequences will most Certainly occasion Measures to be taken, that, in the End, will put a most Effectual Stop to their Very Being'.

(37) Elizabeth Fenn, 'Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America ... ', p. 1554, Levy, Trent and Company later submitted an invoice recorded in the Fort Pitt account books for, 'Sundries got to Replace in kind those which were taken from people in the Hospital to Convey the Smallpox to the Indians'.

(38) Elizabeth Fenn, 'Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America ... ', p. 1557.

(39) Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years, London, 1998, p. 314.

(40) J. Mulvaney, & J. Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Sydney, 1999, pp. 338, 420-421.

(41) Tim Flannery, The Future Eaters, Sydney, 2001, pp. 170, 334. Flannery suggests that the louse would have returned to the islands on dogs or kangaroos and cites this as evidence of the strength of trade between the two areas that would have led to, 'hidden cargoes of genes and microbes that they [Macassans] introduced into Australia's north'.

(42) Campbell Macknight, 'Macassans and the Aboriginal past', in Archaeology in Oceania Volume 21, Number 1, University of Sydney, April 1986, p. 70, ' ... the whole trepang trade through Macassar was on a small scale and locally based in the mid 1720s. It had probably begun only a decade or so before, but the market was shortly to expand to a degree which drew local seamen into sailing to more distant grounds'. He notes that there were sixty trepang boat captains in the 1770-1 season, all but one working for the Dutch East India Company. From the catch that season, 'On 13 June, 1771, the annual junk to Amoy took, as a major part of its cargo, 3000 piculs of trepang'. [1 picul = 60.5 kilograms]

(43) Campbell Macknight, 'Macassans and the Aboriginal past', p.71.

(44) Judy Campbell, Invisible Invaders, p. 9.

(45) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, p. 113. He notes that, 'Indian merchants could have carried it from Rome before the fourth century A. D. Arab traders had dealings with the islands by the seventh century, as did the Chinese. During the early Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Chinese emperors actively supported intensive explorations in countries bordering the Indian Ocean and beyond. Borneo, Java, and Sumatra each sent envoys of their own to the Ming court, thus providing potential opportunities for introduction of smallpox when such ambassadors returned or sent messages home'; D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, pp. 112-113, 123-124.

(46) Noel Butlin, Our Original Aggression: Aboriginal Populations of Southeastern Australia 1788-1850, North Sydney, 1983 pp. 32-33.

(47) Judy Campbell, Invisible Invaders, p. 181.

(48) Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 205.

(49) Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 205.

(50) Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 205.

(51) S. Bowdler, 'Hunters in the Highlands', in Archaeology in Oceania, Volume 16, No. 2, July 1981, pp. 99-111, p. 102, 'Stockton's observations on site distribution are of interest. He found, that in terms of site abundance, occupation in what he terms the Lower Mountains (c. 200-440m) has apparently been continuous (i.e. year-round), but that occupation in the Middle and Upper Mountains (400-700m, 700-900m) has apparently been spasmodic, "perhaps no more than seasonal hunting trips"'.

(52) S. Bowdler, 'Hunters in the Highlands' p. 107, The number of people per square kilometre for the upland regions varies from 10 to 20 in Southeast Queensland with its favourable bunyah nut economy, to 16 for the Monaro up to one person per 58 to 70 kilometres in the high country of the New England region. This compares with estimates of one person per 2.5 kilometres in inland Victoria; S. Bowdler, 'The Coastal Colonisation of Australia', in Sunda to Sahul: Prehistoric Studies in Southeast Asia, Melanesia and Australia, London, 1977, p. 208. One person to every .25 or .5 kilometre in the Sydney region.

(53) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, pp. 179-180, 165-170. We know that smallpox had been in Egypt from about 1500 B.C., had possibly been present on the Horn of Africa during the Elephant Wars in A. D. 570 and was killing great numbers of people in East African settlements south of there in 1589. Yet it did not arrive at the Cape until 1713 when it was brought by ship from India.

(54) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, pp. 207, 234, 246. Smallpox reached Tenochtitlan, the capital of Aztec Mexico by September 1520 and, 'Estimates of the total population of Mexico around this time range up to 30 million. Cartwright (1972) says nearly half of the native population of Mexico died of smallpox in less than six months'. Yet, 'As late as 1600, smallpox was still unheard of among the one half to two million Indians living in the vast area north of Mexico. By this time, Spanish settlers and the smallpox they had brought with them had been established in South America for nearly a century'. Hopkins reports that, 'Catholic missionaries in the area now known as New Mexico recorded local epidemics of smallpox as early as 1719, 1733, 1738, 1747 and 1749,' and that, 'By 1785, smallpox was reported among Indians in Alaska and California ...'.

(55) Noel Butlin, Our Original Aggression, p. 33.

(56) Judy Campbell, Invisible Invaders, p. 182.

(57) R. M. Berudt & C. H. Berndt, The Worm of the First Australians, Sydney, 1981, p. 111.

(58) H. Pennington, 'Smallpox and bioterrorism', in World Health Organization Bulletin October 2003, Vol. 81, No.10, p. 762.

(59) R. Berndt & C. Berndt, The World of the First Australians, p. 143, Tribal members, 'always kept their own particular local descent group territories in perspective: they never, traditionally, lost sight of these. Normatively, at least, they never went so far afield as to lose touch with them because, traditionally, they always had responsibilities vis-a-vis them'.

(60) J. Mulvaney & J. Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, p. 95.

(61) Bruce Shaw, Countrymen: The life histories of four Aboriginal men, Canberra, 1986, p. 167.

(62) Taplin, in Brough Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria and Other Parts of Australia and Tasmania, Vol. 1, Melbourne, 1972, p. 181.

(63) D. Hopkins, Princes and Peasants, p. 4.

(64) F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, p. 200.

(65) Noel Butlin, Our Original Aggression, p. 65; F. Fenner et al., Smallpox and its Eradication, pp. 20-21, 'The palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, because of the very thick stratum corneum, were characterized by the persistence of lesions long after these had scabbed elsewhere. On the soles of the feet especially they had a very characteristic appearance. The thick cuticle lay over them and they did not protrude from its level surface, through which the disclike scabs could be clearly seen ... The rash was most dense on the face, more dense on the extremities than on the trunk, and on the extremities, it was more dense on the distal parts than on the proximal.'

(66) J. Lyons, C.W. Dixon, 'Smallpox in the Industrial Pennines, 1953', quoted in H. Pennington, 'Smallpox and bioterrorism', p. 764.

(67) Val Attenbrow, Sydney's Aboriginal Past: investigating the archaeological and historical records, Sydney, 2003, pp. 22-23.

(68) Newton Fowell, 'Letter to father, John Fowell', PRO CO 201/4, Mitchell Library, NSW.

(69) John Hunter in J. Cobley, Sydney Cove 1789-1790, Sydney, 1963, p. 49.

(70) John Hunter, in Sydney Cove 1789-1790, p. 55; David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. 1, Sydney, 1975, p. 496, 'On visiting Broken Bay, we found that it had not confined its effects to Port Jackson, for in many places our path was covered with skeletons, and the same spectacles were to be met with in the hollows of most of the rocks of that harbour'.

(71) Watkin Tench, in Sydney's First Four Years, p. 153.

(72) John Hunter, in Sydney Cove 1789-1790, p. 61.

(73) John Hunter, in Sydney Cove 1789-1790, p. 63.

(74) John Hunter, An Historical journal of the transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island: including the journals of Governors Phillip and King, and of Lieut. Ball; and the voyages from the first sailing of the Sirius in 1787 to the return of that Ship's company to England in 1792, London, 1793, p. 154.

(75) Val Attenbrow, Sydney's Aboriginal Past, p. 23.

(76) Watkin Tench, in Sydney's First Four Years, pp. 153-155.

(77) David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, p. 496.

(78) John Hunter, in Sydney Cove 1789-1790, p. 134.

(79) David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, p. 496.

(80) Newton Fowell, 'Letter to his father John Fowell'.

(81) David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, p. 53.

(82) Judy Campbell, Invisible Invaders, p. 126.

(83) Judy Campbell, Invisible Invaders, p.129.

(84) Noel Butlin, Our Original Aggression, p. 25, 'In all areas, there was evidence of massive depopulation--Robinson found empty cells where formerly tribes and sub-tribes had lived; there were mass graves explained by surviving blacks as produced by some epidemic; and Mitchell observed decaying villages made up of 'permanent' and solidly constructed dwellings with large parts of the population gone'.

(85) Charles Sturt, Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia, Vol. II, London, 1833, p. 187; P. Beveridge, 'Aboriginal Ovens' in Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, Vol. 7, pp. clxxxviii-clxxxix.

(86) Edward M. Curr, Recollections of squatting in Victoria: Then called the Port Phillip District (from 1841 to 1851), Melbourne, 1883, reprinted 1965, pp. 107-108. Cult wrote that there were many more cooking ovens than necessary for the present population in the country of the Pinpandoor on the Campaspe River close to Echuca in 1841, and that these often had large trees which he estimated were fifty years old growing from them, 'a circumstance (and there were others now forgotten) which led me, in those days, to suspect that the Bangerang and neighbouring tribes had greatly fallen off in numbers some time prior to the settlement of the whites in Port Phillip ... I refer to the ovens found in their country, which were out of all proportion numerous when compared with the wants of the tribe as it then existed ... very commonly two or three large ovens existed in close proximity, which, in view of the customs of the tribe, I can only account for on the supposition of much larger numbers of Blacks then [sic] we ever saw, having habitually assembled at these places--numbers whose food it would be inconvenient to cook in one oven ... Now, when I resided in that country, one always was found sufficient, nor did I ever see two adjacent ones in use at the same time. Indeed many were never used. It should also be noticed that two were never found together except at very favourite camping places ... The largest which I have seen are some fifty yards in circumference, and three or four feet high in the middle; very frequently a tree of considerable size grows out of them, which, of course, could only have sprung up during a protracted period of disuse'.

(87) Edward Curr, Recollections of squatting in Victoria, p. 109, 'The conclusions to which the facts connected with these ovens seem to lead are, first, that in 1841 the Blacks in the neighbourhood in which I lived, were not so numerous as they had been; and, second to judge by the trees growing out of the ovens, that the reduction in their numbers had taken place some fifty years or so antecedent to that date. As to the cause of such reduction, there are strong reasons for assigning it to smallpox, of which disease, in its most virulent form, many individuals amongst the Pinpandoor, Ngooraialum, Bangerang, and other neighbouring tribes bore the marks. Indeed, I and several others, two of whom are still alive, saw at Tongala, in 1843, or thereabouts, a Bangerang child absolutely suffering from this complaint'.

(88) Arthur Phillip in John Hunter, An Historical journal of the transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island pp. 513-516.

(89) Noel Butlin, Our Original Aggression, pp. 135-139.

(90) James Watt, 'Health and Settlement 1788-95: Surgeons and the Environment' in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, Vol. 59, p. 924.

Bibliography for: "The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789"
Craig Mear "The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789". Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society. 07 Mar, 2011.

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