History: Bubonic Plague

Part of the quarantine areas
I love finding out new things and sharing them with others (others might not find it as interesting!!). So when I discovered that in 1900 the city of Sydney (Australia'a largest city) was hit by the Bubonic Plague I was really interested.  This wasn't something I had learn in school, so I had no idea that within 8 months 303 cases of Bubonic Plague had been reported and 103 people had died.  Of course it caused panic and dread among the population of Sydney, but the health authorities were aware of the building evidence that plague epidemics were associated with an epizootic infection in rats and began to incorporate preventative strategies to prevent its entry through the ports.

As a result of the plague, a cleansing and disinfecting operation took place (between the 24th of March and the 17th of July 1900) which resulted in the demolition of the "slums".  The disinfecting included: solid disinfectant (chloride of lime); liquid disinfectant (carbolic water: miscible carbolic, 3/4 pint water, 1 gallon); sulphuric acid water (sulphuric acid, 1/2 pint water, 1 gallon); carbolic lime white (miscible carbolic 1/2 pint to the gallon).

Rat catchers were employed and rats burned in a special rat incinerator. Over  44 000 rats were officiously killed. The slums certainly wouldn't have been a nice place to live in those days.

One of the slum streets
The process of disinfecting and demolition was recorded on film which has left us with a wonderful collection of photos of the slums of Sydney in 1900.

Cleaning the streets
Cleansing the wharves in July 1900 - I would hate to think of the pollution going into Sydney harbour.

Whilst on the topic of Bubonic Plague (as I am not likely to write about it again!!), did you know:

*  There were 12 major plague outbreaks in Australia between 1900 and 1925 as ships imported wave after wave of infection. Government health archives recorded 1,906 deaths. Sydney was hit hardest, but the disease also spread to North Queensland while more sporadic cases were documented in Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle.

*  Determining the number who died during the "Black Death" (1348 through 1351) is difficult to measure from medieval sources. The number of deaths varied considerably by area and depending on the source. Current estimates are that between 75 and 200 million people died from the plague.

*  The term "Black Death" is recent. During the plague, it was called "the Great Mortality" or "the Pestilence.

*  Although the period known as the Black Death ended in 1351, the plague continued to return to Europe, with epidemics every few years through to the end of the fifteenth century.

*  The mortality rate for humans who caught the bubonic plague was 30-75%. The pneumonic plague killed 90-95% of its victims. The septicemic plague killed nearly 100% of the people it infected and still has no cure to this day.

*  The attempts to find cures for the plague started the momentum toward development of the scientific method and the changes in thinking that led to the Renaissance.

*  In 2003, more than 2,100 human cases and 180 deaths were recorded, nearly all of them in Africa. The last reported serious outbreak was in 2006 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, when at least 50 people died.

Open tips in the middle of the slums probably didn't help!  Imagine the smell in summer

Plague in Sydney: link
Sydney University: link
National Geographic: link
 Random facts: link


  1. We were not taught in school anything about the plague in Sydney. I had no idea there had been so many deaths here but were told about the history of it in England well you learn something everyday.

    1. I had no idea either, which is why I was excited when I found out.

  2. I remember reading about or hearing about this before (the Plague in Australia), but I didn't know all those facts. It's funny you should write about this because Dan read me an article about the Bubonic Plague just the other day - a case in USA this month: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/sierra-jane-downing-7-yea_n_1858940.html#slide=1477080
    I had no idea it was still currently active in USA! I haven't been able to find evidence of it being active in Australia in recent times though. Actually - here you go - apparently there are 10-15 cases in USA each year, but none in Australia: http://rarediseases.about.com/cs/bubonicplague/a/111602.htm
    Fascinating. Keep away from those wild animals, people! You never know what diseases they carry!

    1. Its all really interesting isn't it - I love finding out stuff like this - life should be about continuous learning! Fortunately my cat isn't wild:)))

  3. I didn't know about it - I only read some time ago article about bubonic plague in India and in Democratic Republic of Congo.
    The last "fascinating" epidemy in Poland was in 1963 - it was in Polish city Wrocław (Breslau) in one hospital and it was epidemy of smallpox. One lady, who I know well, was in this hospital and she born her son this time! She told me she had been very, very scared, because a lot of people died in this hospital. Greetings for You! :)

  4. I had heard of this also, but the stats and pics are interesting. A LOT of people here in CQ died from the Black Flu after WW1.

  5. Another good reason to remember that these are "the good old days". :-) I think sometimes about all the different reasons people tend to forget for why it really is better to live now then back in the "old days". The influenza outbreaks were horrible too.

    I was surprised to learn that there were 3 kinds of plague and, reading further on the septicemic plague, I learned that a victim must receive treatment within 24 hours and that they may even die the same day they contract it! Amazing!!

    I find it especially interesting that it was the plague that spurred mankind on to more accurate understanding of illness and prevention. God uses even terrible things to bring about good sometimes.

  6. Just a little note about the septicemic plague - my mother had septicemia (more than once, I'm pretty sure) and was extremely sick in hospital... Septicemia doesn't have to be a plague or in plague proportions - and it is a terribly dangerous illness.

  7. I am so thankful I live now! :) Imagine the misery surrounding these plagues!


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