Flu threat reappeared on TI

The 1919 Spanish flu epidemic which had hit Queensland hard was all but over, when an outbreak raced through the Thursday Island population early in 2020.  

Although some Islanders had been vaccinated the previous year, the original inhabitants still bore the brunt of the disease. Despite this, death tolls announcements focused on the number of white deaths.

Gunner Snowy Yates was reported on February 14 as being the third white person to succumb, while the total death toll was 27.  His headstone can be seen in the Thursday Island cemetery today.

While initial cases were mild, the disease soon ramped up in severity.

At one stage it was estimated that 60  per cent of “the people are suffering, the general  hospital being overcrowded, while a temporary hospital for the military has been established”.

When the medical superintendent fell ill, leaving only one doctor to treat the populace, military authorities were   requested to send doctors, nurses, medicines, and milk.

“There is a serious shortage of medicine and the hospital staff is quite inadequate.

Help duly arrived, with the Queenslander newspaper reporting “ fortunately, the outbreak was not so serious as expected, and in several of the islands patients were found in a state of convalescence. Mortality was chiefly amongst the old people”.

Little consolation to the families of those who had died.

The Queenslander ran a photo page of the rescue effort, putting a positive spin on the health intervention.

 Sources: The Brisbane Courier Monday 16 February 1920, p6

Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser Wednesday 11 February

Cairns Post Thursday 12 February 1920, p5

The Queenslander, Saturday 3 April 1920, p21 (image above), 36

Thursday Island, Queensland

Published by Sharyn Moodie

Travelling around Australia for work, I've found so many amazing headstones. But what is more amazing is the stories behind some of these deaths, and the way newspapers of the day reported them.

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