Discussion on smallpox has focused on two questions.
The first is where the smallpox came from. There are two schools. One said that it came from the settlement at
Sydney, a second from
Macassan visitors harvesting trepang in Northern Australia.
The second question is the scale of the death toll. Both questions have become
embroiled to some degree in the continuing history wars.
A related question is the nature of transmission mechanisms, a question that links to the structure of and relations between Aboriginal groups. For example, could smallpox in fact have come from Northern sources in the required time horizons given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations? Again, could smallpox have spread in the way sometimes described given geography and the pattern of Aboriginal relations?
I am interested in the impact of smallpox on the Aboriginal peoples of Northern NSW, the broader
New England. The questions as to
who might be responsible and why fall outside my immediate scope except to the degree
it affects what happened in New England.
Based on my very preliminary work, my present tentative conclusions are:
· The first smallpox epidemic came from the
settlement. Its hard to fit the geography otherwise. I still have an open mind on
the second. Sydney
· In broad terms, the impact of smallpox was geographically patchy because of the particular dispersed structure of Aboriginal life in combination with the transmission pattern. It hit
hard because you had a high population concentration meaning that people could
mix during the contagion period. For smaller groups, infection would depend
upon someone one coming while contagious and then infecting the group, with
on-transmission depending on someone getting to the next group while
contagious. In theory, I suppose, you could have it carried on possum coats or artifacts.
The process would be easier if you had largish adjoining populations that mixed
such as along the Sydney .
· In the first round, infection appears to have reached the lower Hunter but not beyond. The 1829+ second round was geographically broader, but perhaps not so intense. I say this because the descriptions of Aboriginal people across the North after 1831 that I have seen do not appear to contain references to smallpox markings.
N G Butlin, Macassans and Aboriginal smallpox : the '1789' and '1829' epidemics,
1984 Australian National
Judy Campbell, "Smallpox in aboriginal
, the early 1830s", Historical Studies, Volume 21, 1985 -
Issue 84 Australia
Judy Campbell, Invisible invaders : smallpox and other diseases in Aboriginal
, 1780-1880 ,.Melbourne
University Press, Carlton South, Vic. 2002. Australia
Peter J. Dowling, VIOLENT EPIDEMICS: Disease, conflict and Aboriginal population collapse as result of European contact in the Riverland of South Australia, 1990, MA thesis in Biological Anthropology, Department of Prehistory and Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, Australian National University Canberra ACT Accessed online 17 May 2017 file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/OWNER/My%20Documents/Downloads/b17470511_Dowling_Peter_J.pdf
C Mear, C. (2008) The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789,Journal of the Royal Historical Society, Vol.94, Part 1 pp.1-22, 2008
Michael O’Rourke, The
Lands: North-central New South Wales
in the early 19th century, Michael O’Rourke, 1997 Griffith
Jim Poulter, “The smallpox holocaust that swept Aboriginal Australia. - Red hot echidna spikes are burning me”, (We) can do better, 2 March 2014
Chris Warren, “Was
's smallpox outbreak
of 1789 an act of biological warfare against Aboriginal tribes?” Ockham's Razor, ABC Radio National, Thursday
17 April 2014 http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/was-sydneys-smallpox-outbreak-an-act-of-biological-warfare/5395050 Accessed 17 May 2017 Sydney