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Could First Fleet Smallpox Infect Aborigines?: - a Note

Aboriginal History
Volume 31 (2007)

Abstract: In April 1789, British colonists at Sydney Cove noticed large numbers of Aborigines dying from smallpox. Two hundred years later this event still raises concerns that unknown First Fleeters may have infected Aboriginal clans with smallpox. Contrariwise, several authors - including Josephine Flood, Alan Frost, Charles Wilson and Judy Campbell - maintain that First Fleet smallpox did not cause the outbreak as, in Flood's words, 'infection of Aborigines with bottled scabs was not merely implausible but impossible'. However this view is based on an assumption that the hot weather during the Fleet's voyage and at Sydney Cove would have sterilised any smallpox virus. This is not so and none of these authors have tested their 'hot weather' assumption by referring to the temperature records of the First Fleet. Once this is done alternative conclusions follow. This article reviews the evidence and demonstrates that British smallpox could retain sufficient viral activity until 1789 to infect local Aborigines. Whether infection occurred from this source is a separate issue that remains shrouded in conflicting evidence and is not being considered here.

To cite this article: Warren, Christopher. Could First Fleet Smallpox Infect Aborigines?: - a Note [online]. Aboriginal History, Vol. 31, 2007: [152]-164. Availability: <;dn=382267759356262;res=IELAPA> ISSN: 0314-8769. [cited 29 Jun 17].

Personal Author: Warren, Christopher; Source: Aboriginal History, Vol. 31, 2007: [152]-164 DOI: Document Type: Journal Article ISSN: 0314-8769 Subject: Epidemics; Aboriginal Australians--Diseases; Smallpox; History; 1700-1799; 1800-1899; Peer Reviewed: Yes

Database: APAFT