1919: The Spanish Flu

Soon after the war officially ended a pneumonic influenza pandemic spread across
the world. Thought to have been spread by returning soldiers, Australia became
another on a long list of countries affected by the disease. Twenty million people died
worldwide, including 10,000 Australians.

The first notification of the threatened outbreak came from the Public Health
Department warning local councils of the precautions to be made. Penrith and St
Marys councils received these notifications in late November 1918. Information was
also published in the Nepean Times on 30 November. People were encouraged to
liberally use disinfectant, avoid crowds, keep away from ‘coughers and spitters’ and
wear masks in public. As a precaution, meetings were postponed, and theatres, hotels
and churches were closed. A free inoculation depot was opened in early 1919 in the old
Penrith School building in Henry Street, supervised by the government medical officer,
Dr Higgins. Similarly, at St Marys a depot was set up with the help of Red Cross
volunteers. Children attended school wearing masks and smelling of camphor. At Llandilo school, five children were absent for two months owing to the influenza epidemic.

Roy Dollin, a returned soldier, was a son of George and Mary Dollin from St
Marys. He had fought at Gallipoli and in France and after his return to Australia
worked in the Small Arms factory at Lithgow. He died of the flu there in April 1919.
Another returned Penrith soldier was Cecil (Dan) Hamilton. Although he had fought
and was wounded at Gallipoli, he succumbed to the deadly flu at Paddington. Other
returning local soldiers were held in quarantine until the authorities thought it safe
to release them.

By June 1919 five cases had been reported in Penrith, with just one person, William
Gersbach, dying from the disease. However by the end of July the number of
cases in the Penrith district increased. At Castlereagh five members of the Johnson family died from the flu within two weeks. Two of these were young women who had just given birth. Their newborn children also died within days.

People with family and work associations with the district were also reported in
the local newspaper to have died from the flu. Hilda Long and Ada Bragg (who had
grown up in Penrith) were both young married women with children. Ada died along
with her newborn child and an older daughter. In June, William Burgess of Penrith had
died of the flu. Husband and wife, Frank and Ada Masters, formerly of Penrith, died
of the flu at Lithgow, a day apart. Dr William Elworthy who had practiced in Penrith
until early 1910, also succumbed to the flu.

Between April and July 1919 ten cases of pneumonic influenza were reported at St
Marys, most living in Victoria Street (the Great Western Road). St Marys man Hyam
Turner died in Melbourne. By the end of the year the epidemic had run its course.

All cases of pneumonic influenza were reported to Penrith Council by local doctors, and were entered into the Council’s Register of Notifications of Infectious Disease.

Reported Cases of Pneumonic Influenza in Penrith, St Marys and Castlereagh Councils

* Person died

Municipal CouncilDate of ReportPatient's NameAge Address of Premises at which Patient isMilk Supply
Castlereagh24 June 1919
Flora Ellen Devlin*Richmond Emergency Hospital
Castlereagh14 April 1919Thomas Pearce19Yarramundi
Castlereagh5 May 1919
Percy Roland FarlowRichmond Emergency Hospital
Penrith31 July 1919Catherine Dorothy Duff20Nepean Cottage HospitalNot Given
Penrith30 May 1919William James Gersbach*32Nepean Cottage Hospital
Penrith30 June 1919Sarah Adams*54Warwick St PenrithHollier
Penrith30 June 1919Arthur Edwards Hodges*31Lemongrove RdNot Given
Penrith30 June 1919Kathleen Frances E Potter3Henry St PenrithNot Given
Penrith29 May 1919Denis Matthew McAuliffe39Belmore St Penrith(condensed)
Penrith29 July 1919Arthur Lyle Withers*31Lemongrove Rd and Thurston St PenrithNot Given
Penrith27 June 1919Maude Johnson*29CranebrookMiss Whitcombe
Penrith27 June 1919Tom Johnson*61CranebrookMiss Whitcombe
Penrith27 June 1919Wm Glasscock57Woodriff St PenrithJ Stanton & Son
Penrith26 June 1919Mrs E Starling34Derby St PenrithJ Stanton & Son
Penrith25 June 1919F C Pease33York Estate PenrithNil
Penrith 24 June 1919William Henry Burgess*35Station St PenrithNot Given
Penrith24 June 1919Wm Harvey26Lemongrove PenrithNot Given
Penrith24 June 1919Claude Purcell*30Henry St PenrithNot Given
Penrith24 June 1919Fred Husty7Commercial St PenrithNot Given
Penrith22 June 1919Nicholas Joseph24North WardNot Given
Penrith21 June 1919M Barlow10Derby StNot Given
Penrith20 June 1919W Walker34High StreetNot Given
Penrith20 June 1919W Thomson26Union Rd PenrithNot Given
Penrith20 June 1919Wm Cracknell48King St PenrithNot Given
Penrith18 July 1919Harry Best*33Lethbridge St PenrithNot Given
Penrith15 July 1919Alfred Atwill Thomson*38Tindale St PenrithNot Given
Penrith14 July 1919Mary Glasscock*28Nepean Cottage HospitalNot Given
Penrith12 June 1919Harry Horstmann*35Nepean Cottage HospitalNot Given
Penrith10 June 1919Matilda Ruby Field*31High St PenrithHarris
Penrith10 April 1919John Houghton29Nepean Cottage HospitalNot Given
Penrith7 July 1919William Alexander Johnson35Cranebrook PenrithNot Given
Penrith6 July 1919Mary [May] Schneider*32Cranebrook PenrithNot Given
Penrith4 July 1919Joseph Slater*49Council not notified. Death notice printed in the Nepean Times
Penrith3 July 1919Mrs Ada Paul*26Riley St PenrithNot Given
Penrith2 June 1919Harold Hudson27Nepean Cottage HospitalWoodland
Penrith2 July 1919Eva Johnson*24Riley St PenrithNot Given
Penrith2 July 1919Darcy Johnson3North St PenrithNot Given
Penrith2 July 1919Edward F Johnson11 monthsNorth St PeWarwick St PenrithnrithNot Given
Penrith2 July 1919Elma Starling21Warwick St PenrithNot Given
Penrith2 July 1919Jane Davidson38Union Rd Penrith Not Given
Penrith1 July 1919Wm Slater57LambridgeNot Given
Penrith1 July 1919Wm Miller72Riley St PenrithA Blaikie
St Marys29 June 1919
Charles Hackett20Victoria Rd
St Marys29 June 1919
Mrs C Hackett Senr7?Victoria Rd
St Marys22 June 1919
Arthur Tolhurst*35Victoria Rd
St Marys22 June 1919Mrs Tolhurst38Victoria Rd
St Marys21 June 1919
Leslie AdamsPrinces St
St Marys18 July 1919
Lily Harriet Schmidt33Werrington
St Marys15 July 1919
Mrs Andrew [Ethel] Thompson Jnr*38Saddington
St Marys14 April 1919
Mr DraytonQueen St
St Marys 11 July 1919
Daisy May Schmidt*30c/o M Brell Victoria Rd
St Marys11 July 1919
Cadbury East35Victoria Rd

nepeancottageMany of the sick were taken to Nepean Cottage Hospital, which would later become Governor Phillip Special Hospital.