Infectious diseases

Living on an island with no doctor presents serious challenges if there are outbreaks of infectious diseases.


This terrible disease was (understandably) feared by our early settlers, and any indication of an "outbreak" created quite a scare. The 1887 news was carried in scores of newspapers across Australia. Fortunately, no confirmed case was found on Kangaroo Island, despite it being a destination of many travellers. 

1864 Rumoured Existence of Smallpox on Kangaroo Island.—Our attention has been called to this matter by correspondents who desire to know the result of the Government investigation as to whether smallpox did or did not exist at Kangaroo Island. There was certainly a rumour that smallpox existed at Kangaroo Island, but so vague was the information that Dr. Duncan did not attach much importance to it, although he felt it his duty to communicate with the Government upon the subject. The Government intimated to Dr. Duncan that it was desirable, if his other engagements permitted, that he should visit Kangaroo Island and report upon the matter. Dr. Duncan, started in the Blanche for Kangaroo Island, but was in consequence of bad weather compelled to return to Port Adelaide, where his other and more important duties compelled him to remain until after the departure of the then expected mail. We are not aware that anything further has been done in the matter. Dr. Duncan on his return expressed the opinion that there was little or no ground for apprehension, and that opinion has been supported by the fact that in the neighbourhood of Strathalbyn another and less virulent disease has been mistaken for smallpox.

THE WEEK'S NEWS. (1864, February 6). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), p. 7.  

Smallpox.— We are informed that information has been received from the police, who, in consequence of reports that smallpox had made its appearance on Kangaroo Island, were sent to enquire into the matter, that there was no foundation whatever for the report. No case of this virulent disease has been seen on the island, and only one case of chicken-pock has appeared. 

OUR SUMMARY. (1864, February 25). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 2.  



Sir—Allow me through your columns to call public attention to the unprotected state of the settlers on Kangaroo Island as regards the smallpox. Very few of them have ever been vaccinated, whilst vessels from the other colonies where the disease exists are in the habit of putting in there for shelter from such bad weather as we may expect at intervals for the next three months. The results likely to occur if smallpox appear on the island, cutoff as it is from medical aid, would be dreadful. I would suggest that the Government send a surgeon to vaccinate the people. From the character of the country, it is impossible for women and children to travel any distance; he would therefore have to visit the outlying settlers personally. This would involve both time and considerable personal exertion, and such service should be met by a special grant, as the sum at present allowed is utterly inadequate to the special duties required. And I think that the whole colony is concerned in this matter; for if smallpox were once on this island I do not see how any amount of precaution at the Port would prevent its transmission to the main. I am, Sir, &c.,


Yankalilla, July 11, 1872.

SMALLPOX. (1872, July 13). Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912), p. 3 (LATE EDITION). 


1887 — It is rumoured that a young farmer on Kangaroo Island is suffering from smallpox. The information that the patient was supposed to be afflicted with the disease was first brought by passengers from the Island by the steamer Dolphin. On receiving the intelligence, which was also telegraphed by Mr. Wilson, J.P., for Hog Bay, the President of the Central Board of Health at once obtained all the facts which could be placed at his command, and as far as his enquiries have gone the case is not one of true variola. It was, however, deemed advisable, the matter being regarded on the island as serious, to send a doctor down to determine what the patient was really suffering from. It may be mentioned that there is no medical man on the island. Dr. Norman left for the island on Wednesday afternoon for the purpose stated. It was reported to the Health Officer on Tuesday that a man named Johnson was suffering from smallpox at Kangaroo Island, and the report was at once communicated to the Board of Health. Dr. Norman left by one of the Adelaide Steamlaunch Company's boats. 

(1887, August 18). Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912), p. 3 (SECOND EDITION). 

The Supposed Smallpox at Kangaroo Island.

A Case of Erysipelas.

The following telegram, dated Augast 18, has been received by the Secretary of the Central Board of Health from Dr. Norman, Hog Bay:—"It is evidently a case of erysipelas. The man had a wound on the arm, and as soon as it was healed the swelling came on in the face and arm. Eruption and symptoms have not been either like chicken or small pox. The man is convalescent, and the temperature is normal. I will remain here for two or three days to vaccinate any children. Have taken extra precaution and made enquiries, and have not heard of any case similar. No one has communicated here from the other colonies."

The Supposed Smallpox at Kangaroo Island. (1887, August 18). Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912), p. 2 (SECOND EDITION). 

From 'Kingscote' — 'A Kangaroo Islander's endeavour to arouse a smallpox scare, on the ground that the place had become so quiet as to need an eruption, has utterly failed.' 

JUST SO. (1913, October 4). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 16. 



1880  With reference to the outbreak of scarlet fever in the family of Mr. Burgess, of South-west River, Kangaroo Island, we are informed that the Government have arranged with the owners of the steamer Cowry to take a case of medicines suitable for the malady, with instructions how to use them, and also a quantity of port wine, essence of beef, and other comforts. These will be taken to Kingscote,and, if possible, conveyed from thence to the South-west River, a distance of forty miles. Should, however, the Telegraph Master be unable to dispatch them overland, the Cowry will take them round to Victorine [sic] Bay, which is about ten miles from the home of the afflicted family. The Government contemplated sending a doctor, but they abandoned the idea, owing to the difficulty of getting a suitable man, and because they ascertained that the journey would be accompanied by a considerable amount of risk.

SUPPOSED EPIDEMIC AT KANGAROO ISLAND. (1880, January 17). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), p. 25.  

1880  Some alarm has been caused by a supposed out break of scarlet fever at Kangaroo Island. It turns out that only six children, belonging to one family, have been struck down. Supplies of medicine, with directions for their use, have been forwarded.  

SOUTH AUSTRALIA. (1880, January 17). The Sydney Daily Telegraph (NSW : 1879 -1883), p. 5.  

1880  What are the precise duties of the Colonial Surgeon ? I am led to ask this question from observing that there has been an outbreak of a disease which is believed to be scarlet fever on Kangaroo Island. The isolated community on that island have no doctor, and the Government have been striving without success to get some medical man in the colony to visit them. Dr. Patterson having failed in his efforts has sent a supply of medicine with instructions; but any one who has had experience of scarlet fever knows that it is a disease which re quires careful watching and the care of a skilled physician. As Colonial Surgeon I should have thought that, in so grave an emergency, for no one knows how many per sons in so limited a community may become infected, it was Dr. Patterson's duty, having failed to find a substitute, to go himself. Of course I may be mistaken, and Dr. Patterson's duties may be strictly confined to giving ad vice on cases at Port Adelaide, taking charge of the Lunatic Asylums, and interviewing prisoners at the Police Station who are supposed to be insane; but I always thought that the object of appointing a Colonial Surgeon was to meet such cases of emergency as that which has arisen at Kangaroo Island, as well as to provide for the care of the insane and prevent the spread of epidemics at the Port.

OUR CITY LETTER. (1880, January 20). Kapunda Herald (SA : 1878 - 1951), p. 3.  

THE LATE CASES OF SCARLET FEVER AT KANGAROO ISLAND.—The Colonial Surgeon has received a telegram from Mr. Paris, the Stationmaster at Kingscote, Kangaroo Island, to the effect that the Burgess family, who were suffering from a severe form of scarlet fever, are progressing favourably, and that they return grateful thanks for the assistance rendered by the Government.

(1880, January 24). Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912), p. 3.  


1866  See From Kingscote to Middle River in a Whaleboat which recounts the tragedy of the Snelling family - in 1863 Henry and Elizabeth Snelling, with their ten surviving children, were in desperate need of provisions and medicine, and three years later the family was stricken with typhoid fever. Three of their children died of this terrible infectious disease between April and July 1866 and are buried in "lonely graves" at Middle River.

SNELLING, Henry b. 10 Mar 1848 Adelaide, SA d. age 18 on 30 Jun 1866, Middle River, Kangaroo Island, SA

SNELLING, Elizabeth b. 28 Nov 1849 Adelaide, SA d. age 16 on 12 Apr 1866, Middle River, Kangaroo Island, SA

SNELLING, Helen b. 1858 Rapid Bay, SA d. age 8 on 04 Jul 1866, Middle River, Kangaroo Island, SA

1894  At the meeting of the Central Board of Health, held under the presidency of Dr. Whittell, on Wednesday, a number of matters connected with infections diseases came up for consideration. Mr. G. J. Bates wrote reporting a fresh case of typhoid fever in his family at Emu Bay, Kangaroo Island. He was treating three cases in his dwelling— a two-roomed house—and his wife and child occupied a cart shed. He had received a warning from the local board of health not to mix with the public more than was unavoidable or the sanitary regulations would be stringently carried out. He desired to be informed to what extent he was to consider himself isolated, and whether, if matters became worse, he would be able to get assistance. The President said a reply had been sent that the local board had reported Mr. Bates to be in affluent circumstances and well able to pay for any assistance he required. He had also been informed that there is no power under the Health Acts to prevent any person not actually suffering from an infectious disease, such as typhoid fever, engaging in his usual avocations and going where he thinks fit. The action was approved.

1894 'INFECTIOUS DISEASES.', The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), 2 June, p. 6. , 

[Ed. This is a remarkable response from the health authorities! An unfeeling response to a concerned citizen trying to do the right thing.  George James Bates was no stranger to ministering to typhoid victims, being part of the "rescue party" to the Snelling family in 1863. It is unclear who the patients were in 1894, presumably not his own surviving children, who were nearly all adults at that time. ]

 The typhoid patients at Emu Bay are progressing as favourably as can be expected under the circumstances. One fresh case has developed since my last. The disease is still confined to members of the one family. By strictly adhering to the sanitary regulations in such cases the disease will soon be stamped out. 

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), Wednesday 9 May 1894, page 6

1898  Mr. O'Malley asked whether the Government would, owing to the prevalence of typhoid fever on Kangaroo Island, and the fact that there was no medical man nearer than Adelaide, supplement any sum of money raised by the islanders towards securing the permanent residence of a medical man. Mr. Kingston - did not think so at the present moment. Mr. O'Malley — 'It is a very serious matter.' Mr. Wood : — 'It is a fair question.' He was inclined to think that the salubrious climate and the constitution of the Islanders would enable them to prevail over ailments such as that described. 

1898 'PRIVATE MEMBERS' DAY.', South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), 22 December, p. 9. ,  

[Ed. Again, a remarkable attitude displayed by the politicians of the time towards the Islanders.]

1898  A communication was received stating that during about the past month three cases of typhoid fever had been sent to the Adelaide Hospital from Queenscliffe, Kangaroo island, and that no precautions had been taken by the Local Board of Health. The Local Board to be informed, and to be requested to furnish a report. 

CENTRAL BOARD OF HEALTH. (1898, December 31). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 7.  

1904  Health officer (Dr. C. Bollen) reported one case of scarlet fever in East ward, two cases of diphtheria in Centre ward, and one case of typhoid in North ward. The typhoid had been imported from Kangaroo Island. 

PORT ADELAIDE CITY COUNCIL. (1904, January 15). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 6.  

1906  The Chairman presented the following report on typhoid fever at Kangaroo Island:— "For some years past typhoid fever has appeared, generally in isolated or nearly isolated cases, at certain seasons at or near Kingscote. The matter was brought under my notice recently by the Chairman of the Local Board of Health, and I visited the localities, inspected the premises, and collected all the information I could regarding 18 cases, spread over a period of 30 years. The following is the result of my enquiries: — General Conditions.— The soil in and around the township of Gladstone [sic] [Kingscote?] is thin, and the calcareous soil everywhere crops out. The water supply consists of rain water, which is collected in tanks, some of these being underground. There are no wells in the township. The privies, as a rule, are unsatisfactory. Some of the sanitary conveniences consist of deep cess-pits, without any means of access. The tins in use not infrequently overflow, and the overflow is carried into and through the subsoil to contaminate imperfect underground tanks. The milk sup ply is derived from cows kept in or near the town ship. There are no stock disease of importance. (Here follow details of the cases. For these details I am indebted to many of the residents and people concerned, and especially to M.C. Thorpe, from whom I received much valuable help.) Classified Summary of Cases.— There are three classes of cases:— (1) Imported, where the subjects developed fever two or three days after their arrival; (2) recently infected from imported cases; (3) delayed infection, resembling spontaneous occurrence. (1) The first class comprises three cases; (2) The second class is well illustrated in the case of the Bates family at Emu Bay, where four members in the family took the disease in succession after it had been introduced by another member. (3) The cases that appear to be spontaneous occurrence are seven in number. On full enquiry I am satisfied that the infection was derived from previous cases, owing largely to conditions that might have been avoided. One house had a large underground cement water tank, which supplied water for drinking and domestic purposes. This shows repaired cracks in several places. Within 12 paces of it — on the slope above— is placed a closet, the overflow from which enters the porous subsoil, and gravitates directly to the tank. Two cases occurred in this house at intervals, and the young man from Marsden Point now ill was in the habit of frequenting this house and spending a good deal of time in it with friends. Another young man, who also suffered from fever, was also a visitor to this house. Recommendations. — The system of privy pits in the subsoil associated with underground cement water tanks is a constant source of danger. Both conditions ought to be abolished in favour of the dry-earth system, carefully and actively supervised by the local authority, and galvanized iron water tanks above ground. The climate, even in summer, is such that underground cooling is not necessary. With these precautions there should be no occurrence of fever on the island, and any imported case need not be a source of danger to either inhabitants or visitors." 

CENTRAL BOARD OF HEALTH. (1906, January 20). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 9. 


1911  Mumps have been prevalent on Kangaroo Island, but it has not been considered necessary so far to close the Kingscote School, although a proposal to that effect was made.

EDUCATION NOTES. (1911, October 21). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 8.  


1920  Though epidemics are rare on Kangaroo Island, Kingscote is suffering one at the present time, and there are but few families that up to the present have escaped the measles. Particularly is the effect felt at the Public School where the attendance has been reduced to a small number as a result of the epidemic. Too much care cannot be taken by infect ed persons, or those in attendance on same, against the spread of the dis ease, and elsewhere the Local Board of Health publish clauses of The Health Act for the guidance of residents, who would be well advised to take every precaution. It will be noted in the clauses referred to that every case must be reported to the Local Board of Health, the penalty for not doing so being a fine of £5. Subscribers to the local Institute also, who are infected, or reside with per sons suffering or recovering from any infectious disorder, are advised to read Nos. 24 and 25 of the rules of the Institute. These provide that such persons must report the fact to the librarian, who may refuse to issue any book to them. Close attention to these matters, and a strict observance of instructions given by our Health Officer (Dr. Platonow) should speedily stamp out the epidemic.

1920 'LOCAL AND GENERAL NEWS.', The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), 22 May, p. 2. ,  


1890  Severe colds have been unusually prevalent (writes our correspondent from Hog Bay on April 14) accompanied by diarrhoea. By some it is thought to be a mild form of the much dreaded influenza, but we have no medical man here to settle that knotty question for us.

Latest News. (1890, April 15). Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912), p. 2 (SECOND EDITION).  

1894  Old George Bates, the pioneer of Kangaroo Island, is seriously ill with influenza. He is 94 years of age.

NEEDLES: (1894, September 25). The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 - 1922), p. 2 (SECOND EDITION).  

1919  The outbreak of the dreaded influenza, which up to recently has been in a mild form throughout Australia, has according to the latest reports, become far more serious and Victoria and New South Wales have been isolated. In Melbourne and Sydney all places of amusement have been closed, and we understand that all railway and other communication from the two States has been suspended. In South Australia the outlook is considered more hopeful.

INFLUENZA. (1919, February 1). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 4. 

1919  Sickness. Island residents have been congratulating themselves for some some time on their freedom from that dread epidemic, influenza, which has been so prevalent of late on the mainland, but their turn has evidently come at last and at present there is scarcely a family in the district but what has some member afflicted. Fortunately the epidemic is sot so severe as that experienced in the city and elsewhere, and the general opinion is that it is a severe form of Spring, or dandelion fever, which it usually so prevalent at this time of the year. Nevertheless many have had to seek medical advice and are confined to their beds. The attendance at the local school has been reduced from about 60 to 8 this week in consequence, and has now been closed and we understand that the district schools also show a great falling off in attendance.

SICKNESS. (1919, September 13). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2. 

1920  The Epidemic.  The influenza, which has been so prevalent on the Island during the past two weeks, is, we are pleased to say, abating, though several residents are still confined to their beds. All the schools in the district have been closed, and at the Post Office business has been carried on by Mrs Murton, owing to the illness of the staff, until the arrival of assistance from Adelaide on Tuesday last. The warm weather experienced this week will no doubt check the epidemic.

THE EPIDEMIC. (1919, September 20). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2. 

1929  Visitors Blamed.  Our Penneshaw (Kangaroo Island) correspondent writes: — Influenza is very prevalent in the township of Penneshaw, and in a bad form. At the same time, a slight cold with sore throat is "going about," which appears to be quite distinct from the 'flu,' as it does not develop into a severe sickness. We are blaming the visitors for introducing the "'flu" this time, so our delectable climate and charming scenic attractions are not, apparently, an unmixed blessing.

FLU ON THE ISLAND (1929, January 9). The Register News-Pictorial (Adelaide, SA : 1929 - 1931), p. 4.  

1929  Kangaroo Island has just gone through a very severe epidemic of influenza. At American River and Mutton [sic] hardly one household escaped. The epidemic now seems over.

THE COUNTRY (1929, January 18). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 11.  

1950   SA National Football League secretary (Mr. T. S. Hill) had only minutes to spare in stopping a league umpire from going to Kangaroo Island this morning. Because one of the teams in the Kangaroo Island semi final had eight players suffering from influenza, the game has been postponed. Mr. Hill received the advice just before 8 a.m., and managed to get word to the umpire, who was to have travelled by boat scheduled to leave at that time. 

K.I. MATCH POSTPONED: 'FLU ATTACK (1950, August 25). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954), p. 22.  


Infantile Paralysis Patient Dies 

An infantile paralysis patient, a man, 38, of Kingscote, Kangaroo Island, died at the Northfield Infectious Diseases Hospital today [Reuben Ivo NEAVE (1898-1938)] . This is the fourteenth death from the disease since November 1. Two patients were discharged before 1 p.m. today to the Children's Hospital. There are now 25 cases and one suspected case at the institution.

(1938, March 5). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954), p. 5.