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Nursing in New Zealand: History and Reminiscences

Chapter XXIV. — Smallpox Epidemic

page 116

Chapter XXIV.
Smallpox Epidemic.

A part of New Zealand nursing history which happened during my term of office, though personally, I had little part in it, was the smallpox epidemic among the Maoris in 1913.

My department had a very extensive organisation for the stamping out of the disease, which had gained a footing before it was realised that we had smallpox among us. It was introduced by a Maori Mormon elder, arrived from overseas, whose case developed soon after he landed, when he was taking part in a big gathering of Maoris. At first, the cases were so mild that they were not diagnosed, but soon it was quite apparent that it was smallpox.

Sanitary inspectors were sent to arrange for isolation, and camps were formed with nurses in charge. Extra vaccinators were appointed. The nurses' duties were out of the usual routine, for as well as nursing the patients, they did vaccinating, arranged for provisions for contacts, and those isolated, and rode from kainga to kainga seeing that none were breaking quarantine; also fumigating and disinfecting. The Auckland Hospital isolation hospital at Port Chevalier, was opened as a smallpox hospital, and Nurses Gill and Begbie were on duty there. Marquees had to be added. At one time, there were 60 patients, the nurses at first had to rough it almost as much in temporary camp hospitals, but they stuck to it, bravely, they only page 117 had an untrained nurse and two porters to aid them. The doctor was non-resident, so their anxietes and responsibilities were a treat. Fortunately, although some of the patients were very ill and one died, the disease was mild, or they could not have managed with so few nurses.

At another place, Hokitika, a larger temporary hospital was established in charge of Dr. Jessie Scott, and Sister Davison, with two nurses to help, where there were over 50 patients.

Miss Bagley was very busy arranging for nurses and visiting the temporary hospitals. Among the nurses who were fighting the epidemic were Nurse Ellen Taare, a Maori district nurse, who had a camp at Waikare, Bay of Islands, Nurse Fairbank, Nurse Kettleby, Nurse Wigney, Nurse Wilkes, Nurse Mataira, a native nurse of the Health Department. There were known to be forty deaths during the epidemic, most of these being in the North.

Vaccination was very vigorously pursued in all centres, and New Zealand being an infected place, everyone leaving for Australia or elsewhere, had to be vaccinated. My office was a vaccination office and there, with one or two doctors, I did hundreds of people.

All other ordinary work had to be suspended for the time.

The nurses were splendid at this time, never flinching from their duties or shrinking from infection, and fortunately, none contracted the disease.