The Great Plague
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A documentary featuring short, personal recollections by elderly New Zealanders about the 1918 influenza epidemic. They recall the symptoms, treatment, and the effect on New Zealand society. [Most speakers are not identified in the recording.]
The recollections include:
- A man who worked as dray driver, recalls the number of people not turning up to work because they were ill.
- A woman recalls her husband, Tom, who was custodian of the Town Hall, coming home and telling her about the epidemic. They disinfected the drains and gargled with a solution of Condy's fluid. Tom used to disinfect the car after taking people to hospital.
- A nurse and several men recall how patients were cared for and the problem of delirious patients.
- A former press gallery reporter for the C hristchurch Sun newspaper, recalls Mr Massey and Mr Ward in Parliament denying the rumours that influenza had been brought into New Zealand on the steamer 'Niagara'.
- Another nurse talks about the Armistice Day announcement affecting the ability to get supplies to care for patients. She says the day cost hundreds of lives, as everything was shut for the celebrations and fresh supplies weren't accessible.
- Lieutenant D. C. Low, Assistant Medical Officer on board the troopship 'Tahiti'. The ship left Wellington on 10 July 1918, sailing via the Cape of Good Hope. He speaks about the outbreak of influenza on board, and estimates there must have been more than a thousand cases on the ship. He describes the symptoms, including delirium.
- A man talks about his father, the Reverend James McCaw of Lower Hutt, caring for his five children and his wife, as well as sick parishioners. He and Father Walsh were the only ministers able to get about in the Hutt Valley, and they buried all dead irrespective of denomination. He recalls the Armistice announcement, and his father telling him his brother and sister had died. He and his mother survived. His father forced two local retired nurses to help him nursing the sick. [The speaker is probably Rev. J.C. McCaw.]
- A man describes the public fumigation chambers that were set up in an attempt to halt infection. He didn't think much of the treatment, and claims it only made the disease worse.
- Several speakers describe the effects of the epidemic on children and babies, who often survived, but the mothers died. Schools were closed.
- Several speakers recall the heavy demand on horse-drawn ambulances and hearses.
- Folk remedies and treatments are discussed by several speakers, including whisky, gargles, wearing a camphor bag, and sulphur sprinkled on a fire.
- A woman recalls Māori patients being treated by a woman called 'Old Lucy' with traditional herbal remedies, and they recovered. She compares Old Lucy's remedies with their own - quinine and lemons.
- A Māori woman recalls her mother's tangi, and cooking for patients. The mission ladies brought them soup.
- A man recalls a Māori man making a pot of toheroa soup for them.
- A woman speaks about bringing food to those infected.
- A woman speaks about getting groceries in Waverley, without physical contact. When it came time to pay, they put the money into a mug outside the shop, with disinfectant in it.
- A man tells a story about a North Canterbury man, Barney, who kept pet birds. After he had left his home to work on the West Coast, the birds made a great noise at about the time he had died.
- Two recollections from people who lost all their hair while they were sick.
- A woman explains how if people needed help, they would hang a white rag from the window or door.
- A woman who worked in a chemist shop in Wellington describes making up medicine in bulk after doctors published the prescription in the newspaper.
- A woman who worked with the doctor in Takapuna recalls taking over the doctor's duties in delivering medicine when he got sick.
- Two women describe influenza symptoms, including thirst and blanking out.
- A nurse speaks about a Red Cross course for training women and girls in home nursing. She says this training would be very important in the event of another epidemic or emergency.
Reference number 23785
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Henderson, Jim, 1918-2005, Producer
Low, David Collingwood, Speaker/Kaikōrero
New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (estab. 1962, closed 1975), Broadcaster
Date 12 Dec 1967