A deadly illness, probably smallpox, tore through First Nations communities around Sydney Cove in 1789, killing possibly half their numbers, leaving the dead along its shores. Was this outbreak an infection passed on from unaffected colonists, the French, or distant Makassans? Or did the British authorities deliberately spread the disease as an ‘instrument of war’ as they had done in North America and other colonies?

In ‘”Devil devil”: the sickness that changed Australia’, Indigenous communities reporter Nakari Thorpe, health reporter Olivia Williams and Carl Smith for Patient Zero, take a fresh look today, 7 June 2021, at this historical epidemic as the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the State of Victoria increase. Read more on ABC News: https://www.abc.net.au/news/health/2021-06-07/patient-zero-smallpox-outbreak-of-1789/100174988

While the use of smallpox as a biological agent against Indigenous peoples is a controversial subject to some, others are convinced that the disease was used in the colony of New South Wales as a military strategy. Among such researchers are Craig Mear and Chris Warren. Mear’s paper The origin of the smallpox outbreak in Sydney in 1789’, appeared in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 94, Part 1, in June 2008. ABC Radio National also interviewed Mear about the epidemic in 2011: Smallpox in Sydney: 1789’, Ockham’s Razor with Tegan Taylor, ABC Radio National, Friday 30 September 2011: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/craig-mear/3145562

In Smallpox: Biological Warfare 1789 Onwards, Eleanor Gilbert, Enlightning Productions, 2017, Chris Warren talks about smallpox and how the disease broke out in the colony of New South Wales in 1789 and later on. He discusses the various theories about how the disease entered New South Wales, affecting and decimating many Aboriginal people. Watch the video at: https://vimeo.com/213523350