1918 Flu Epidemic – Lily Baker
Rose Chapman: Please let me introduce our speaker today who a lot of you will already know, and perhaps even have heard her speak; and that’s Lily Baker, who is a Hawke’s Bay identity from way back, and very much involved with local history and genealogy, and many people will know her through that. She takes cemetery tours … knows a lot about who is underground up in Havelock North. And also, with the Waitangi Day celebrations, that’s another of your interests, isn’t it?
Lily Baker: That’s a challenge, that one.
And in fact the list of her interests and activities could probably go on for half the morning, but I’m not going to waste time; I’m just going to say please welcome Lily, and we’re very interested to hear what you have to say.
Thank you. [Applause]
How I got interested in this subject was by stealth, I think. I always have a feeling that if I’m close to doing something, things happen around me that causes me to accomplish something. And my involvement with the  flu was through several causes; the first one was that a Māori person came to me wanting to know who was buried beside their church, down one side, because he’d been instructed that he was to never dig up there, that there were bodies under there but they didn’t know who they were. And he came to me to see if I could find out who was buried there. So I went to the Registrar in Hastings – that’s the nearest registration district – and the man that [who] was running it at that time used to be the Registrar-General of New Zealand, and he got to know me because of several visits I did [made] to that office. So I explained to him what we wanted to know, so out came the Māori registration, [register] and we were able to name all the people that [who] had been buried in that grave.
So the next thing – I thought, ’Ooh, this is interesting – we’ll go to the newspaper.’ I took that man up to the newspapers which used to be upstairs at the newspaper office, and I found so much [of] interest there; that we found that they opened a hospital in the Drill Hall. How many remember where the Drill Hall was? Okay, so that dates you, doesn’t it? [Laughter] And they set up a Māori hospital there to take Māori people because they were dying. And also, I found out that they banned people from going to Māori funerals; because of the tangi people were going home with the flu. It was being spread by that.
And another incident I had [was] my aunt who died at ninety-five this year; she had this photograph that her mother always had beside her bed, and she said, “I think that’s our uncle that [who] died in Rotorua.” So I went to Rotorua – couldn’t find him there, I looked in all the things – didn’t turn up. And in recent times I found out that he’d had a mining accident. I knew they were from the West Coast, they lived at Granity … down that way. And he’d had a mining accident, and the community actually put a fund together to send him to Rotorua to the hospital there, to see if it would make him any better. So I thought, ‘Well that’s the same story that Aunty told me about somebody dying in Rotorua.’ And I’d been through the registers. So anyway, [I] started thinking, ‘1918 – okay.’ I found him in Auckland. Now what has happened, he’s left the West Coast; he’s gone on the train from Wellington, and it’s the same time as the flu was absolutely just getting started. Right, he’s got sick on the train – they haven’t taken him to Rotorua which is a branch line, they’ve taken him on to Auckland, and there was a hospital made there out of a big old house … the emergency hospital … and that’s where he died, and he’s buried in a mass grave with a whole lot of other people. Now then I started to think, ‘How long was it before the family back on the West Coast’ you know, ‘how did they find out he’d actually died?’ Because communications were not up and running because people were going home sick, so communications were only doing so many hours a week. And that’s why I got started.
In recent times I recalled a story of my father, and suddenly, Click! That’s connected to the flu. And it was a story … my grandfather had some property out [on] Middle Road to Waipawa, the original road, and my father told me that there was a cave nearby. And I can still visualise where it would’ve been; it had blackberries growing over it. The blackberries hid the opening to a cave. My father said about people dying, and they carried the person in, his bedding in; anything that person owned went into that cave with them. And then the person who took him in died a few days later. That’s the flu! Now I have checked that out and found out the locals knew about that cave, and the opening fell away in recent years with flooding, and so they put a bulldozer in and closed it over, ‘cause it’s full of artifacts, of course. So you can imagine how news would get round very fast about where that was. So that was able to [be] confirm[ed] many years later after my father had died, that that story is correct, and I have connected it with flu. So that’s how I got interested in the flu.
So all my notes are from the Hawke’s Bay Today, but also the history of the Hawke’s Bay Hospital Board has a very good section. And ‘Black November’ that the man [Dr Geoffrey W Rice] wrote … that’s got lots if you want to know more about it. And this is a photograph of the medal that people got because of their heroic deeds.
So [the] 1918 influenza pandemic was commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, but it did not originate in Spain at all. It was given the popular name by a journalist when the Spanish King, Alphonso VIII, fell seriously ill in a form of the infuenza in May of that year. So that was the first time it started to get into the newspapers.
‘Evidence suggests that the mild form of the influenza started in North America, and was present in many countries as late as 1917 and early 1918. A well-documented outbreak in Haskell County, Kansas, in January and February of 1918, bore all the characteristics of a new flu – high attack rate, high morbility [morbidity] and greater mortality than is usual for influenza. The disease spread amongst the recruits who entered camp in Kansas, then to camps in Georgia and South Carolina, and then rapidly across the midwest. And just remember, this is just before the war finishes … the First World War. American soldiers also were credited with bringing the disease to Europe, where the first cases appeared near the huge American transit camp in Brest and Bordeaux in early April, and by June the first wave had spread across most civilian populations in Europe’. Now I didn’t know the Americans had been in the First World War, and my son said, “Same as the Second World War – they came in last and won!” [Laughter] My kids have a sense of humour.
‘The first cases of a more severe form of influenza emerged amongst the British and the French troops serving the western front, early in July 1918. By mid-August the second wave [of] a highly infectious flu with sudden onset and pneumonia complications, was spread rapidly in France. In October the flu was at its worst in South Africa, Japan, China, Peru, Greece and Italy. It is thought that the worldwide death toll was as high as fifty million people’, which was more than the war took.
‘The first New Zealanders affected by the second wave of 1918 flu were soldiers of the 40th Regiment on board the ship ‘Tahiti’. On 22nd August, their convoy which had called into Cape Town, South Africa, en route to Plymouth in England, refuelled at Sierra Leone in West Africa. None of the crew or the solidiers went ashore as fever was reported to be raging, but locals came onboard to coal the ships. Within days, over half the men onboard fell ill. The final death toll of that ship was eighty’. And they didn’t know about cleaning hands and not sneezing; and spitting all over the place, so that would be how it was spread.
‘In the Herald Tribune of 4th November 1918 the first death in Napier was reported in the Herald: ‘Mr Craddock Adams, age thirty-one, who died in Napier Hospital. He was one of the eleven men comprising the crew of the ‘Marco’, all of whom were admitted to hospital. He was a native of Norfolk Island and was married, and his wife resided in Auckland. There were fifteen victims of the dreaded disease in hospital who were progressing satisfactorily, but there is [are] one or two who are causing anxiety.’ That was the start of it coming to Hawke’s Bay. ‘The mayor of Napier, Mr Hill, in conjunction with the leading citizens and the health authorities [are] taking all necessary precautions with the outbreak of influenza. The public are warned not to become alarmed in any way but to use common sense and judgment in taking ordinary precautions. If any serious cases of influenza occur in Napier in all probability they will be transferred to Quarantine Island.’ Do you know where that is? I’ve been there; it’s now part of the Harbour Board land that’s come up, but it’s more towards Bay View. That was called Quarantine Island, and there was evidence of Māori middens and things on there, ‘cause that’s how I got there, to look at that.
Headlines from other areas were reporting that the flu ‘Was bad in Palmerston North, and it had been severe but now abating in Christchurch; and on board a ship of fifty crew there were sixteen cases of influenza. Featherston and Trentham Military Camps had one thousand three hundred and forty-six cases, and seven soldiers had died. Mortality doubled in England; the official figures in England and Wales were seven thousand four hundred and seventeen’ … that’s at November; it wasn’t the final figure of 1918 … compared with four thousand four hundred and eighty-two last week’. So the figures were going up by two thousand a month. ‘Total for London was four thousand one hundred and sixty-seven and the week before it’d been two thousand to hundred and [coughing] twenty-seven’, so that’s a massive amount of people dying suddenly.
‘Hastings Borough [Council] called an urgent meeting to consider what steps to take in sanitary matters in the borough. A building would be available to isolate the cases and [with] the hospital undertaking to supply the equipment’. Remember there was no hospital in Hastings at that time. ‘There was a great shortage of nurses in Auckland and Napier was asked if they could spare some. Voluntary nurses would be required to assist the doctors’. And one of my family in the Wairarapa actually was a nurse that [who] went with a doctor, and she died with the flu by going into people’s places.
Here are some of the resolutions passed at the meeting:
‘That a committee be formed of the mayor, councillors Adams, Pratt and Styles be appointed, with authority to make arrangements in connection with a building to be utilised as an isolation hospital.’ So they were going to set up in Hastings their own hospital.
‘That it be recommended that the Education Board tell the schools in the district to close and remain closed until such time as the Education Department told them to open again.’
Number 3: ‘The owners of taxi cabs be supplied with formulin [formalin] at a cost price, and that they be requested to spray cars inside and out including the cushions’ … I didn’t know they had such things [chuckles] … which should be turned for the purpose at least once a day; and that the Health Inspector empowered the Borough Inspector to see it was done.’ So he was busy, so he could’ve caught it off that [from there] as well.
‘That the Borough Inspector procure an extra dray and men to clear the rubbish accumulated in business places throughout the borough.’
‘That the Inspector see all germ-producing material be removed and the drains and other places be disinfected.’
‘That the hotel and boarding houses be asked to fumigate their presence [premises] daily.’
‘That the mayor and the deputy mayor confer with the medical men, the Chief Health Inspector and chairman of the Education Board and the Hospital Board with a view to preventing the spread of influenza in Hastings.’
‘That disinfectant be supplied at cost to the public generally, and free to all who cannot pay.’
‘That the Municipal Theatre be closed down until the health authorities allow them to be reopened, and that theatre management be asked to fall into line in this regard.’ Well, you know, his income’s gone, so it’s quite a big ask.
‘That applications be called for voluntary nurses’, because the nurses were getting sick too.
In the same paper the Health Department published directions to fight the influenza:
‘Immediately a case of influenza occurs the patient should be sent home and place himself under the care of his medical attendant. The seat, the desk, the furniture and the floor within a radius of six feet of where the officer was working, should be immediately disinfected by being sprayed or washed over with a solution of one percent of disinfectant; say, half a breakfast cupful of formalin, lsol or Jeyes Fluid’ … do you remember Jeyes Fluid? I do – terribly smelly stuff … ‘all other reliable disinfectants to one gallon of water. Telephones should also be washed with such solutions. After staff have left for the night the floors and walls should be sprayed with the solution.’ Can you imagine coming in here and spraying all the walls [chuckle] after we’ve been here today? ‘Contacts of any patient should gargle freely with mild antiseptics, and if possible submit themselves for inhalation in one of the chambers to be provided.’ They provided inhalation chambers in most places where [the] public were.
The instructions to affected households:
‘The initial symptoms of influenza are fever, headache, pain in the limbs and prostration’, meaning you want to lie down. ‘The patient must go to bed and place themselves under the care of a doctor. He must be rigorously isolated from the rest of the of the household at the earliest possible moment, only the person in attendance being allowed to enter the sick room. All eating and drinking utensils [used] by him must be kept separate from those of the rest of the household, and disinfected by boiling after each occasion of use. The secretion from the nose and throat, both highly infectious, must be caught on pieces of old rag which are then to be burnt. When coughing, he must take [the] precaution of covering the mouth and nose with a handkerchief or pieces of old rag, the former which [has] been disinfected by [being] soaked for an hour in one percent of Isol or Jeyes Fluid, before removing the laundry, and later by burning. The patient must remain in bed until advised by the medical attendant he may get up, and must remain in isolation until the other symptoms of catarrh entirely disappear. The attendant is the only person in the household who’s permitted to enter the sick room. She should wash her hands carefully with’ … and it’s a ‘she’, I notice [chuckle] – it’s a woman’s job … ‘carefully with soap and water, to which water disinfectant such as Isol or Jeyes Fluid has been added, on every occasion she leaves the [cough] sick room, and before each meal. When handing the patient she should take care that he does not cough or breathe directly in her face. She should gargle frequently and douche the nose and mouth with mild antiseptic. When taking exercise she should not enter the other houses or come in close contact with other people.’
Now today, you go down the town – I’ve seen boys … teenage, high school … spitting. We used to have notices up that said ‘no spitting’. You see people sneezing, though not covering their noses over.
On 11th November 1918, the paper ran the obituary for ‘Mr Norman White, who was the eldest son of Mr W Kinross White of Napier, who died at Dannevirke at 3am. He had been travelling to a stock sale at Palmerston North when he took ill and laid up about a week ago in Dannevirke. He was thirty-eight years old, had married Miss Constance Mason, and they had two children’. And there was [were] lots of obituaries like that, so [for] anybody doing family history … they’re a goldmine, the papers. And of course, what some of you won’t know, this is available online from Papers Past. They only go to 1920, but the papers are a goldmine of interesting information on family history and local history, absolutely.
The 14th November there was a whole heap of personal information on people that [who] had died; sometimes they were sick. And you know, so many people would’ve been away, like that man that [who] died in Dannevirke – how does his family in 1918 find out that he’s died on his trip to somewhere else? And I won’t read those all out to you because you can have a look at my notes later. It also says that ‘The many friends of Reverend Brocklehurst will rejoice to hear that he is making record progress towards recovery. Nurse[s] McLennan and Walker at the Cranford Private Hospital say that he is a [the] most satisfactory patient they’ve had under his [their] care.’ I would imagine that most people when they’re so sick would’ve been really grateful for the help. [Chuckles]
And then it’s got another one: ‘The death occurred on Saturday of Miss Ellen Butler, eldest daughter of Mr Thomas Butler of Waipawa’. You see, what was happening … normally you’d just get a death notice, and if it was a wife it would just say, ‘the wife of Mr So-and- So’ Sometimes it didn’t even have her name. But the beauty of these is you’ve got a lot more information at that time about people, almost like miniature obituaries, which is really useful.
On [in] November 1918 there was a notice to:
‘Notify doctors before ten o’clock please’, it said. ‘The public do not realise the necessity of letting their doctors know early in the day.’ You can imagine how many doctors we had and how many people would be trying to get them. One Hastings doctor reported the following: ‘Before ten o’clock in the morning he had four calls for patients; between ten [o’clock] and two [o’clock] he had fifteen calls for twenty patients; between two o’clock and seven o’clock, nine calls for twelve patients; and between seven o’clock and eleven o’clock, six calls for ten patients. Total calls paid in twenty-four hours was thirty-four for forty-six patients.’ Now that’s just what one doctor coped with. To give some idea of the pressure that doctors are working at, he said yesterday that he started work at 9am and except for meals, all in one hour duration, was hard at it ‘til 1am today. So he had gone round a sixteen hour day, so he wouldn’t stand up to that for very long.
‘There was an inhalation chamber set up in the Assembly Rooms in Hastings, and it will be open for adults tomorrow at ten o’clock.’
‘A man named Parker, supposed to be an advance agent for a travelling circus and who was brought to Hastings from Te Aute today, has died’. So the circus was still carrying on in spite of all this … [chuckles] … my sense of humour.
‘The Public Health Act – Spreading Infectious Dseases and its Penalties’
‘Every person [who], whilst to his own knowledge suffering from any infectious disease, wilfully exposes himself in any shop, inn, public place or public vehicle without proper precautions against the spread of infection; or while suffering as aforesaid, enters any public vehicle without previously notifying the driver or conductor that he is suffering from the disease; or whilst in charge of any person suffering as aforesaid, allows him to do anything in breach of either of the two paragraphs above, being the owner, driver or conductor of a public vehicle, fails to effectively disinfect the vehicle forthwith after it has to his knowledge been entered by a sufferer, is liable to a fine not exceeding ten pounds [£10] for each offence. If the offence relates to a public vehicle, then the convicting court shall also order the defendant, being other than the owner, driver or conductor, to pay to the owner of the vehicle the expense incurred in effectively disinfecting the vehicle’.
Paragraph 1 of Section 26 in the same Act reads:
‘Every person is liable to a fine not exceeding £20’ … and I mean, most people would’ve been earning £10 a week … ‘who knowingly liens, sells, transmits or exposes any things which have been exposed to infection from any infectious disease, unless they have first been effectively disinfected or proper precautions have been taken against spreading infection.’
You see, today we usually know how to deal with these things but they didn’t know. I had an aunt die because the doctor didn’t wash his hands after attending a previous patient. She died as soon as her baby was born, within a few days. That doesn’t happen today, I don’t think. But it was quite common back when my cousin was born.
By 20th November 1918, the death notices had six entries, but on reading the news column[s] in the following pages there were many more deaths reported than that. Because there were so many, they were just getting overloaded with keeping up with the news. There was [were] instructions on how to disinfect dwellings with formuline, [formalin], and using sulphur, four to six pounds, burnt in a room. I can remember sulphur being used at our place, I think for whooping cough, when that was rife when I was growing up. You were instructed to: ‘Get [an] old kerosene tin, fill it up near the top with soil or ashes, put the sulphur on the soil or the ashes, pour methylated spirits or whisky [chuckles] on the sulphur and set it alight with a match’. Doesn’t that sound dangerous? ‘Make sure when the sulphur is aflame that it cannot burn anything in the vicinity’. [Chuckles] Gosh! ‘This can best be done by standing the kerosene tin in a large galvanised iron tub or a bedroom basin’. You know … have you all got these things in your house? [Chuckles] It was suggested you could [cough] also burn plenty of sulphur candles. ‘In all cases all windows and chimneys should be blocked off, ramming newspapers into remaining apentures’. [Apertures] ‘Keep the room closed for four hours, or as long as possible. Above all, after fumigation the room must have a spring clean, and none can be better than soap, water and a scrubbing brush’. That’s still right today, isn’t it? [Chuckles]
By 21st November 1918, in the ‘Personal’ column we learn that ‘Mr F M Nelson has [who is laid up with] influenza … is progressing [favourably]’. It also says about [that] ‘Nurses McIlroy and Stack came from Gisborne on sick leave, and that ‘Private Douglas W Gow, son of Reverend W J Gow of Maraekakaho, died at Featherston [Camp] of influenza’. ‘The funeral of Captain Allen Bishop took place this [yesterday] afternoon … in Havelock North cemetery. The ‘Last Post’ was played’, and the pallbearers were listed.
From Napier we learned that ‘Members of the SS ‘Marco’ crew, among whom the disease was first discovered in Napier, have all now recovered sufficiently to rejoin their ship’. ‘There was [were] nine deaths overnight in Napier West in the general hospital’. The Hastings West School was made into a hospital in Napier.
‘The Hastings emergency hospital is full and the visiting of homes found many who had not had an attendant for several days, children and babies with sick parents having no one to take care of them’. Many deaths are recorded in the news columns and there is a warning that ‘When you think you feel better, that you are at risk of a relapse, and that this is usually fatal’. And that happened to a lot of people; they felt a bit better so they got up to do things and then they got sick and died.
22nd November 1918 – there was a list of those who had died at the military camps at Trentham, Featherston and Christchurch because the war had finished. And it was said – I read somewhere where it was actually the flu that caused the end of the war because the Germans were losing people as well as our side, and they had nobody left to fight.
Both Napier and Hastings are appealing for more volunteers to help with nursing the sick. Many more deaths are noted in Napier and Hastings. Conditions at the Hastings hospital: reports that the staff – and that’s a temporary hospital – that the staff ‘are going down under stress of work. With the opening of the second ward they will want fifteen more nurses’; and stresses that the nurses who have had training should volunteer to help ‘for the sake of their fellow creatures’. Doesn’t matter if you’ve got family sick yourself you should give your time up. Mention of the shortage of room in the hospital has people who are recovering in the same ward as those who are dying, and suggests another ward for those who are dying to give the family space to say goodbye.
On 23rd November 1918 the headline read: ‘Hastings Emergency Hospital – Ward Management – Tribune’s Comment Resented – Reporter Ordered to Leave the Grounds’
‘The mayor asked the reporter who had given him the information the previous day, and he declined to say so he was asked to leave the grounds’. [Of] course he was probably not wanting to give that out. Letters to the editor appeared under this report chastising the paper for giving out incorrect information and causing people to panic. Doctor Boxer, Medical Superintendent, wrote a report: ‘Ten cases have died, nine in the observation ward and one in the general ward, owing to the observation ward being full of delirious and dangerous cases. [The hospital was originally intended for forty cases] and the management allowed ten percent for serious cases. Therefore there are only four beds in the observation ward – [these beds were] full. As there were ninety cases in the hospital, rationing [the ratio] of ten percent stood; and there were approximately nine serious cases, five of whom transferred [preferred] to remain in the general ward. One of these cases died. The whole difficulty has been the impossibility of arranging a trained nursing staff to open a larger ward. This difficulty has now, today, been overcome and a large male ward is in full working order’. You know, it must’ve been terrible because the people were coming in faster than they could cope with.
There are death notices and lists of those who have died in the Featherston and Trentham camps. The news column is also filled with those who have died and those who are sick.
By 25th November the Hastings mayor reported that ‘Since the hospital opened ten days ago thirty-nine patients had been discharged, eighteen had died, and [of the] ninety-six in hospital, eight cases were serious, eight or more [ten] were classed as ill, and the remainder [were] progressing favourably’.
‘The mayor [says he] has been asked what the Influenza Fund money was for’. Gosh! In the middle of this the mayor’s being questioned about why he’s collecting money for all these things. Nothing’s new, is it? ‘The mayor and the committee were all responsible people and they could be trusted to spend money in such a manner as will leave no cause for complaint. Funds are urgently required and should be found by [the] people who can afford to do so. If there is any surplus, the mayor suggests, and he thinks the suggestion will be carried out, that the money should be placed to the credit of the fund already established for the building of a hospital in Hastings’. So that’s the first mention in this that they were trying to get a hospital in Hastings.
‘It has been estimated that there have been sixty deaths in Napier since the outbreak of the epidemic’. And remember, there wasn’t the amount of population there is today.
26th November 1918: ‘At the Napier Police Court, James Brown [of] McGlashans Limited, pleaded guilty to a charge of selling lemons at a price in excess of the fixed proclamation’. So somebody was out to make a dollar. [Chuckles] ‘Defendant pleaded that he was ignorant of the proclamation’. Wong Low, a Chinese man, plead guilty to the same charge and they were both let off with a conviction, but no fine was paid which would have been up to £500 for being dishonest.
The Napier committee reported that the mayor ‘Had visited all the hospitals and he considered that [from the general conditions he was justified in stating] that all [were] doing well. At the Napier West Hospital there were forty-four patients; only a few serious cases and a number were now on their way to convalesence. At Burlington Road Hospital there were only seventeen patients though there was accommodation for thirty. Only two were really bad cases. At the main Hospital there were seventeen patients and only two serious cases from the country. At the Convent all the little children were doing well with the exception of one’. And the nuns did this elsewhere; where parents got sick they took the children in and looked after the children, until such time as the parents got better, or died or something.
The Māori were badly hit with the flu in Hawke’s Bay; [the] Tribune has the first reference to this, so late in the month – they weren’t mentioned until 26th November. ‘Native Organisation’ ‘It has been [was] announced as the result of an interview with Mr Ngata that an organisation under [the guidance of] the Reverend Bennett had been got into working order to deal with the Māori in Te Haroto and Tongoio districts’.
‘Māori Hospital – Eight orderlies and fifteen kitchen helpers, (women)’ – [of] course they would be women … ‘are required for the Māori Emergency Hospital at the Hastings Drill Hall which is now ready for the reception of patients’.
‘Dr Nairn is the Medical Officer in charge in the Māori Hospital at the Drill Hall, and [a] trained nurse have [has] been obtained from Auckland by Mrs Perry. Nurse Karkeek has been lent from the Main Hospital to assist in opening the Māori Hospital’.
‘Old linen is urgently required and parcels will be received as donations, [or] if necessary, bought. The mayor states that more hot water bottles are coming in than are required. Those who want their bottles back [returned] should send for them at once’ [chuckles] – they will be contaminated – ‘as the hospital is overstocked’.
‘All shearing has been stopped ‘til December 11th. The stock sales at Stortord Lodge, Waipukurau and Otane are suspended ‘til further notice’.
Hastings reports that ‘At midnight last night the total number of patients in hospital was a hundred. Since then a lad [named] Harold Hawkins has died. The doctor’s report at 8am showed an improvement on the whole’.
Throughout the newspapers are listed those who have been ill, died, or for the first time, a special list of native victims is included. You see, I always read the papers and and get the attitude between the Māori and the Europeans, and sometimes it’s absolutely disgusting. Because I was bought up as multi-cultural … my father could speak fluent Māori, his friends were Māori, and you know, I had a mixed bringing up, and I’ve always been grateful for that because I pick up this attitude, which is really bad; ‘specially from about 1900 ‘til probably after the First World War.
27th November: The Māori Hospital at [the] Drill Hall is now set up. It is a change to be in a building that does not have the cold ground and dirt floor of the Pā. Because where I was bought up I had friends who had a lovely house, but there was no floor in it; the floor was actually the dirt. That’s how they saved money building those very early houses, so I can understand what they’re talking about there; about the Pā having dirt floors.
‘All the departments are partitioned off from the ward and the dividing wall is hung with sheeting while the communication doors are hung over with disinfectant-drenched sheets. The hospital is established for the treatment of Māori from all over Hawke’s Bay. At eleven am today there are twenty-seven cases, six of which are serious’.
‘Wire mattresses are urgently needed and any person having one to spare should ring up the Māori Hospital and a car will be dispatched for it’.
There is a continuing list of those who are sick and those who have died, from locals to those who are living elsewhere. The Hastings mayor was quite critical of the lack of support for the Hospital Board and pointed out there is a need for a hospital based in Hastings, which has been mooted but was put aside due to World War One. Hastings Memorial Hospital opened in November 1929, and I’ve actually got some records of some of the work Peter Priest did in helping promote that hospital. It was because of the war, and the flu probably, that instigated it; that’s why it was a Memorial Hospital.
By November the 28th Waipukarau reported that there had been ‘Early action in expectation of the coming influenza epidemic [scourge]. The school was closed, an inhalation chamber was opened, the workers were forthcoming as need arose’.
‘The first victim was the mayor, Mr Winlove. From [For] some days the fight of [for] life was fought … and [but] he and Mrs Winlove is [are] now progressing favourably’. ‘
The whole of the hospital staff’ … ‘cause they had their own hospital … ‘[with the exception of] Matron Carston has [have] been down. Several married ladies [with nursing experience] stepped in’.
‘It was due to the splendid body of workers who went from house to house as required, either nursing or providing nourishment that the death of town residents had not exceeded two adults and one child. Unfortunately the toll has now [been] much heavier on country residents, especially in the Pōrangahau district. The need of extra provisions to meet the situation has led to the [preparation of the Town Hall as an emergency hospital. The necessary] changes [have] been carried through, [and] the patients will be received today. Māori have suffered the most’.
By 29th November – ‘Hastings residents who are needing ‘assistance are reminded to hang outside their front door a white flag. A handkerchief or a piece of white material will be sufficient so that it can be clearly seen from the streets by the Red Cross cars, which are constantly patrolling the streets’. Good old Red Cross!
There are many reports of people who had taken sick or [are] recovering from the list of those who had died. ‘The Sisters of St Joseph’s Convent in Hastings took in [children of] all creeds into their creche in the Convent’. ‘In cases where the parents of the children were stricken with influenza [down by the epidemic] the [good] nuns [take in and] provide for the little ones until such time as their [natural] protectors’ can take them home [are fully recovered]. The children, whose ages range from four months to fourteen years, are washed on arrival, fed, clothed and nursed, and looked after generally by the Sisters’, until they leave.
On 30th November – ‘The Widows and Orphans’
‘The mortality which had [has] attended this flu drew [draws sharp] attention to the inadequacy of the provision for widows and children made by our Pension Act’. There was no such thing really, [background noise] you just had to survive on your own. The Pension was ‘£12 a year for the first child under fourteen years old [of age], with an allowance [a further annual allowance] of £6 for each additional child under fourteen years [that age]’. So that’s a year, not a week. A widow, for four children, would receive £30 a year. There was no provision for the widow to receive anything for herself. She could apply to the Charitable Aid [Board]. If she worked she had some income; it was reduced by £1 for every pound she received from work … so why would you go to work? Or from relatives. It was suggested that maybe those who had lost their breadwinner be treated the same as those who had lost their breadwinner during the war. So obviously there was a pension if your husband died overseas during the war.
[The] New Zealand influenza epidemic killed at least five thousand five hundred and sixteen Europeans, and an estimated twelve hundred Māori. In Hawke’s Bay, between the 1st August 1917 and December 31st 1918, two hundred and ninety-six people had died. During November the war had finished, and people still went out and celebrated Armistice Day. In Otane I know, I’ve seen photographs of them celebrating Armistice Day, and the flu’s still rife. Every day the newspaper carried information about the flu but also pages were devoted to the roll of honour for those decorated, killed or injured and much was written about the war. Then there were those who returned to New Zealand and were being held in the military camps where the flu was rife; and having survived the war then they were caught in the flu and died before they got back home to their families. What a tragedy! The biggest loss was the number of fit young males who died. Lets hope we never see it again.
My story of my family – my father unfortunately died too young for me, because he was in his forties when I arrived. I’m the oldest, and he married a twenty-one year old, so it was like being bought up by your grandfather, really. But he always told me stories, and [of] course as a young child you only half listen. I don’t know what he did during this, but I know the story of the cave. But he told me story of his mother … they had the post office at Pukehou which disappeared years ago; the store’s still there, but the post office my uncle built disappeared. She was walking down the road on Sunday … a Shetland descendant; they don’t clean shoes on … I was bought up the same, you never cleaned your shoes on Sunday, you had to do them Saturday. You weren’t allowed to do jobs on Sunday that should be done on Saturday, and that was how we were brought up. But his mother … he told the story of her walking down the road with a basket of washing during this flu, on a Sunday. The Reverend Williams coming [came] along and said, “I didn’t see you in church today, Mrs Priest.” And she said, “This is a better deed I do today.” She was going into families where the parents were sick, looking after the children, taking home the washing home and doing it. None of her family got the flu. What did she do? I don’t know. So that’s a mystery; I just don’t know. Was it because she knew about cleanliness?
Any of you got experience of what your family did? ‘Cause I don’t think there’d be anybody here that was here during the flu. [Laughter] But your family story … do write it up if you do know; and particularly the earthquake, too, because it’s always of interest to the people coming on behind you or even the people that knew of you, what you did during these crisis [crises] because we’ve come a long way since then; we know about hygiene and all sorts of things like that that we take for granted. But some people today seem to be slipping backwards on those things, and you know, we had a little scare a few years ago, didn’t we? About the flu that they thought came from China. We don’t want to see that again, so we must always be observant of hygiene.
I found the research into this quite fascinating, simply because of what had happened around me, and I got interested in it to see what happened. And you know, I thought how did the family know their father had died at Auckland? You know, how did that news get back? Because the exchange people on telephones and all the post offfices were only opening part time, because they lost their staff. Doctors were going round visiting – sometimes they got sick and died. Sometimes the nurse, as in my own case in the Wairarapa, the nurse died and she left two children, and the story of those children being split between two different families and they never sort of got together again. It happened to my husband’s family where they his brother were split up because the mother took sick; one bought up by one grandparent and one by the other. They never were very close and people couldn’t understand; just ‘cause they were brothers they should’ve been, you know, like this. But they were bought up in two different cultures, and two different outlooks as well. So it’s important that you write your story, and that’s really what my job is – telling you to do that. [Chuckle] Anyway, thank you. Anybody got any questions?
Lily, is it true that nobody died in Havelock North?
I don’t know, I didn’t find any deaths.
No, I have a feeling that’s so, and that Doctor Felkin, who was up at Whare Ra …
I could believe that could be right because he would know about health.
And that there may have even been a sort of little hospital here at Duart in one of the outbuildings.
They took over places like this for emergency hospitals, yeah.
Question: I have an idea that the flu suddenly got up and left – am I right?
Lily: It seemed to just disappear quickly, because perhaps people are alerted to hygiene and things like that, and being very careful, you know, to use an old rag for the nose and then burn it because that would’ve got rid of the bugs. Māori weren’t allowed to have tangi because they were going to the funerals and all hugging one another as they still do today, and then they were getting sick. So there was a whole lot of precautions, you know, I couldn’t cover everything in here but, you know, I think that’s probably right. It went through, just like the mumps and the measles go through a progress of some weeks [coughing] and then it disappears. I think the immunity system builds up, and then a new form comes back at some stage in the future.
Comment: Lily, I’ve been doing research on people who had to be [??] hospitals, and quite by chance I came across Sister May Chalmer. She was on the first ship that got the flu on the way out to New Zealand. And you were talking about hygiene on the ship and she was very aware of that because she made people who caught the flu sleep out on the deck. Whether that was very good for people who [chuckles] … she was very aware of cross infection.
Question: Do we know anything about the recovery rate for people that didn’t die?
Lily: No. Probably it could be in this book, because that’s quite a comprehensive book. I think at one stage I heard from the guy doing this book, local information; and the hospital’s got a good piece on it as well. There would be figures I’m sure, somewhere in the government departments.
Question: What were the symptoms? Started with coughing, and then what?
Lily: Well they don’t exactly give that in full, but … well, they’re talking about you know, the nose running, and the throat, and disinfecting your throat. So it would be you know, quite bad – similar to what we get a [with] flu today, only a lot more severe.
What we call a flu today – it’s not really a flu, it’s a cold. Influenza’s like a cold but so much worse.
Now that flu that came through … what was that called? ‘Bout twenty years ago.
Suggestion: SARS? [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome]
Lily: I got that, and the headache was terrible. It was like putting your head in a vice … it was terrible. And I mean, a lot of people died of that, too – I was lucky, I got through to live another day.
Comment: A lot of people ended up with asthma after that particular …
Lily: Yeah, that particular flu. Hong Kong flu, wasn’t it called? Yeah, it was quite bad. So you know, it seems to pop up, just like … if you study history there’s [there’re] lots of diseases that just suddenly come up occasionally, sometimes in a fifty year cycle, so we’ve always got to be aware. And the thing today that’s a worry, is children are brought up to not get dirty, not climb trees; and you know, that’s building up their immunity. My children did everything. I mean, you just stand back sometimes; even today they do things like … my son wanted to drive four horses in the parade, and I’m going, “Oh! That’s dangerous.” I wouldn’t stop him from doing it but, you know, you do worry. But you know, I think that children that are brought up not to get dirty, and not to play in the sand castle and things like that … they’re not going to have the immunity that we’ve got.
And you see it, and a lot more children these days have allergies to this and that, and perhaps that’s part of the reason, that they’re not exposed to good old dirt.
Lily: That’s right, yeah.
Question: Does the sulphur at Rotorua help?
Lily: I would think it would. We used to go to Taupō and swim in the hot pools there, and that’s sulphur. It’s interesting, ‘cause I got … I think it was called quinsy, you know … your throat swells up and you choke; and they put me on to sulphur for that. And it was Doctor Reeves. I was working at Hillsbrook Children’s Home if you remember that, a long time ago. [Chuckle] And I got very sick and they were quite worried about me, and it was sulphur that fixed that so you know, it must have some healing powers or something in it.
Closing: Lily, thank you very much for a fascinating and very interesting talk today …
Lily: With a week and a half’s notice. [Laughter] She said, “Could you give a talk?” And I said, “What do you want me to talk about?” [Chuckles]
But it was quite interesting, ‘cause my father-in-law … the whole family went from Craggy Range, and they all went to Waimārama … stayed out at Waimārama for the whole time.
Lily: I can guarantee that salt is fantastic. I used to get bad asthma, pleurisy; every winter I was ill. And I spent a whole two weeks out at the beach in the winter time, and I walked the beach you know, when the waves are bouncing and all the salt air? And I walked up and down that beach breathing that in, and I haven’t had it since. And my doctor said that was the best cure I could have. So that salt air …
Well, it is good, because I get hay fever and if I go by the sea, I’m fine.
‘Cause the action of the waves makes some chemical reaction happen which produces ozone … pure oxygen.
Lily: But also the salt that’s in the air …
Thank you reminding us again that we really all need to write down things that perhaps we think are not terribly important, but for the next generation, they are very important.
Lily: I used to say it was good to write your own story so that when you died you could have them tell what you wanted them to know. [Laughter]
Thank you very much indeed, it was wonderful.
Lily: That’s all right. Thank you.
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