‘These people last summer would neither eat shark or stingray, but the scarcity of fish in the winter, I believe obliges them to eat anything that affords the smallest nourishment.

They [Aborigines] are not pleased with our remaining amongst them, as they see we deprive them of fish, which is almost their only support;’. Governor Phillip dispatch to Lord Sydney, 28 September 1788. Historical Records of New South Wales. Bladen

England -1787 May 13: Commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN the ‘First Fleet’ – a large armed squadron of  eleven (11) British ships with a complement of 1500 souls – charged with the invasion and conquest of New Holland, now Australia – sailed from Portsmouth ‘bound for Botany Bay’.

Up to 1,500 Macassans a year would reach [northern] Australia and they did influence the Aborigines by trading iron axes, tobacco, cloth, knives and glass. They taught the Aboriginal of those parts how to make dug-out canoes, more substantial than the simple [Sydney] water-craft of stringy-bark’. Stewart Harris, Treaty, It’s Coming Yet, 1979  

Botany Bay – 1788 January:  The First Fleet’s 1500 English men, women and children arrived at Botany Bay within thirty-six (36) hours between the 18th and -20th of  January 1788.

Port Jackson – January 26:  Governor Arthur Phillip RN established a permanent English settlement nine (9) miles north of Botany Bay at Sydney Cove deep within Port Jackson.

Sydney Cove – February 7:  Proclamation Day; Governor Phillip, without consent or treaty, proclaimed British Sovereignty over New Holland from ‘Cape York in the northern most extremity…to South Cape’. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head Captain Arthur Phillip & Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse

The invaders did not find the Eora Peoples familiar with iron axes, knives, tobacco, cloth or glass.  However when introduced the locals valued them highly – especially the hatchet.


By a strange coincidence, smallpox reached Port Jackson at about the same time as the First Fleet’. Cassandra Pybus, Black Founders, UNSW Press, 2006 

Botany Bay: Twenty (20) years earlier, 28 April 1770, Lieutenant James Cook RN and Joseph Banks, the noted Royal Society botanist, while voyaging in HMS Endeavour entered Botany Bay.

They stayed nine (9) days.  Cook then sailed north continuing to chart the entire coastline of eastern Australia. Banks reported;   ‘their canoes were the only things in which we saw a manifest difference between the Southern and Northern people.

In 1788 Marine Captain Watkin Tench’s initial assessment of the Sydney craft as ‘being…despicable… nothing more than a large piece of bark tied up at both ends with vines’.

Tench  soon changed his mind. He came to value their shallow draught and superior buoyancy far better suited to local conditions than the fleet’s heavier unwieldy wooden row-boats.


‘It is true, that our surgeons had brought out variolous [smallpox] matter in bottles’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

In 1770 Cook and Banks made much of the Aborigines preference for nakedness.  Yet neither made mention of pockmarks the unmistakable signature of a previous episode of the smallpox virus.

Sydney –  1789 April: ‘April is the cruellest month’ and so it proved.  Smallpox appeared among the Eora in April 1789 killing one-half of  Aboriginal families.

‘Smallpox had decimated the indigenous population probably not brought by the Europeans, as first feared, but possible introduced by Indonesian traders visiting the far northern coast of Australia’. Pybus. op.cit.

Can hard evidence – ‘bottles [of]’variolous matter – be so summarily dismissed. Cassandra  Pybus, the influential Australian historian’s strange coincidence’ simply does not cut it.

The Indonesian outbreak theory stemmed from its appearance at Samartra in the early 1780s. But given the way smallpox expresses; on the soles of the feet, palms of the hands,  face, eyes – affecting sight – extreme thirst and swollen mucous membranes making swallowing difficult make such a suggestion highly problematic.

Additionally, given the great distances,  physical difficulties and challenging terrain, when added to strict protocols observed by Aboriginals entering the country of another clan, for either peaceful or hostile purposes, make it well nigh impossible for Aborigines infected by ‘Indonesian traders’ to travel from the extreme north of the continent to its far south, to coincide neatly with the known time-frame.


‘Large canoes fitted with sails and fighting stages capable of holding 30 men each’. It is to Mary Bryant a most remarkable young convict woman that we owe the description of large Carpentarian craft.

 The absence of canoes similar to large northern craft is strong evidence; the ‘tyranny of distance’ protected Aborigines in the far south of the continent from tribal incursions, welcome or otherwise, from its far north.

Timor – 1791: In March 1791 Mary Bryant her convict husband William, their two (2) small children Charlotte and Emmanuel, with seven (7) male convicts, stole a boat – Governor Arthur Phillip’s own cutter – escaped Sydney and rowed  to Timor.  See: The Great Escape

What followed was an epic tale of triumph and tragedy. Before journey’s end both children, Charlotte aged four (4) and baby Emanuel died, as did Mary’s husband.

London -1793: Mary lived to stand again in the dock of the Old Bailey in 1793 with the four (4) remaining survivors charged with ‘return before expiry’.

Since the Transportation Act of 1717-18  if a convicted criminal, reprieved death on condition of banishment from ‘the realm’return[ed] before expiry’ they were hunted down and executed. See: Pandora’s Box- The Mutiny on the Bounty and the Botany Bay Escapees

James Boswell the celebrated English diarist and lawyer fought for and, against all odds, won freedom for the ‘Botany Bay Escapees’. See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees


‘Nothing instilled fear in American soldiers and civilians so much as the prospect that the British might use smallpox as a weapon war…Rumours of germ warfare at Boston had circulated as early as March 1775.

By year’s end, [General] Thomas Gage had turned over his command to Sir William Howe, but talk of germ warfare had failed to subside instead, the evidence mounted’. Professor Elizabeth Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-1782,  2001 

In America Britain’s use of smallpox as a biological weapon during America’s Revolutionary War of Independence (1775-1783), remains a subject of interest.

However Australian historians make do with second-hand assertions;  ‘thought to be smallpox’  ‘probably’ ‘possibly’. Even when acknowledged, its appearance is characterised a ‘strange coincidence’.


Sydney – April 1789: A smallpox epidemic struck the Aboriginal population around Sydney. Inexplicably, the epidemic did not affect the European population, but [Governor] Phillip estimated that it resulted in the death of 50% of the local Aboriginal community’. People of Australia, Macquarie Reference Series, Ed. Bryce Fraser, 1998

The devastating consequences of smallpox; ‘massive disruption…destabilised society’ are not in dispute. Neither are the circumstances surrounding its appearance; starvation and a desperate struggle for survival in both black and white populations. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

Sydney Cove – July, 1788: ‘Yesterday twenty [20] of the natives came down to the beach, each armed with a number of spears, and seized on a good part of the fish caught in the seine [trawling nets]…several stood at a small distance with their spears poised ready to throw them if any resistance was made’. Governor Arthur Phillip to Under-Secretary Evan Nepean, July 10, 1788 See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove from January 1788 to June 1790

Three (3) little words – ‘the hunger years –  does not cover callous abandonment.

‘The epidemic not only killed a significant proportion of the indigenous population but also destabilised society…there is no easy answer to the fraught quest of [Aboriginal] clan boundaries in Sydney, particularly because an epidemic in 1789 caused massive disruption of the indigenous peoples in the area‘. Pauline Curby, Randwick [A History], 2010.

Yet the virus’ origin remains contested; ‘speculation that has taken attention away from the devastating effects on the society and culture of the Sydney people’. Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, 1788-1817, NewSouth Press, 2018



‘Captain John Hunter, commander of the Sirius, wrote in his journal that initially the tribes of the Port Jackson region met the settlers of the First Fleet with almost unrelieved hostility…Once smallpox entered the equation this changed. Perhaps half of the [Aboriginal] population of the Port Jackson region died in a few months’. Jeffrey Grey, A Military History of Australia, The British Period 1788-1870, Cambridge University Press, 2001

Australia: Today the lives of  Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples stand testament to the ‘massive disruption [that] destabilised [their] society.

‘Galgala [smallpox] shaped the next few years of conflict, if not the outcome of the wars, and was a critical factor in the British military occupation of the Sydney region’. Gapps. ibid.

Neither Britain or non- Indigenous Australia show interest in smallpox 1789.

‘If you think anthrax is a terrible bio-weapon, it’s nothing compared to smallpox. This disease has been eradicated from the world so most of the population is now highly susceptible to it. According to Dr. Frank Fenner: ‘It has about a 20% fatality rate in unvaccinated persons, higher in children and old people – and most of the world is unvaccinated’.

See: The Australian Mouse That Roared. (pending)

Yet as an unintended consequence of eradication 1980 ‘most of the world is…unvaccinated…highly susceptible’.  White skin offers no barrier.

‘Australian scientists who made a killer virus by accident have raised the spectre of biological weapons in the hands of terrorists or rogue states…They inserted a gene called interleukin-4 (IL-4) into the virus because this would boost antibody production.

The result astonished them: the IL-4 killed the mice by shutting down a vital part of their immune system. It also made the engineered virus unnaturally resistant to normal vaccines’.

One scientist proffered: ‘It would be safe to assume that if some idiot did put human IL – 4 into human smallpox, they’d increase the lethality quiet dramatically’.


In 1980 The United Nations World  Health Organisation officially declared smallpox eradicated. Two (2) reservoirs of live virus were retained.

In America at the Atlanta Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the State of Georgia from where there have been a number of escapes.

In Russia at the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (Vector), Koltsovo, Novosibirsk, in Siberia.

2019 – Koltsovo , 17 September: A gas explosion sparked a fire at the Russian laboratory housing ‘viruses ranging from smallpox to Ebola’.  The Russian response ‘no worries’ !!!!!!

2020  Covid19 – caused ‘massive disruption [and] destabilised societ[ies]’. If a Covid 19 vaccine became available would compliance would be variable?


2021:– Smallpox  is the only virus to be fought on a global scale and eliminated by way of widespread vaccination compliance.

Non-indigenous Australia has a lot to learn from our First Nations’ Peoples response to Covid.




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