NOTES & DOCUMENTS 153
In the 19th century, Edward Curr and Frank Tidswell concluded that the 1789smallpox outbreak originated from the First Fleet but no author appears to haveaddressed the role, if any, of the British supplies. Curr and Tidswell assumed thatsmallpox from a hypothetical outbreak on the
remained infective andescaped into the community.
Early in the 20th century, EC Stirling and JB Cleland suggested that the 1789 out-break of smallpox may have originated from Asian seafarers arriving in northernAustralia.
In 1914, JHL Cumpston rejected this view on the grounds that the FirstFleet’s:variolous matter cannot be dismissed lightly as a possible source of the epidemic... the safest course would seem to be to follow the generally accepted theory thatthe introduction of the disease amongst the aborigines was in some way associ-ated with the arrival in Australia of a comparatively large number of Europeans.
In the 1980s Noel Butlin suggested ‘the British were well aware’
that First Fleetsmallpox could ‘remain infective for many years’ and that Tench’s ‘wild’ and ‘unwor-thy’ supposition needed closer inspection.
This proposition was supported by DavidDay
but contested by Judy Campbell, Charles Wilson and Alan Frost who arguedthat, as ‘variolous matter’ was damaged by conditions during the First Fleet’s voyage, itwas incapable of transmitting infection.
After the year 2000 – and except for a few including Reynolds, Foley and Maynardand Kociumbas
– the rigour of the literature degenerates. In 2002 Judy Campbelllabelled Butlin’s work as myth-making and claimed that his comments damaged ‘pros-pects for reconciliation in modern Australia’.
In addition several commentators – JohnConnor, Tim Flannery and Tom Keneally – introduced problematic variations into theliterature. These authors claim there was only ‘a bottle’ of smallpox scabs
and that it‘remained sealed’
or ‘unbroken and secure on a shelf’.
At this point the literatureprovides no resolution and various writers simply recycle past theories for alternativesources for the outbreak or support First Fleet responsibility, depending on theirvarying estimations of the relevance of the imported British supplies of smallpox.However scientific papers on the infectivity of smallpox, particularly several itemspublished in the
Bulletin of the World Health Organization
in the 20thcentury, can provide additional clarification (discussed below).
Copy at http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/banks/series_39/39_004.cfm
(accessed 24 October2006).
Curr 1886: 226. Tidswell’s comment is in Cumpston 1914: 172.
Stirling 1911; Cleland 1912.
Cumpston 1914: 2.
See Butlin 1985: 334.
Butlin 1983: 21.
Day 1997: 63.
Campbell 1984; Wilson 1987; Frost 1995.
Reynolds 2001; Foley and Maynard 2001; Kociumbas 2004.
Campbell 2002: 60f.
Connor 2002: 30.
Flannery 1999: 88.
Keneally 2005: 202, 209.