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This Day in History

Australian History

Tuesday, July 17, 1900. :   Sydney completes its Bubonic Plague Cleansing Operations.

     Through the centuries, Bubonic Plague has been one of the most-feared scourges of countries around the world. Australia, too, suffered a severe outbreak in the early part of the 20th century. It began in January 1900 when 33-year-old Arthur Payne showed symptoms of Bubonic plague as a result of coming into contact with the disease at Central Wharf where he worked as a carter. Within eight months, 303 people had contracted the plague, and 103 of them had died.

Cleansing operations began in Sydney on 24 March. Extensive washing, liming, disinfecting and burning of property was undertaken, while buildings classified as slums were demolished in an attempt to rid the city of the rats spreading the disease. More than 44 000 rats were burned by rat-catchers. Wharves and docks were also cleared of silt, debris and sewerage.

The Cleansing Operations finished on 17 July 1900. However, ships continued to bring the disease to Australia, and between 1900 and 1925, there were twelve major outbreaks of Bubonic plague, with Sydney bearing the brunt of the disease. In all, 1371 cases were reported, along with 535 deaths certainly far fewer than the deaths reported in some countries.

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