1789 Sydney smallpox outbreak

In April 1789, Sydney, Australia, experienced one of its most violent outbreaks of smallpox when the disease swept through Aboriginal and colonial Australians on the coast.[1][2] The outbreak began in early March with the first cases appearing in tribes living near Port Jackson. [3] Aboriginal communities had no preexisting immunity to smallpox, and suffered mortality rates of around 70%. [4]

Botany Bay in 1789.

Smallpox in Sydney


Aboriginal tribes on Arnhem Land first contracted smallpox when they made infectious contact with fishermen from southeast Asia.[5][6] Governor Arthur Philip estimated that around half of the Aboriginal population around Sydney harbor died in the outbreak. [6]


  1. ^ "Smallpox epidemic". National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  2. ^ Chris Warren. Smallpox, the First Fleet, and Port Jackson Tribes. Event occurs at 2:14.
  3. ^ "Sydney's smallpox outbreak of 1789 - Biological warfare against Aboriginal tribes". nationalunitygovernment.org. 2014. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  4. ^ "National Museum of Australia - Smallpox epidemic". nma.gov.au. National Museum of Australia, Lawson Crescent, Acton Peninsula. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  5. ^ Peter Hiscock (12 December 2007). Archaeology of Ancient Australia. Routledge. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-134-30440-0.
  6. ^ a b Hiscock, Peter (2008). Archaeology of Ancient Australia. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-203-44835-9.