25 January 2014

A victim of the 1919 influenza epidemic

Patrick Joseph O'Dea, 1877 - 1919

Patrick Joseph and Georgina Ellen (Bennett) O'DEA
on their wedding day Sept 11, 1907
I did not have the pleasure of meeting my grandfather, indeed my mother was only 7 years 4 months old when Spanish flu struck in August of 1919 and took her father.

Patrick Joseph O'Dea was born to John and Maria O'Dea in South Australia in 1877. He married Georgina Ellen Bennett on September 11, 1907. Daughters were born in 1908 and 1910 - then in 1911 they moved with the two little ones from Pinkerton Plains, his parents' home in South Australia, to Ngallo, Victoria and took up a newly released block of land in order to establish a farm. 

My mother, Hannah Olive (O'Dea) Horgan retold the story of those early years. 

They set out with all of their belongings in a horse-drawn dray for a property which my father had purchased from the government. The property consisted of one thousand acres of unfenced and uncleared land at Ngallo, a settlement in Victoria, just over the South Australian border. The trip took them eight days.

Life was not easy and accommodation was basic. My mother's words:
They built a circular broom brush hut, in which they lived until a house was built of wood and iron a few years later. The broom brush shelter then became the wash house, as I remember it. The toilet was the long-drop type – and a long way from the house.
My father, his brother and my cousin set about clearing the land and fencing it. They also erected a brush fence all around the house block, made white gravel paths and installed wooden gates. The house consisted of four large rooms, with the front and back verandah enclosed. A huge rainwater tank formed one wall of the kitchen. Not far from the house, a bore was sunk and a windmill built. This water served both the stock and the garden.

Four more children were born between 1912 and 1918 including my mother, born in Pinnaroo in 1912. She continues:

My mother and father were very hard workers. Clearing the land, planting trees and attending to stock kept my father busy. He grew all of our vegetables and many flowers too. He was an avid gardener but always had time for Mum and we children, teaching us our prayers and Irish songs and jigs. He had many medals for Irish dancing.

Then tragedy struck just as peace was declared at the end of World War I. Patrick had been ill in bed.

Our father, being the only Justice of Peace in the district, was called upon to speak at the Declaration of Peace. This was held in Murrayville, and a huge crowd had gathered to celebrate. Evidently, Dad was not feeling well, but we set out from home with Mum and we six children in our two horse drawn buggy to attend the function. Dad was speaking from the back of a wagon when he collapsed. From there, he was taken to Pinnaroo hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonic flu. Our dear father never regained consciousness and died three weeks later, on the 8th of August, 1919.

1919 'Family Notices.', The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931),
 16 August, p. 8, viewed 25 January, 2014,   http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5615522

O'DEA.- On the 8th August, at Nurse Pahl's Private Hospital, Pinnaroo, Patrick Joseph, the beloved husband of Georgina Ellen O'Dea, aged 41 years and 10 months. R.I.P.

What a tragedy this was for my grandmother Georgina Ellen O'Dea, and her 6 children under the age of 12, the baby Ronald Patrick O'Dea not yet 10 months old.


  1. My Grandfathers also both suffered from the flu epidemic. My paternal grandfather was in the Army training to go to Europe to fight in the great war, but because of the flu was left behind when his group left for Europe. He and my grandmother always felt that his bout with the flu saved his life. My maternal grandfather also suffered from the flu, and was nursed back to health by his girlfriend, who later became his wife, my grandmother. I'm sorry that your grandfather was taken by the flu. What a tragedy, indeed.

    1. So even flu had a "silver lining" saving your grandfather from the war. Glad to hear of some positives outcomes as that flu took so many people worldwide.


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