Advances in medical research bring us the benefits of modern medicines and I for one will be making sure that a ‘flu vaccine is on my to do list before next winter. My maternal grandfather Patrick Joseph O’Dea died as a result of the great flu epidemic that swept the world in 1918 and 1919. A dose of flu in our household prompted me to look at my family history records to identify any other victims of that epidemic.
There are 7 deaths I have recorded in 1919 and 3 of these were definitely from the effects of “pneumonic influenza’ as the epidemic was named at that time. Another three of the deaths all occurred in one Horgan family. I have not sought death certificates to confirm the cause of those deaths but two brothers in their thirties died within three months of each other and Julia their 71 year old mother died a mere six months later. If this was not from influenza then surely from a broken heart at losing Daniel and William, two of her remaining nine children, in the prime of their lives.
A sad case was revealed in Alma, South Australia, where John Edward Smyth aged 40 had been living with his parents and working the family farm. John was my paternal grandmother Elizabeth’s first cousin.
Mr.John Smyth, who has resided with his parents on the farm at Alma, was missed, and a search was made. He was found drowned in a tank, and it is supposed he was getting a drink of water, and as the day was hot he must have become giddy and fallen into the tank, which contained about five feet of water. He had an attack of influenza about three months ago, which left him very weak. He was highly respected by all who knew him. Much sympathy is felt for his aged parents, who have resided for many years on their farm at Alma. He is a brother of Mr. Pat. Smyth, blacksmith, of Alma. (1)John Edward Smyth, 1879 – 1919 is buried at St Benedict’s Cemetery, Pinkerton Plains South Australia. His elderly father James aged 88 joined him in the cemetery just nine months later in July 1920. His mother, Catherine Smyth (born Mulvaney) was buried in the family plot at aged 65 in 1923.
Earlier in the year another branch of the same family also suffered loss from influenza. James Leo Byrne had married grandmother Elizabeth's younger sister Margaret Smyth in 1898. They had been farming at Lameroo in South Australia for some years before extending their interests into Queensland in about 1910. The two reports that follow appeared in the local Darling Downs newspapers of the time.
Macalister and district have sustained a severe loss in the death in Melbourne of Mr. James Byrne, who fell a victim to the pneumonic influenza. Mr. Byrne, who came from South Australia about nine years ago, was on his way to visit that State on business, when he contracted the disease which led to his death. He was engaged in farming pursuits at Apunyal, and his death is a severe loss. (2)
The many friends o£ Mr. Jas. Byrne (Apunyal) will be sorry to hear of the death of that highly respected gentleman. It seems that while journeying to attend to business in South Australia he contracted pneumonic influenza which was the cause of death. Mrs. Byrne and family have the sympathy of a large circle of friends as the Byrne family are widely known and highly respected. (3)James Leo Byrne 1863-1919, was 55 when he died. His wife Margaret born in 1873 lived until 1936 and died at home in Lameroo, South Australia, aged 63.
The seventh death I have recorded is that of an infant just 2 months old. Jack Corfield was born to my brother-in-law’s grandparents in October of 1919 and died just 2 months later on Christmas Eve. The end of a sad year for many folk.
1. 1919 'COUNTRY NEWS.', Kapunda Herald (SA : 1878 - 1951), 7 November, p. 3. , viewed 02 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article108285798
2.1919 'PERSONAL.', Warwick Daily News (Qld. : 1919 -1954), 23 April, p. 4, viewed 25 June, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article175740209
3. 1919 'MACALISTER.', Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 - 1922), 21 April, p. 6. , viewed 02 Aug 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182942245