Throughout St Joseph’s College’s 139-year history, the College community has faced many challenges, be they of drought, economic crisis, the loss of friends or family, and even pandemics. In 1918-1919, the world faced one of its greatest challenges with the outbreak of the Spanish flu. Estimates of global deaths vary, with figures between 30 million and as high as 100 million. Australian losses were between  12,000 and 15,000 deaths.

Above: All of the College gates, including the Mary St gates (pictured) were boarded up throughout the 1919 Spanish flu epidemic.

As the flu took hold throughout Sydney, the Marist Brothers took drastic measures to ensure the health and safety of all Joeys boys. The College publication A Century of Striving states:

‘Though there are now 280 boys present, and the disease has been raging in Sydney for three months there has not been even one case of it among the boys.

We have not neglected ordinary precautions. From the first outbreak one of the small pianoforte rooms was set apart as an ‘inhalation chamber’ and inhalations were regularly taken in until the Consultative Council pronounced it useless as a preventative.

What has proved the most effective safeguard is the quarantining which the College authorities imposed, and most scrupulously carried out. We were completely cut off from contact with the world outside the College walls; no boy was allowed to go to Sydney or to come into contact with any of the Hill residents. Even parents and friends were debarred from contact with boys.

Though some relatives felt these restrictions exceedingly irksome, nevertheless they and all others recognised the prudence of the authorities in strictly enforcing them. All the gates of the College were permanently closed but one; a small wooden lodge was built at this gate, and morning and afternoon an inexorable janitor was stationed there to prevent relatives and friends and even business people from entering the College building. An ordinary and amusing sight was to see visitors on seats specially provided from them, waiting their turn to be interrogated by the watchful sentinel.”

For some of our regional boarders, the strict quarantine measures across the country impacted their ability to travel between the College and their homes. A letter from St Joseph’s College student, W. Fogarty of Maclean NSW, reads;

‘Maclean, 28.01.1919

Dear Brother Edwin,
I am sorry I cannot let you know whether I am coming down or not as the influenza outbreak has upset all previous plans. The boats travelling from Maclean to Sydney are quarantined when they arrive so it is no use me attempting to go so I might as well content myself for a while. I will write and let you know later when I am coming down. Trusting you are well I remain, 

Yours truly
W Fogarty
P.S. Received magazines alright and thanks very much.’

And a letter a month later from a parent in Beechworth, northern Victoria, reads:

Beechworth, 1-3-1919

Dear Rev Bother Osmond
Just a few lines about Horace return. The quarantine restriction is still on at Albury, if he goes, he would after be quarantine for 4 days at the cost of 10/- a day. This I will not do till they lift it which I think they will shortly. Now will Horace’s railway form stand on his return, can you arrange a fare home so he can return. Kindly advise me about same.

Yours truly
W Andrews

Above: St Joseph’s College student, Horace Andrews stands in the back row on the far right, and below a letter from his parents to Br Osmond.

CategoriesEditors choice