Times past when a town was gripped by typhoid

EARLY WORKS: Following an outbreak of typhoid in Lismore in 1892 and the plague in 1905, contractors were hired and began installing the town’s first sewerage works. By 1907, 250 houses were connected to the sewerage system which drained to a septic tank system in Dawson St near the present day caravan park.
EARLY WORKS: Following an outbreak of typhoid in Lismore in 1892 and the plague in 1905, contractors were hired and began installing the town’s first sewerage works. By 1907, 250 houses were connected to the sewerage system which drained to a septic tank system in Dawson St near the present day caravan park.

NO ONE alive today could give testament to the epidemic that broke out in Lismore more than a century ago.

In 1892 a typhoid epidemic infected 47 residents and killed five. Almost half of the patients were under 15 years old.

It was during a time of rapid commercial expansion and population growth. In the 30 years to Federation, Lismore's population grew from a mere 93 people in 1871 to whopping 4542 by 1901.

Excrement lined the river banks that supplied drinking water to the town and raw sewage spilled into the streets from defective drains.

Of the 520 houses in the town, 170 were supplied by river water. Cesspits had been abolished five years ago and replaced with nightsoil contractors.

Life was more brutal in those days, and death was less discreet.

So when a railroad worker died of an unidentified illness in November 1891, little credence was given.

Dr Rees, one of the town's five doctors, examined the patient who had continued at work for several days while ill before developing severe symptoms. He died two days later.

The next suspected typhoid case occurred on November 25, when a man who worked in town fell ill at Dean's Hotel in South Lismore. The third case was another railway worker on December 7 and the fourth was a local staying at Dean's Hotel.

On January 6, 1892, an epidemic was declared.

The state's chief medical inspector, Dr Ashburn Thompson, was called in to investigate the outbreak.

In his report published in The Northern Star on March 23, 1892, Dr Thompson said he found the town's cleanliness "unsatisfactory" but not more so than was typical in similar towns.

"There were collections of garbage on several premises," he wrote.

"In three cases the gutters were extremely foul, slop-waters issuing in quantity from Gollan's hotel and Deane's hotel, and from several premises into Brown's lane on the river bank north of the bridge.

"The night-soil service has until lately been very ill done, but is now better or well done."

About 500 railway workers camped on the banks of the Lismore River, using it to drink and bathe. Without latrines, the workers defecated on the river banks, leading to widespread diarrhoea.

Dr Thompson ruled out river water as the cause of the outbreak because homes

using rainwater and boiled

water had similar infection rates. Typhoid-carrying milk was also ruled out, because few who drank it got sick.

The source was identified as an excreta dumping ground on the north side of town.

"If now persons suffering from typhoid should have deposited infectious excreta on that area… these would dry in the heat, would break up into small fragments, and would be carried up on the air to pollute food materials and be swallowed, or to pollute that air itself and be inhaled, mainly or entirely by those living in the immediate neighbourhood," Dr Thompson wrote.

"The railway camps at Lismore and along the line were allowed to be established without any regulation whatsoever, and here, as in so many other places, the easily avoidable result has been seen in yet another preventable and entirely unnecessary outbreak of typhoid fever."

Topics:  history

4 offences police will target this long weekend

Double demerits will be in place this long weekend.

Speeding fines up to $3400 and 14 demerit points

FIRE THREAT: Second out of control fire in three hours

GRASS FIRE: Fire fighters battling fires across the Mackay region as wind increases

New fire believed to be an escaped hazard reduction burn

Mum bans teen sons from surfing Lighthouse Beach

Lighthouse Beach at Ballina closed after a shark attack.
Photo Cathy Adams / The Northern Star

Ballina teens banned from entering the water by worried mum

Local Partners

New Music: These Systems Are Falling

Cover artwork for Moby & The Void Pacific Choir's debut album, These Systems Are Failing (2016).

By Moby and the Void Pacific Choir

Sludge metal heaven served up across Australia

Black Rheno bring their stripped back sludge metal through regional Australia.

Black Rheno to hit a town near you

Prog metal upstarts to tour Australia

Caligula’s Horse, one of the country’s most exciting and innovative progressive bands, will hit the road for a national tour in November.

Australian prog masters announce national tour

Lacuna Coil support acts announced

Lacuna Coil return to Australia in their first ever headline tour.  Photo Contributed

Lacuna Coil will tour the country with australian support acts

Debra Messing wants to do a 'naughty' Will and Grace reunion

'Will & Grace' star Debra Messing wants a "naughty" reunion

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie 'working on custody agreement'

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are thrashing out a custody agreement

Beach-side real estate starts at $85k on Fraser Coast

HERVEY BAY REAL ESTATE: You can buy this townhouse in Scarness for under $300k.

Live your beach-living dream locally.

Buyers forking out millions

Owners benefiting from undersupplied Northern Rivers market

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.

Sunshine Beach property breaks real estate record

The property overlooks Sunshine Beach, as the backyard lawn meets the sand.

Sunshine Beach mansion sale smashes real estate record

New $33 million development planned for Ballina Shire

The site of a proposed seniors living development at Skennars Head.

Plans include 211 homes, clubhouse and recreational facilities