International Archives Week
June 8 - 14
101 years on… history looks very familiar
Imagine being told when you were just about to start a new school year, that school would not open for another four weeks. This is what happene 101 years ago when the Spanish (or Pneumonic) Influenza epidemic reached NSW in 1919.
As soon as the outbreak was declared on 27 January 1919, the State Government took action to prevent the spread of the highly contagious and deadly disease.
Libraries, churches, theatres and public halls were closed, as it was thought that eliminating contact between large groups of people would prevent the illness being spread.
Schools also stayed closed after the Christmas holidays until the first wave of the epidemic passed.
Trinity reopened on March 3 when the initial restrictions were eased, but after only four weeks of term, restrictions were again imposed.
All day boys were barred from attending school, except for those sitting for the Public Examinations (i.e. the Leaving and Intermediate certificates]. In boarding schools the boarders were to be kept separated from any remaining day boys. Weekly boarders were given the choice to either cease going home for weekends or stay away from school altogether.
Trinity responded by sending 30 of its boarders to Austinmer with their House Master and his wife – Percy and Miriam Wisewould – in order to distance them from city where the disease was most prevalent.
Plenty of fresh air was seen as the best preventative.
While the Head Master, Mr Archer, remained in Dulwich Hill with the examination candidates, the boarders took up residence in ‘Swanwick’ the holiday house of the Founder, Rev Chambers, also at ‘The White Eye’ another Austinmer boarding house, and in two tents.
From time to time, they were visited by various School staff and also the ‘Ten from Town’ – the ten boarders who remained at Trinity for their studies.
Despite the serious times, the one surviving issue of the boys’ weekly newspaper ‘The Austinmer Saturday Evening Post Vol 1 No 4’, is filled with rather jolly poems, ditties and limericks. It was produced on a printing press loaned to them by the local Anglican minister. Apart from creative writing for this school newspaper, much time seems to have been spent by the boys wearing a track up to Sublime Point, as well as swimming at the beach and practicing their Life Saving skills.
Tragically, a 14-year-old Trinity boy from Harris Park – Sydney Allan Smith – did contract influenza and died on 30 June 1919 during the third, most deadly, wave of the outbreak.
A School Prize was established as a memorial to Syd Smith and continues to be awarded annually to a boy in Year 10 – the year he was in when died. Smith was one of over 12,000 Australians casualties of the illness, half of which were from NSW.
In a nation with a population of only five million, and which had recently endured the loss of 62,000 men and women during World War I, these deaths must have been an added blow to many grieving families.
The social impact can only be imagined – it is thought that more than 5000 Australian children lost one or both parents to the disease – due to the unusual fact that mortality rates from this virus were highest among adults aged from 25-39 years.
Worldwide it is thought that between 50 and 100 million people died of the disease.
The flu had one surprising and somewhat round about impact on Trinity. Messrs Archer and Wisewould’s reflections on the positive impact on the growth and development of the community of boys sent to the country in 1919, was one of the factors which nearly 30 years later lead to the establishment of the first ‘country campus’ of an Australian independent school – Yarra Junction – a campus of Caulfield Grammar School under Mr Archer’s Head Master-ship. Other schools followed suit – also recognising the value of lessons learned outside the classroom – including Trinity with the establishment of Pine Bluff campus in the 1990s – the predecessor of the Woollamia Field Studies Centre.
(First published Trinity News April 2019)