Diphtheria Disaster at Wesley Vale and Jerrawa Creek

Memorial plaques for the Browns and the Wilsons, Dalton Methodist Church
The year 1861 proved to be a sorrowful one for many of the residents of Wesley Vale and the Jerrawa Creek area. Along with scarletina (scarlet fever), the rapid spread of diphtheria among the children of the district took a heavy toll on families.

Among the local families to suffer the loss of children were Thomas and Sarah Brown of Wesley Vale. Fatally affected also were the children of John and Elizabeth Wilson at Jerrawa Creek.

The Dalton Methodist Church has two significant memorial plaques, the one mentioning the Brown family and the other tells the story of the Wilsons. Both families lost children to the diphtheria outbreak in the district- all in the year 1861.

John and Elizabeth Wilson
Tom Brown, so well-known for his varied and vigorous evangelism from the time he arrived in Wesley Vale in 1847, and his wife Sarah, lost three children in 1861. David aged 14 years, Mary aged 9 and Ebenezer aged 4 were struck down by the effects of the upper respiratory tract affliction. There was no antibiotic treatment, no relief from the symptoms and no emergency procedures at Wesley Vale.

John and Elizabeth Wilson, who came to the colony of New South Wales as Bounty Immigrants in 1842, suffered the loss of four children in the 1861 epidemic. Robert was 20 years old, Thomas 12 years old, Frances 11 years old and Mary 6 years old, all died in the August-September period of 1861.

Robert Wilson, born in Manchester, Lancashire, England in 1841, according to his death certificate, suffered for a month with the symptoms of diphtheria before dying on 25 September 1861 aged 20 years.

While the malady was spread mostly via droplets from the respiratory system, contact with skin lesions caused infection for some people; infection control procedures were unknown at the time. The article below demonstrates this.

"Freeman's Journal” (from "Yass Courier")
Saturday 26 October 1861, 3


Garry Norman Smith
Garry Norman Smith is a regular guest contributor to the Gunning & District Historical Society's blog. If you have an idea for an article or photographs you are willing to share, please contact us at gunninghistory@gmail.com.