Video: Black November

Adjunct Professor Geoff Rice, University of Canterbury, talks about the impact of a deadly influenza pandemic that spread throughout New Zealand between October and November 2018.

WW113 180803

Alison McLeod diary entry, Tuesday 19 November 1918. In pencil, Alison’s delicate handwriting filled the fragile pages of this and a further 97 diaries before her death in 1976. 

Canterbury Museum ARC1994.34

Alison McLeod

Canterbury Museum PIC 91/92

Alison MacGibbon PIC91 92 2 ALBUM279

Alison's Diaries

In just 2 months, New Zealand lost about half as many people to influenza as it had during World War One.

The spread was quick and uneven. Some communities were decimated, while others came away largely unaffected.

For Alison McLeod, who lived in Cashmere, the virus was “like a plague”. On 1 August, her sixteenth birthday, Alison began to keep a diary, recounting what life was like during the last months of the War.

On 12 November, she and thousands of Cantabrians flocked to Cathedral Square to celebrate the end of the War. The very next day, Alison recounted the unsettling spread of influenza in the city. Theatres, schools and churches closed, the hospital was full and soup kitchens were established to provide food for the sick. After the tragedy of World War One, the influenza pandemic took a further 8,600 New Zealand lives.

1923 53 616 Nurse and cycle2

The Relief Effort

No other event in New Zealand history has caused so many deaths in so short a time as the influenza pandemic. In towns around New Zealand, committees divided areas into districts, each with its own depot to attend the sick.

Volunteers, including Nurse Maude staff, Boy Scouts and drivers from the Canterbury Automobile Association distributed food and medication from these depots.

A nurse leaving on her rounds. The Weekly Press, 4 December 1918.

Canterbury Museum 1923.53.616

1923 53 611 Inhalation Chamber

The inhalation chamber in Christchurch’s Government Buildings. The Weekly Press, 4 December 1918.

Canterbury Museum 1923.53.611

A Tramway Inhalation Car. The Weekly Press, 4 December 1918.

Canterbury Museum 1923.53.609

1923 53 609 Tramway Inhalation car

Atomisers and Inhalation

Towns and cities across New Zealand set up inhalation chambers to disperse a zinc sulphate solution, believed to be an antiseptic, in an attempt to limit the spread of influenza.

Christchurch developed a unique approach to inhalation chambers. Fourteen trams, using their compressed air braking systems to operate a sprayer, were specially converted. In this way, inhalation chambers could be provided in both the central city and the outer suburbs.