The tragedy of the SS Talune and the 1918 influenza pandemic
The Public History Talks are hosted by the Ministry for Culture & Heritage History Group at the National Library of New Zealand. They are usually held on the first Wednesday of the month from March to November.
- Date: Wednesday, 3 October, 2018
12:10pm to 1:00pm
Free. You don't need to book.
Te Ahumairangi (ground floor), National Library, corner Molesworth and Aitken Streets, Thorndon
- Contact Details:
In November 2018, we mark the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic. In this Public History Talk Dr Ryan McLane will discuss the impact of this tragedy on the peoples of the Pacific.
SS Talune leaves an influenza struck Auckland
In late October 1918, the SS Talune was allowed to leave an Auckland, where influenza was rife, for its run through Fiji and Polynesia, professing no warning of the infection. The ship's master knew there were sick aboard, and many of the destination ports knew the disease approached.
Influenza is spread to the Pacific
Yet through a combination of deception, fatalism, incompetence, and ignorance the Talune was allowed to berth in Fiji, Western Samoa, and Tonga. Within 8 weeks at least 5% of Fijians had died of influenza, at least 7% of Tongans, and at least one-quarter of Western Samoa's population succumbed.
How and why did this occur?
The story of how and why this occurred describes an era of colonial indifference, medical over-confidence, and distraction by the impending
end of the greatest war humanity had ever known.
The Samoas in particular, and the example of the successful quarantine of American Samoa as opposed to the devastation 50 km to the west demonstrates the impotent condition which colonial expansion had left local structures, and the horrific impact when the colonial powers failed to protect their empires.
About the speaker
Ryan McLane has worked in public health in a range of settings over the past two decades, including:
- managing a public health unit in the Alaskan arctic
- leading a clinical team in an Ebola Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone, and
- providing direct care for populations as diverse as indigenous Siberians, undocumented agricultural workers in California, populations impacted by cyclones in the Pacific, and civilians caught in civil conflict in Guatemala.
During his 7 years in New Zealand he has previously worked with the Ministry of Health, the Southern District Health Board and the University of Otago Medical School. His PhD with the University of Otago focused upon the 1918 influenza pandemic in the Samoas, Tonga, and Fiji.