Inside the bubonic plague Sydney suffered during the 1900s with suburbs forced into quarantine

While Sydney grapples with a new coronavirus outbreak, more than 100 years ago the bubonic plague was wreaking havoc across the city.

The plague sparked panic as it spread throughout Sydney’s CBD from 1900 to 1908 and left more than 1,300 people infected, killing 535 across Australia, including young children.

Commonly referred to as the ‘Black Death’ due to the swollen and blackened colour infected people’s skin would develop, the pandemic spread from ticks found on rats.

The third bubonic plague started in northern China in 1855, and by 1899 it was found in Noumea – just 3,000km from Australia.

Soon enough hundreds of people were falling ill suffering fevers, nausea, headaches, chills and swollen and painful lymph nodes.

Thousands were even placed into a makeshift quarantine station at North Head while other residents were forced to demolish their own homes that’d been infected.

The third bubonic plague tore through Sydney during the early 1900s. Pictured are residents standing over a dead pile of rats. Rats had brought in the disease from overseas

The third bubonic plague tore through Sydney during the early 1900s. Pictured are residents standing over a dead pile of rats. Rats had brought in the disease from overseas

Residents in Sydney are seen hosing down the streets after the plague wreaked havoc across the city in 1900

Residents in Sydney are seen hosing down the streets after the plague wreaked havoc across the city in 1900

The bubonic plague was first reported in Sydney in a man named Arthur Payne, at the end of January, 1900.

Mr Payne had worked at the Central Wharf where ships that carried infected rats had docked.

He and his entire family were forced into quarantine and fortunately survived the horrific illness.

The following month Captain Thomas Dudley, 48, fell ill after he pulled dead rats out of his toilet.

Mr Dudley and his family were sent to the quarantine station, but tragically he would never leave. Mr Dudley became the city’s first death from the plague.

By the end of February more than 30 cases of the plague had been identified and fears started to escalate in the city.

Cleansing operations are seen in Sydney as workers clear rubbish in 1900

Cleansing operations are seen in Sydney as workers clear rubbish in 1900

Workers demolish infected buildings in Sydney's CBD during the outbreak of the plague

Workers demolish infected buildings in Sydney’s CBD during the outbreak of the plague

The plague sparked panic as it spread throughout Sydney's CBD from 1900-1908 and left more than 1,300 people infected and killed 535 across Australia - including young children

The plague sparked panic as it spread throughout Sydney’s CBD from 1900-1908 and left more than 1,300 people infected and killed 535 across Australia – including young children

The government quickly set up a multi-step plan to try and eradicate the disease including quarantining any infected residents at North Head, intensive cleaning of the streets, demolishing any infected buildings and exterminating rats. 

In February of 1900 neighbourhoods would undergo regular deep cleaning involving carbolic water and lime chloride.

Photos taken in the months after the plague broke out show residents hosing down entire streets in desperate attempts to rid the area of the disease.

In March, Darling Harbour was considered a quarantine area and nobody was allowed to enter. 

Other quarantine areas were also set up in suburbs including the CBD, Glebe, Paddington, Woolloomooloo and Manly. 

A ‘rat proof’ wharf was even built to try and prevent any rodents from entering into the city. 

Those who had contracted the deadly plague were initially made to quarantine for 10 days but this was reduced to five, according to the National Museum of Australia.

A 'rat proof' wharf was even set up to try and prevent any rodents entering into the city

A ‘rat proof’ wharf was even set up to try and prevent any rodents entering into the city

Rubbish and waste were all burnt in attempts to rid Sydney of the plague (pictured in 1922)

Rubbish and waste were all burnt in attempts to rid Sydney of the plague (pictured in 1922)

A home is seen in Sydney during the outbreak of the plague. Many residents were forced to demolish their own houses if they had become infected

 A home is seen in Sydney during the outbreak of the plague. Many residents were forced to demolish their own houses if they had become infected

In the nine months after the first case was detected in Sydney, 1759 people were quarantined with just under 300 having actually caught the disease. 

Waste, manure and rubbish were all burnt and teams were deployed to kill off the rats – with the government offering around two pence per head.

Soon enough more than 108,000 rats were killed in a special incinerator. 

By the end of 1910, cases of the plague were almost all gone in Sydney despite it making its way in smaller numbers around Queensland, Melbourne, Adelaide and in Freemantle near Perth.

Cases of the plague are still seen in modern times but due to advanced medicine, the effects are drastically less severe. 

Similar scenes have been seen across Sydney today as a recent outbreak of coronavirus plunged the Northern Beaches into a strict lockdown.

Residents living in the area are unable to leave their homes except for food, exercise, work or education and medical care.

Sydney is currently battling 102 infections of the disease which has killed more than 900 Australians. 

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