Following the pandemic speculation continued over the Niagara's involvement in bringing the virus to New Zealand. The Department of Public Health was also heavily criticised. The government responded by setting up a royal commission with wide powers of investigation.
It fell to Robert Makgill, acting Chief Health Officer, to implement the Commission's recommendations. One of the recommendations, which Makgill had argued for, was for a new Health Act ‘to consolidate and simplify the existing legislation'.
It is clear that no matter how the second wave developed in New Zealand, it was many times more deadly than any previous influenza outbreaks. No other event has killed so many New Zealanders in so short a space of time. While the First World War claimed the lives of more than 18,000 New Zealand soldiers over a four-year period, the second wave of the 1918 influenza epidemic killed almost 8600 people in less than two months.
Influenza in institutions
Death did not occur evenly throughout the country. Some communities were decimated; others escaped largely unscathed.
The first wave
When the ‘new pandemic flu’ first appeared in 1918 there was no immediate cause for alarm. The disease was different to other strains experienced in the past – for example, it was unusually prevalent amongst young healthy adults. But most people affected by what would turn out to be ‘the first wave’ of the pandemic recovered.
The Spanish flu
The 1918 influenza pandemic was commonly referred to as ‘the Spanish flu’ but it did not originate in Spain.
This web feature was written by Imelda Bargas and produced by the NZHistory.net.nz team. We are grateful to Geoffrey Rice for his assistance and to Karen Cameron for information about the pandemic in Samoa.
1918 influenza epidemic on the Christchurch City Libraries website
The Spanish flu – this Wikipedia page has links to other sites
Ministry of Health – see this website for information about the 21st-century avian influenza scare and how New Zealand is preparing for another pandemic
Sound file (Click on arrow to play 240kb) This clip requires Flash Player 7 or higher. Download latest version of Flash Player. var so = new SWFObject("/media/mp3player.swf", "audioplayer3672", "290", "24", "7"); so.addVariable("playerID", "3672"); so.addVariable("righticonhover", "0xffffff");so.addVariable("text", "0x666666"); so.addVariable("loader", "0x9FFFB8"); so.addVariable("soundFile", "/files/sound/flu/overwhelmed.mp3"); so.write("flashcontent"); Transcript[Woman speaking] It just got so that if you wanted help - if you didn't feel so well - you opened your window and you put a white rag out the window and you unlocked you front door and left a white rag on the handle of the door you see so that anybody could come in and when these people who were going around on motorbikes in cars saw them you see they got out to investigate because it was beyond, you couldn't deal with it. You just couldn't deal with it at all. It was beyond anything.
The lethal influenza pandemic that struck New Zealand between October and December 1918 killed more than 8600 people in two months. No other event has claimed so many New Zealand lives in such a short time.
The Union Steam Ship Company's trans-Pacific liner Niagara in Auckland. Many people believed a deadly new influenza virus came to New Zealand aboard the Royal Mail liner Niagara, which arrived in Auckland from Vancouver and San Francisco on 12 October 1918.
In what looks more like a cowshed than a medical facility, Christchurch citizens line up in an inhalation chamber for a dose of zinc sulphate. Like many supposed cures for the flu, it probably did more harm than good.