Bubonic Plague in Sydney

In January 1900, Sydney was hit with the Bubonic Plague, thanks to the fleas on rats, which came off the ships from the waterfront. Despite many dying from dysentery, typhoid, diptheria and tuberculosis, it was the mere mention of the word  "plague" that put the living fear into Sydneysiders.

The first victim to fall was Arthur Payne , a van driver from Ferry Lane at Millers Point. Despite popular belief, the plague was not isolated to The Rocks area, in fact it only claimed five victims. Most deaths occured in Redfern, Surry Hills, Glebe and Woolahra. But it was The Rocks and it's slum reputation that made many people think the area was the obvious source of the outbreak.

In reaction to the outbreak officials quarantined and barricaded streets near waterfront areas. Local residents were employed to scrub, burn, disinfect and demolish anything remotely connected with the scourge.They even had official rat catchers who managed to kill and incinerate 44,000 rodents between 24 March to 17 July, 1900. Houses where victims lived were torn down and businesses near the waterfront were boycotted.

As fast as the plague had arrived it vanished, leaving a total of 103 people dead.

In 1901, the government began an extensive demolition program (Sydney Harbour Trust) along Darling Harbour and The Rocks using the plague and public health concerns as an excuse to clean up the notoriously bad areas by pulling down most of the dwellings and hovels. One of the few streets spared was Susannah Place. The project also succeeded in providing new space for industry and the space required to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge.