From May 1881 to February 1882, a smallpox outbreak gripped Sydney. 154 cases were recorded, including 40 fatalities. Aside from the panic and death, the epidemic resulted in the Influx of Chinese Restriction Act 1881. Sydney's local Chinese population received much of the blame for the outbreak.

This site, through the exhibition 'Newspapers and Race Relations During the Sydney Smallpox Outbreak of 1881', investigates the role the press played in reflecting and influencing popular anti-Chinese sentiments during the Sydney smallpox epidemic of 1881-2. 

Recently Added Items

Smallpox Hotspots Map ("City of Sydney & Suburbs, 1887," Historical Atlas of Sydney).


The five highlighted areas accounted for 66% of all smallpox cases and 68% of all deaths during the outbreak. They were overwhelmingly occupied by…

“Friday, July 22, 1881,” Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, July 22, 1881.

7 22 1881 Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser.PNG

The smallpox outbreak catalysed efforts to restrict Chinese immigration to the colony on a parliamentary level, culminating in the Influx of Chinese…

"The Smallpox Scare (Fumigating Railway Passengers on the Southern Border.)," Sydney Mail, December 10, 1881.

12 10 1881 Sydney Mail.PNG

Fumigation was commonly employed during the outbreak in an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading. In this illustration, railway passengers at…

"Scene at Albury Railway Station: 'Any smallpox in this carriage?'," Sydney Mail, August 6, 1881.

8 06 1881 Sydney Mail.PNG

Officials were meticulous in their efforts to ensure the outbreak was confined to Sydney. Passengers of both ships and trains frequently underwent…