Epidemics Aotearoa

The Spanish Flu and its impact in the Far North

Women in the Northland region with nursing experience were asked to volunteer for service in the Auckland district, their travelling expenses paid and ten shillings a day was provided. Little is known how the Far North coped as a whole district.

Authored by Whina Te Whiu, Te Ahu Museum Curator

The ship Niagara arrived into Auckland 12 October 1918. 1/4 018386. Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.

The global pandemic | Influenza became a global pandemic of 1918 claimed lives approximately 20 million worldwide, about 9000 being New Zealanders. European deaths were put at around 5500 and Māori at 1200.

The disease appeared to have been introduced to New Zealand by crew and passengers mostly soldiers returning from the war on the ship Niagara, which arrived at Auckland on 12 October 1918. Although cases were reported in Auckland before this, there were no deaths. There were no attempts to restrict travel, and with the crowds meeting to celebrate Armistice on and after 11 November, the virus spread rapidly south and around the country.

Belatedly, shops, theatres and schools closed. Trams stopped running for passengers. Instead, trams, trains, trucks, and cars were used for hearses. Clergymen became as overworked as doctors and nurses.

Funeral procession through the town in Kaitaia, 1918. Northwood Brothers Photographic Collection, Te Ahu Museum.

The Far North | In Kaitaia, it was recorded that there were 35 deaths by 28 November, mainly amongst Māori. Many of the deaths were due to poor sanitary conditions, and failure to take the minimum steps laid down to avoid contagion. In the Hokianga district the numbers of deaths were higher with 167 registered deaths; 158 of them being Māori, and the Rawene Hospital was swamped. The Acting Chief Health Officer telegraphed warnings to local bodies. Māori were prohibited from holding tangi, and by early December hapū leaders supported the prohibition and implored whānau members not to travel from Auckland to Northland and gather for tangihanga (Māori funeral rites and rituals).

Staff, doctor, nurses and volunteers Mangonui Hospital during 1918 - 1919. Northwood Brothers Photographic Collection, Te Ahu Museum

Kitchens were established around the district too. At Awanui a temporary kitchen was set up where food was supplied to the surrounding districts. Colonel Bell and R.A Northwood took over the inhaling plant and administered the treatment to 300 locals daily on a 53mile (85km) circuit.

Individual and community efforts were reported as magnificent, those praised for their work included Dr Lunn, Nurse Ferguson, the Māori nurse for the county. Alf Long at Kaingaroa, who had previous medical experience. The Rev Drake and his wife, Mrs Redmond, Mr and Mrs Clarke at Pukepoto School and Mr Billy Grigg. Miss Eva Foster the county clerk, E.W.D Mathews and hundreds of others were also involved in helping the sick.


Kaitaia: Portraits from the Past. Parker, Keith. Bridgewater Publications, Kamo, New Zealand. 1999.

Influenza became a global pandemic in 1918 and claimed lives approximately 20 million worldwide, about 9000 being New Zealanders. European deaths were put at around 5500 and Māori at 1200.