‘A pestilence stalks abroad’: familial clustering of deaths during the Tasmanian scarlet fever, measles and influenza epidemics of 1852–1854

Rebecca Kippen



At the time the first colonists arrived in Tasmania in 1803, the island was almost certainly free of Old World epidemic diseases. Eventually, however, all the ‘stock diseases’ were to make their appearance. In 1852–54, Tasmania suffered concurrent epidemics of scarlet fever, measles and influenza. In 1853, 493 of 1,992 total deaths were attributed to one of these diseases; mortality of children aged 1–4 and 10–14 tripled, while mortality of children aged 5–9 years increased five-fold. This paper considers age-sex patterns of cause-specific mortality in Tasmania in 1852–54, and how mortality in these years differed from that of non-epidemic years. The paper also investigates whether deaths were more likely to cluster within families during these epidemic years compared with non-epidemic years. This study is based on family reconstitutions derived from a complete dataset of births, deaths and marriages registered in nineteenth-century Tasmania.



Rebecca KIPPEN, Australian Research Council Future Fellow Centre for Health and Society, School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Australia. E-mail:



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ISSN: 2035-5556

Reg. Tribunale di Roma n. 3321/54