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The Spanish Flu Epidemic in Montagu

Jul 26, 2019Did You Know

Notes used by Professor Howard Phillips when he addressed the Montagu Historical Society at the Montagu Museum on the 28 January 2019

Montagu was infected early in October 1918, probably by people arriving from Robertson or Ashton where it had broken out shortly before this.

Initially, there were not many cases, but in view of the disease’s severity in Worcester and Cape Town, preventive measures were instituted by the municipality:

  • The bioscope, canteens, churches and schools were closed to try and check its spread. The Dutch Reformed Church compromised by holding its Sunday service in the open air at the entrance to the Baths Kloof;
  • The proprietor of the town’s hotel was requested not to allow unnecessary sitting and standing around the hotel bar;
  • Shop hours were restricted to discourage crowding.

But as cases began to proliferate, the municipality and the Divisional Council took the lead in setting up a system to meet the growing crisis by:

  • Opening several racially separate emergency hospitals, one in this very building (others were In the Salvation Army Hall and the Kindergarten School);
  • Establishing soup kitchens and medical and milk depots to provide these items free of charge for those laid low by the disease;
  • Engaging two UCT medical students as inoculators to vaccinate residents in the town and the district with hastily concocted vaccine; many, (rightly) doubting the efficiency of this vaccine, relied rather on herbs and traditional folk remedies;
  • Appointing a special watchman at Keurkloof Reservoir to protect the water supply from contamination by baboons amongst whom a flu-like disease had broken out too.


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