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June 8, 2020 June 2020 No Comments

COVID19 is not the first pandemic virus to visit Martinborough.   The Spanish Flu in 1918 killed 8 people in town and many more in the surrounding Maori communities. 

Medical knowledge about how to prevent and treat the illness was limited. People resorted to all sorts of peculiar and ultimately useless remedies.  

Onions were advertised as one of the “best preventatives”.  Even back then quinine was being touted as a treatment, as was a mixture of iodine and creosote. Claims that alcohol might have medicinal properties led to a big boost in sales and outrage in the Temperance Movement.  

The official advice was remarkably similar to the 2020 version although it did not suggest washing hands.  It did insist people not “spit on the floor or the sidewalk.”  Doctors and nurses wore masks, as did many other people. 

The Martinborough Town Hall became a makeshift hospital.  In her book The Canoes of Kupe Roberta McIntyre writes: 

“Catherine Martin organised the nursing of victims in the Martinborough Town Hall. Her daughter Jessie and nieces from Otaraia station worked as aids in the hospital. Some of the patients were delirious and there were several deaths.    When her nurses became ill, Catherine Martin took them to Huangarua station to nurse them back to health. They enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful gardens of the ‘sanatorium’.” 

Fortunately this time around we escaped any serious consequences.  

The museum is putting together a collection of photos and stories about local life during the 2020 lockdown.  If you have any material that might add to this history we’d love to see it.  Please contact Chris Cassels, ccassels@gmail.com, 306 8286 or 021 0716 064.

The museum remains closed for now as some of our spaces make social distancing impossible.  However we will open again as soon as we can.


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