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1918 influenza pandemic

Pressure sprayer
Pressure sprayer circa 1910, A. & T. Burt, Ltd (1862–1970), New Zealand. Purchased 2008. Te Papa

This pressure sprayer was used in efforts to halt the spread of influenza during the 1918 pandemic. It contained zinc sulphate, which was sprayed down people's throats.

New Zealand's worst natural disaster

The virulent flu strain killed over 8,000 people, making the pandemic New Zealand's worst natural disaster in recorded history. So many people died in such a short period that many had to be buried in mass graves. Young adults were most affected, rather than children and the elderly.

Maori were particularly hard hit. Their death rate was seven times that of Pakeha (European New Zealanders).

Fighting the spread

The pandemic hit New Zealand around the time that the Allied forces signed the Armistice (truce) with Germany. As the disease swept the nation, volunteers were mobilised to contain it. In towns around the country, they set up 'inhalation chambers', where this pressure sprayer was used.

The spray was useless, and the gatherings of people may even have helped spread the disease.

Read more about the 1918 influenza pandemic


© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.