Smallpox epidemic of 1862

The smallpox epidemic of 1862 was devastating for First Nations in BC; over 20,000 perished from the disease.

On March 12, 1862, the steamship Brother Jonathan arrived in Victoria carrying 60 tons of freight and about 350 passengers, mostly gold seekers. One of those passengers was infected with smallpox.

On March 24, another steamer from San Francisco, the Oregon, arrived at Victoria carrying at least one passenger infected with smallpox.

Within a few short weeks, smallpox spread amongst natives who were camped near Victoria. The small hospital situated on the Songhees Reserve was quickly overwhelmed with patients infected with the disease.

Many times, doctors and missionaries attempted to inoculate a person by taking a  pustule or scab from a smallpox sufferer and injecting this into the superficial layers of the skin, commonly on the upper arm of a healthy person. Not surprisingly, many people were adverse to this type of preventative treatment.

Eventually, the colonial government used gunboats to enforce the evacuation of almost all Natives from Victoria during the smallpox epidemic. As a result, smallpox soon found its way around the province.