Quarantine Regulations Ignored?
The first impact of the epidemic on New Zealand was felt at Auckland after the arrival from overseas of the ship Niagara. The New Zealand Expeditionary Force serving overseas had suffered casualties, notably on the “death ship”, the Tahiti, en route to the European theatre of war, but the first victims at home were those stricken in Auckland. Prompt precautions were taken throughout the country, but the disease swept right through the Dominion. The Niagara's passenger list included the then Prime Minister, the Hon. W. F. Massey, and his Minister of Finance, Sir Joseph Ward, returning from a war mission in Europe. When nearing the New Zealand coast, the ship radioed a message that over 100 of her crew were stricken with influenza, and asked for urgent hospital accommodation for 25 serious cases. It is still a matter of speculation whether the presence on board of important passengers influenced the authorities to grant a clearance to the ship when its entire complement should have been held in strict quarantine, but the fact is that after the vessel berthed, the plague overran New Zealand in a matter of weeks, and was never appreciably checked until it had run its course in the autumn of the following year.
A Commission of Inquiry, headed by Mr Justice Denniston, later found that “the epidemic was introduced from outside New Zealand and there is a strong presumption that the clearing of the ship Niagara was the cause”.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.