James Cook, Joseph Banks and Smallpox

by John Tracey

This is an article about covert biological warfare, Captain Cook and Joseph Banks, about the deliberate infection of disease which spread like wildfire across the nation.

The historical context for the discovery of Australia was the defeat and withdrawal of the British forces from America after a protracted war with the French, the indigenous and the new white Americans in America and Canada as well as the French and Spanish and others in the global conflict. . Britain had sustained a tremendously expensive war and the dilemma for its government and royalty was whether to defend their colonies militarily at further expense or allow political independence and attempt to develop trade advantage with the new nation. Cooks voyages of discovery occurred during the transition from one to the other.

During the “French Indian war” in America, shortly before the endeavor voyage. British troops, aided by some indigenous tribes fought the French with support from other indigenous tribes, the culmination of this was the taking of Quebec by the British in 1759 . Some histories say that at this period Cook was the chief surveyor of Newfoundland, exploring and chart making in groundbreaking scientific pursuit. Some explicitly state that he had no part in the war effort. Other histories tell a different story, for example, of Cooks nine year military posting in Newfoundland this is said

“In 1756 he was made master and transferred to the “Pembroke”, a 64 gun ship sent to America to aid in the war there against France. William Pitt’s idea was to claim all of Canada for Britain. This involved capturing Quebec. In order to do this, the St Lawrence river needed to be navigated. This hadn’t been attempted since 1711 resulting then in a total disaster. Under cover of darkness, though constantly harried by the French and native Indians, James Cook and others took soundings and measurements along the St Lawrence. From these figures they produced charts which enabled 200 ships to successfully navigate the river and land troops under General Wolfe to take Quebec.”

Another person who, most histories assert, was conducting groundbreaking scientific pursuit in Newfoundland at the same time as Cook was Joseph Banks. He kept no journal of his work in this time, but on the basis of it he was admitted membership of the Royal Society on his return. Later he was made president of the society on his return from the Endeavor voyage, the journals of which he and the Earl of Sandwich, sea lord and commander of the British fleet, edited and published, taking great efforts to repress unauthorised publications about the voyage.

Another person in the same place at the same time was Lord Jeffery Amherst. Amherst was commander of the British forces in America. Amherst went on to become governor of Virginia. His other claim to history is he is credited as being the father of modern biological warfare. In 1763 (a few years before Banks arrived but Cook was there) Amhurst instructed his officers to infect blankets with the smallpox virus and give them to the Indians.

A letter from Colonel Henry Bouquet to General Amherst,commander of British forces in America dated 13 July 1763, suggests in a postscript the distribution of blankets to “inoculate the Indians”; Amherst, replying to Bouquet, dated 16 July 1763, approves this plan in a postscript and suggests as well as “to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race.” (This postscript spans two pages.) . Readable photos of the letter, can be found on the internet, http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/Amherst/lord_jeff.html

A fourth figure who was at the same time and the same place was Robert Rogers, leader of Rogers rangers who armed and organised Mohawk warriors to fight against the French. Rogers has been credited with building a new model of covert guerrilla warfare that todays S.A.S. are based upon and if I have read between the lines correctly, the Australian native police were based on. Around about the same time, (Cook and Banks in the same year) Cook, Banks and Rogers returned to England. After a short period to prepare Cook and Banks set sail on the Endeavor.

The Sea lord Earl of Sandwich and Banks were well acquainted and worked together in planning the Endeavor voyage and the publication of the voyages journals. They were both members of the Masons and the Royal Society, as was Cook., Cook was admitted to the Royal Society after his return from the Endeavour voyage and his famous paper on scurvey and sailor health was presented by John Pringle, a military surgeon famous for his expertise with infectious diseases was also in the French Indian war.

One of Banks’ fields of study and one, as president of the royal society, he had an active role in funding and repressing work into infectious diseases, especially smallpox. The Royal society (which funded the Endeavor voyage) funded the early research of Edward Jenner who eventually invented successful vaccination. However when he began experiments with cowpox, , Banks withdrew funding and threatened him that his reputation would be demolished if he published his research. He published his work privately which lead to the vaccine. Edward Jenner’ s work was controversial because it challenged the earlier work of Lady Mary Wortley Montague who developed an inoculation (via cloth and blankets) which was 50% successful Lady Mary Wortley Montague “discovered” inoculation, which was being practiced in Turkey and China, while Traveling with her Husband, Edward Wortly Montague, the uncle of John Montagu Sea lord Earl of Sandwich. All three were members of the Hellfire club, a libertine wing of the masonic movement. Lady Mary’s daughter married Lord Bute, who became George III’s right hand man. In the light of all this consider the following extract from Cooks journal of first contact with Australian Aborigines, interestingly enough Banks Journal conforms almost word for word. . “A third musket with small shot was then fired at them, upon which one of them threw another lance, and both immediately ran away; if we had pursued we might probably have overtaken one of them, but Mr Banks suggesting that the lances might be poisoned, I thought it not prudent to venture into the woods. We repaired immediately to the huts, in one of which we found the children, who had hidden themselves behind a shield and some bark; we peeped at them, but left them in their retreat, without their knowing that they had been discovered, and we threw into the house, when we went away, some beads, ribbons, pieces of cloth, and other presents, which we hoped would procure us the good-will of the inhabitants when they should return,……….

………We saw many houses (gunyahs) and places where they had slept upon the grass, of which there is great abundance without any shelter but we saw only one of the people, who, the moment he saw us, ran away. At all these places we left presents, hoping that at last they might procure confidence and good will.” The medical knowledge of the time, of which Banks was an expert, was that the virus can be stored in an infectious state for a couple of years when it is dried out.

The use of blankets and handkerchiefs from smallpox sufferers, or cloth smeared with pus from a sufferer was the method of experimental inoculation, much of this testing being done on prisoners. Obviously if these ribbon, pieces of cloth and other presents were deliberately infected with smallpox this aspect would not be included in the official journal. This somewhat puzzling gift giving in the midst of armed conflict could be explained as a naive diplomatic gesture or it could explain the biological warfare methodology of infecting a target populations. Banks and Cook, in their journals, express disappointment upon returning to the battle scene that the Aborigines avoided touching the presents.

Joseph Banks , despite only minimal contact with healthy Aborigines, returned to England celebrating the prospects for development in Australia, insisting that the Aborigines are dying out and almost extinct. This was the argued basis for Terra Nullius. On this first voyage Cook visited many places in the Pacific including Australia,New Zealand, and Tahiti. On his second voyage he sailed past Australia but stopped at New Zealand, Tahiti and Fiji. Again on his third and fatal voyage he sailed past Australia to New Zealand and Tahiti and on to discover Hawaii where the locals ate him for his efforts. Despite tremendous publicity and excitement in England about Australia, primarily whipped up by Joseph Banks, Cook, on his second and third voyage seemed to avoid Australia like the plague, so to speak.

Nearly twenty years after George III and The Earl of Sandwich sent Cook and Banks to discover the southern land The first fleet set sail for Botany Bay, the very place where Cook gave his first gifts. Despite two voyages to the region in those years which bypassed Australia, Britain was confident enough to establish the colony Banks was one of the key architects and administrators of the New colony. I find it curious that Banks visited Newfoundland briefly as the British were packing the last of its bags in America after carving up of the known world by European powers in the treaty of Paris. He then returned with Cook and Rogers then became the most influential man in establishing the colony in Australia. The most historians seem to know of this period is it is where Banks got his botanical training.

The epidemics that hit this country after invasion indicate biological warfare may have been a factor. The maladministration of health services was the biggest factor. As we have seen the colonial administrators were well aware of infection research, health regimes, and vaccination, they would clearly have understood the consequences on the indigenous population. Whether deliberate or coincidental the South African Apartheid system and the Australian reserve systems have created hot houses of infection quarantined against vaccinated white society. These were also centres for blanket distribution. All aboriginal health services were administered by the police. Forced removal of Aborigines infected with a whole range of diseases to distant reserves ensured the maximum infection of the indigenous population. Is this a wild conspiracy theory? If there is a grain of truth in it, like all covert military operations, the hard evidence will have been destroyed and sanitised histories presented.

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One thought on “James Cook, Joseph Banks and Smallpox

  1. John,

    I read your article about the introduction of smallpox among Aboriginal people with interest.

    If you wish to research this further you may be interested in my great-great-great-grandfathers’ [Edward M Curr] description of the effect of smallpox on the Bangerang people (and others) who inhabited the Murray River around Tongala in Victoria.

    Edward Curr was friendly with the people living in that area over a long period of time (from 1841-1851) and learnt some of their language and culture which he describes in his book.

    From what I have read in his other book “Recollections of squatting in Victoria” [then called Port Phillip district] he was appalled and shamed by the diseases including smallpox that were introduced. See http://www1.aiatsis.gov.au/exhibitions/languages/curr_bio.html

    As I think I have mentioned to you previously, one of his books, “The Australian Race” by Edward M Curr, was used opportunistically by the trial judge and later the High Court to extinguish native title when the courts denied the Yorta Yorta people’s land rights claim in the 1990s.

    The judges took Curr’s words and used them to demonstrate that native title had been extinguished because of a loss of connection with the Yorta Yorta land. But if you analyse what Curr said you can understand what happened. It was smallpox [among other things] that drove the Yorta Yorta from their land. The so called extinguishment of native title was caused by white colonial settlement of which my family was a part. It is the ignorance and stupidity of the new Australians [not the original Australians] that has produced a conservative political climate that denies Aboriginal people their rights and their land. Australia is a settler state founded on racial discrimination.

    Many Australians still do not understand that the High Court decision in Mabo was as much about the extinguishment of land rights as about granting native title to the people of Murray Island. The Mabo decsion and the subsequent legislation introduced by the Keating Labor government was therfore racially discriminatory. This was pointed out by Mick Dodson in the 2007 Mabo Lecture [ See the ABC radio national’s Awaye Program@ http://www.abc.net.au/message/radio/awaye/

    The Australian Race” comes in four volumes (723 pages in all). The first book presents his remarks on Aboriginal languages and vocabulary, manners and customs, marriage, weapons and implements and origin of the ‘Australian Race’. It also contains word lists of different aboriginal languages that were obtained from a questionnaire sent around Australia by Edward Curr. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies has digitised these word lists. [See the aiatsis link above.]

    Some of the volumes of “The Australian Race” are available on Amazon @ http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1402117566/ref=sib_dp_pt/104-4401931-9001541#reader-link

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