Image 'Vaccination Day in Port Mackay!', 1877

TLF ID R9199

This black-and-white pen-and-ink sketch depicts vaccinations against smallpox in Mackay, Queensland, in 1877. In the sketch the local public health officer, who appears to be shouting, wields a large knife and is about to vaccinate a fearful child on his lap. The child's mother holds the child's arm while it screams. A line of women accompanied by children, some unwilling, wait their turn. One woman is leaving after the vaccination. Another woman shakes her fist at the officer.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The widespread vaccination against the deadly infectious disease smallpox, illustrated here, began after Edward Jenner (1749-1823) discovered in 1796 that cowpox sufferers appeared to be immune to smallpox. By deliberately infecting people with cowpox he was able to protect them from smallpox. Within 50 years smallpox deaths in England fell from around 23,000 a year to 5,000 a year. In 1980 the world was declared clear of smallpox.
  • This sketch satirises both the public's fear of an unfamiliar medical procedure and the method of vaccination that was used at the time. The public health officer (also known as the public vaccinator) used a knife to cut the skin and apply the live virus. Jenner used a tortoiseshell lancet to make two cuts on the arm of his first patient, then covered the cuts with fluid from a cowpox blister on a milkmaid's hand. Later, the vaccine was prepared by growing the virus on calfskin.
  • The smallpox scare in Mackay that led to the vaccinations illustrated had been caused by an outbreak of smallpox on three ships arriving in Sydney in January 1877. In Australia, vaccinations against smallpox had been undertaken since 1804. Until 1847, when local manufacture began, the live vaccine was imported.
  • Charles Rawson's diary, from which this sketch is taken, is a particularly important historical record because in 1918 a major cyclone and a tidal wave hit the Mackay area, destroying much of the town's documented history. The diary is part of the Rawson Archive held by the State Library of Qld, a collection of handwritten pen-and-ink diaries and photographs of the Rawson brothers and their families, who were early European settlers in the Mackay district.
  • At the time this sketch was drawn media and entertainment were limited, and so diaries, sketches and letters were important parts of the lives of many people. Today such documents provide important evidence of the past. Charles Rawson's two diaries, from 1871 and 1877, detail daily life and are illustrated with humorous pen-and-ink sketches. His brother Edmund was an amateur photographer and their work combines to make a record of Mackay in the 1870s.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Charles Rawson
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Charles Rawson
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements