Smallpox is an acute contagious disease caused by the variola virus. It is one of the most devastating diseases known to humans, and most of those who survived it were marked for life with deep pitted scars (pockmarks), most noticeable on the face.

A smallpox epidemic spread down the River Murray from the colony of New South Wales to the Adelaide plains and beyond in about 1830, decimating Aboriginal groups along the River and spreading inland. It is estimated that up to 50% of those in affected populations died, with the highest mortality among children and pregnant women. When the colonists arrived in South Australia in 1836, the Aboriginal groups they encountered had been devastated by the impact of the epidemic.

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