Rabbits first arrived in Victoria, Australia, in 1859, when a grazier introduced a number of them to his property. It did not take the rabbits
long to make themselves unwelcome: within twenty years, millions of
rabbits had devastated the land.
In an attempt to curb the rabbit population, the New South Wales Parliament voted in favour of the eradication of rabbits and offered financial rewards to whoever captured or killed any. Unfortunately, this system was largely taken advantage of and was not successful.
It was soon evident that another way to get rid of the rabbits had to be found. On 31 August 1887, the Colonial Government of New South Wales announced a prize of £25,000 (approximately today's equivalent of A$10,000,000); they advertised widely across the nation and even in the international press. To receive the prize, one had to devise a biological method to destroy rabbits and prove its effectiveness.
In Paris, France, Louis Pasteur read about the prize and decided to take part in the contest. He intended to use a micro-organism he had discovered: Pasteurella multocida, which is responsible for chicken cholera. Pasteur wrote a formal application to the Colonial Government of New South Wales, announcing that he was sending a delegation to Australia.
On 27 February 1888, the ship Cuzco set out for Australia, with three of Pasteur's representatives on board: Adrien Loir, Pasteur's assistant and Madame Pasteur's nephew, Dr Louis Germont, and Dr Frank Hinds, an Englishman who would act as interpreter.
The banners read: 'King Bunny for ever' and 'We hold the Land'. Supplement to the Australasian Pastoralist's Review, 15 March 1893. From Loir collection, MS100.1, Adolph Basser Library, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra.