Pasteur in Australia A Bright Sparcs Exhibition

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It is interesting to compare both the Rabbit Commission and the Pasteur Mission's versions of this story, and the account given of the reasons why things did not go so smoothly after the arrival of the Pasteur Mission on Rodd Island.

In his thesis titled 'La Microbiologie en Australie', Loir points out that there was strong opposition to the destruction of rabbits from the graziers, who had identified damage caused by rabbits as a justification for claims to reduce the Government rent on the land. Loir also explains that the political climate in Australia was such that the reluctance to see the Pasteur Mission succeed was virtually unanimous. Finally, the make-up of the Rabbit Commission itself was, in Loir's opinion, enough to explain its 'ill will' against the French scientists: 'an inter-colonial Commission was nominated, with great care in choosing among the various colonies those who were the most overtly opposed to Mr Pasteur's project'.[1]

Portrait of Pasteur as a Young Man

From the Rabbit Commission's viewpoint, it was only scientific reasons that accounted for the refusal to implement Pasteur's scheme. The Commission expressed its surprised that Loir and his collaborators should not agree to carry out experiments suggested to them on the ground that these experiments had not been planned by their 'master'. A letter from Pasteur to the Chief Inspector of Stock on 1 October 1888 led them to comment along the lines that Pasteur expected to receive the prize based on proof of the vaccine's effectiveness as determined by him (not the Commission), and also before extensive testing was undertaken to prove its worth.

The failure of the whole operation can largely be put down to misunderstandings regarding the intentions of the Australian authorities, and a poor knowledge of the Australian conditions of life on Pasteur's part, which led him to underestimate the importance of contagion. However, Loir's visit to Australia would lead to fruitful collaboration in another area: the fight against cattle diseases.


[1] Loir, Adrien, 'La microbiologie en Australie: etudes d'hygiene & de pathologie comparee poursuivies a l'Institut Pasteur de Sydney par Adrien Loir', Thesis, Paris : G. Steinheil, 1892, held in National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Picture Reference
Young Pasteur at the time when he worked on the tartrates, in in Chaussivert, Jean, & Blackman, Maurice (eds), Louis Pasteur and the Pasteur Institute in Australia, The French-Australian Research Centre, Occasional Monograph No. 1, NSW University Press, Kensington, 1988, p. 40.

Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 5 December 1997
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (
Prepared by: Guillaume Mallet and Denise Sutherland
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 19 February 1998

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