Health, medicine, and the sea

Australian Voyages, c. 1815-1860

During the nineteenth century, over 1.5 million migrants set sail from the British Isles to begin new lives in the Australian colonies. This book follows these people on a fascinating journey around half the globe to give a rich account of the creation of lay and professional medical knowledge in an ever-changing maritime environment. It shows how voyages to Australia partook of colonialism. On leaving the ports, estuaries, and harbours of Britain and Ireland, ships' captains negotiated the adverse winds of the English Channel and the Irish Sea before steering into the Atlantic and heading south-by-south west across the heavy swells of the Bay of Biscay. The book dwells in the tropics, where the experience of calms reinforced and extended preconceptions about the coast of West Africa. It discusses convicts, showing how scurvy became resurgent as British prison committees steadily reduced prison dietary rations during the 1820s and 1830s. Despite their frustrations, the isolation of the ocean and the vulnerability of convicts' bodies offered surgeons an invaluable opportunity for medical experimentation during the 1840s. The book also shows how a series of questions about authority, class, gender, and social status mediated medical relationships as the pressures of the voyage accumulated. Themes of mistrust, cooperation, and coercion emerged in many different ways during the voyage. Australia, where, as emigrants became immigrants, the uncertainties of government responsibility combined with a poisonous political atmosphere to raise questions about eligibility and the conditions of admittance to their new colonial society.


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