From Convicts to Colonists: The Health of Prisoners and the Voyage to Australia, 1823-53

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Abstract

From 1815, naval surgeons accompanied all convict voyages from Britain and Ireland to the Australian colonies. As their authority grew, naval surgeons on convict ships increasingly used their medical observations about the health of convicts to make pointed and sustained criticisms of British penal reforms. Beyond their authority at sea, surgeons' journals and correspondence brought debates about penal reform in Britain into direct conversation with debates about colonial transportation. In the 1830s, naval surgeons' claims brought them into conflict with their medical colleagues on land, as well as with the colonial governor, George Arthur. As the surgeons continued their attempts to combat scurvy, their rhetoric changed. By the late 1840s, as convicts' bodies betrayed the disturbing effects of separate confinement as they boarded the convict ships, surgeons could argue convincingly that the voyage itself was a space that could medically, physically and spiritually reform convicts. By the mid-1840s, surgeons took the role of key arbiters of convicts' potential contribution to the Australian colonies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1 - 19
Number of pages19
JournalJOURNAL OF IMPERIAL AND COMMONWEALTH HISTORY
Volume39
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011

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