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Disease at sea: convicts, emigrants, ships and the ocean in the voyage to Australia, c. 1830-1860

By Katherine Foxhall


This thesis explores the relationship between migration and disease in c.1830 – c.1860. Each chapter questions how convicts, emigrants and the surgeons who accompanied them thought about disease and in turn how disease changes how we understand migration historically. It is a study of the creation of medical knowledge across the geographical space of the voyage to Australia and emphasises an understanding of disease as a mental and physical interaction between humans and their environment. The thesis argues that this understanding allowed migrants and colonists to see disease at sea as a test of migrants’ and convicts’ fitness to colonise.\ud \ud The point of departure for this thesis is that the Australian sailing voyage provides a unique and prolonged tension between shipboard confinement and global movements through ever-changing, often extreme, oceanic climates. From this premise, six individual chapters follow the trajectory of the voyage from Britain to Australia. These chapters analyse individual disease such as cholera, fevers, scurvy and consumption, as well as deepening our understanding of the tropics and quarantine by rethinking these histories through a maritime dynamic.\ud \ud Throughout, the thesis analyses evidence in convict and emigrant ship surgeons’ journals, migrants’ diaries and published medical literature as its primary source material, supplemented by government reports and contemporary newspapers. Collectively, the chapters of the thesis connect conventionally separate histories of medicine, convict transportation, colonial emigration, and British welfare and prison reform. By exploiting a uniquely maritime tension between shipboard confinement and global migration, the thesis provides a new way to understand the persistence of ideas about the relationship between people, environment, migration and disease in the modern period

Topics: R1, RA
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