‘A most efficient body of officers’: Surgeon superintendents and their responsibilities

  • Robin Haines


From 1849, owners of British emigrant vessels carrying 300 or more passengers wherever they were bound, or every vessel crossing the tropics ‘with more than fifty passengers and an anticipated voyage time exceeding eighty days under sail or forty-five with steam’, were required by the Passenger Acts, to supply a surgeon. He was to be endowed with authority to enforce regulations necessary for the preservation of health. These revised provisions of the Passenger Acts had no jurisdiction over American-owned vessels, except when they carried emigrants to colonial destinations on vessels chartered on behalf of colonial governments. Under the Acts, authorities expected surgeons to ‘exact obedience to rules and regulations made for preserving order and securing cleanliness and ventilation’.1 The Emigration Commission’s instructions to surgeons, who were hired to superintend each government-chartered vessel from 1831, and official procedures as set down in each Charter Party, went much further than the Passenger Acts. The surgeons’ performances were strictly scrutinised unlike those of their peers on private ships, although on the Australian route most private shippers of fare-paying steerage emigrants adopted the routines that had proven so successful on government-chartered ships.


Eighteenth Century Shipping Company Slave Trade Whooping Cough Walnut Shell 
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© Robin Haines 2005

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  • Robin Haines

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