Doctors at Sea pp 118-132 | Cite as

‘The Dr is supreame over all on board bar the Capton and Officers’: Matrons, constables, and emigrants

  • Robin Haines


From the 1850s ships’ matrons were often selected and trained by the British Ladies Female Emigration Society (BLFES) at the ports of departure. Until then the surgeon superintendents, or the Emigration Commission’s agent at the quayside, had selected volunteers from amongst the married women, or accepted candidates who applied for a free passage in exchange for acting as matron. They were paid a gratuity on arrival, usually £5, if they were considered to have performed their duties satisfactorily. During 1852–53, the year of excessively high mortality on ships bound for Victoria, nine matrons were either dismissed on the voyage, or were reported as incompetent on arrival.1


Corporal Punishment Single Woman Irish Woman Colonial Government Free Passage 
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  1. 11.
    W.H.G. Kingston, How to Emigrate; or, The British Colonists: a Tale for all classes with an appendix, forming a complete manual for intending colonists and for those who may wish to assist them, Groombridge & Sons, London, 1850, 234Google Scholar
  2. 18.
    See, for example, W.H.G. Kingston, The Emigrant Voyagers’ Manual: Preparations for the Voyage, Trelawney Saunders, London, 1850.Google Scholar
  3. 24.
    see B. Dickey, ‘Why were there no Poor Laws in Australia?’, Journal of Policy History, 4:2, 1992, 111–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. See also Dickey, Rations, Residences, Resources — a history of social welfare in South Australia since 1836, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1986Google Scholar
  5. 26.
    See also, Haines, ‘“The priest made a bother about it”: the travails of “that unhappy sisterhood” bound for colonial Australia’, in Trevor McClaughlin (ed.), Irish Women in Colonial Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1998, 43–63.Google Scholar

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© Robin Haines 2005

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  • Robin Haines

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