Good Reading : May 2015
GOOD READING MAY 2015 51 While treatments and technology have changed, some basic items in the naval surgeon’s kit vary little from those used in Bowes Smyth’s time. Instruments for holding and cutting tissue, sinew and bone; tools for probing wounds and body cavities; as well as equipment to clamp vessels and close wounds continue to be used today. At the time medical science was not very advanced. There were few pharmaceuticals or drugs, and the practice of treating patients by bleeding was still in widespread use. The job of a surgeon in the convict service was far from attractive. The work was demanding, the conditions appalling and the pay poor. With more appealing opportunities elsewhere the general standard of the surgeons on convict ships was low. William Redfern, who also later went to New South Wales and became a prominent doctor, wrote in a letter to Governor Macquarie in 1814 that many of the ships’ surgeons were ‘ill qualified’ for the job and that too many ‘devote[d] themselves to inebriety’. The Chaplain on the First Fleet was the 34-year-old Anglican Reverend Richard Johnson, sailing with his wife Mary as passengers on the store ship, the Golden Grove. Committed to straightening the twisted souls of the convicts, Johnson took with him over 4000 religious books and pamphlets supplied by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. They included 100 bibles, 100 books of Common Prayer, 400 testaments, 500 psalters and 200 church catechisms. In addition he took a large number of pamphlets on moral guidance, including 110 copies of Exhortations to Chastity, 100 copies of Dissuasions for Stealing, 200 copies of Exercises Against Lying and 50 copies of Caution to Swearers. No doubt Johnson was persuaded the convicts would benefit from all this, but only a tiny proportion of the new settlers – mainly the officers – could read. Arthur Bowes Smyth was appointed by the British East India Company as the surgeon to the ship and its crew and a separate surgeon, John Turnpenny Altree, was appointed to attend the convicts. Between the time of his arrival at Portsmouth in March and the departure of the fleet in May, Bowes Smyth recorded a number of incidents involving the Lady Penrhyn convicts. Ann Wright died in early April, and convict Elizabeth Bruce ‘fell from the forecastle’ and broke her leg. Late in April two women were put in irons for fighting one another, and the 18-month-old baby of convict Ann Sandlyn died. Bowes Smyth also recorded how the convict women, most of whom had never before been on a ship, were sea sick with the ‘ship’s motion’. Most of the convicts on the fleet were loaded aboard before the end of 1786 and were locked below decks for the winter until the departure of the fleet the following May. They would not touch dry land for more than a year until they reached New South Wales at the end of January 1788. First Fleet Surgeon: The voyage of Arthur Bowes Smyth by David Hill is published by National Library of Australia, rrp $44.99. BOOK BITE 2 FIRST FLEET SURGEON technologyhavechanged, number of pamphlets on moral guidance, including 110 copies of Exhortations to Chastity, 100 copies of Dissuasions for Stealing, 200 copies of Exercises Against Lying and 50 copies of Caution to Swearers. No doubt Johnson was persuaded the convicts would benefit from all this, but only a tiny proportion of the new settlers – mainly the officers – could read. was appointed by the British East India Company as the surgeon to the ship and its Arthur Bowes Smyth’s first daily journal entry.