Indolence and Illness: Scurvy, the Irish, and Early Australia

Killian Quigley
  • Eighteenth-Century Life, April 2017, Duke University Press
  • DOI: 10.1215/00982601-3841432

Pathology and Irishness in convict Australia

What is it about?

This paper identifies and analyzes an intriguing trend in the literature of early colonial Australia: the association of Irishness with illness, and particularly with scurvy. It explains the thinking that lay behind this association, especially in terms of a concept called epidemic constitution, a now-outmoded frame for epidemiological thought.

Why is it important?

The essay uses the history of medical thought to better understand how and why Irish convicts were considered a distinct group by colonial administrators and ships' surgeons. It not only enriches our view of the early convict colony, but adds new layers to our understanding of how diseases of population get tied up with ideas about nationality, character, behavior, and so on.


Killian Quigley

As numerous scholars have shown, 18th- and 19th- century ideas in medicine were often tested aboard ships, and in colonial contexts. With this essay, I've tried to contribute to our understanding of medical history, and to our understanding of how a particular group of people -- in this case, the Irish -- can come to be defined by their apparent medical susceptibilities.

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