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Thomas Coke Brownell : a humanitarian colonial

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Courtney, Katherine Coffield (1995) Thomas Coke Brownell : a humanitarian colonial. Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The history of Van Diemen's Land tends to be viewed from above through the
correspondence and reports of Government officials, legal documentation, or
biographies of the rich and famous; or from below through the study of the convict
system or the memoirs of convicts themselves. How informative then to view life
at a middle level through the unpublished diary of Thomas Coke Brownell, a young
doctor of modest means who emigrated to Van Diemen's Land with his young
family in 1829. The diary covers the years 1829-1858, telling of Brownell's
experiences, his attitudes and insights into life, as he worked with various levels of
Van Diemen's Land society.
The diary raises questions in the reader's mind: Why did a young doctor in private
practice in England take his family from relative security with a predictable future
to uncertain employment in an untamed, far-distant convict colony? What
expectations inspired Thomas Coke Brownell to make such a momentous decision?
Most interesting to the historian: What were the realities of life in Van Diemen's
Land? How did Thomas, his wife Elizabeth, and their eleven children adapt to that
life? Brownell's diary in conjunction with Official Reports and Letters gives enough
detail to piece together the life of an average Government doctor in early colonial
times. It begins with the Brownells' emigration to Swan River, W.A. with high
expectations of generous land grants. The primitive conditions and unusable land
there drove the family on to Hobart. By then penniless, Dr. Brownell accepted an
appointment as a Colonial Assistant Surgeon at Maria Island Convict Settlement.
That appointment was followed by a move to Port Arthur. Then came a five year interlude of living their dream of life on the land which turned into a nightmare of
poverty and problems brought on by drought, poor seed, economic depression and
Thomas's lack of farming experience. Accepting the reality that Government
Medical Service was the only assured financial security, Brownell took up an
appointment as Colonial Assistant Surgeon at Avoca, followed by twenty years
service at various stations such as George Town, again Maria Island, Port Arthur,
the Hobart General Hospital and again Port Arthur.
Personal glimpses of family health, farming and financial failure, living conditions
at the various stations, the depravity of the convicts, the heavy workloads imposed
on medical staff, and primitive medical facilities are gleaned through Brownell's
descriptions of the many difficulties, disappointments and occasional achievements
at the bourgeois level of society. Brownell's diary affords insights into an admirable, likeable, humanitarian man, and
more importantly into many facets of life in Van Diemen's Land over almost thirty
years. His frequent changes in appointment, his constant battle for sufficient funds,
his Wesleyan determination to bring God and education to all men, brought
Brownell into contact and sometimes conflict with top Government officers, the
lowest level of convict, and struggling free settlers like himself. Brownell's
observations on convicts, Government policies on land grants, Transportation and
trade, Church politics, emigration, and the state of the economy add dimension to
the historical picture.
A detailed study of Thomas Coke Brownell's diary plus information from Official
Records paints a picture of life at the middle level of society which is a valuable
addition to the fabric of social history in Van Diemen's Land.

Item Type: Thesis (Research Master)
Keywords: Brownell, Thomas Coke
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1995 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Includes bibliographical references. Thesis (M.Hum.)--University of Tasmania, 1996

Date Deposited: 09 Dec 2014 00:01
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:55
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