University of Tasmania
whole_CourtneyKatherineCoffield1996_thesis.pdf (5.13 MB)

Thomas Coke Brownell : a humanitarian colonial

Download (5.13 MB)
posted on 2023-05-26, 23:25 authored by Courtney, Katherine Coffield
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 How informative then to view life at a middle level through the unpublished diary of Thomas Coke Brownell, a young doctor of modest means who emigrated to Van Diemen's Land with his young family in 1829.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.


Publication status

  • Unpublished

Rights statement

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

Repository Status

  • Open

Usage metrics

    Thesis collection


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager