A French naval surgeon's account of disease, treatments and hospitals in colonial Sydney, 1873

Simon Barraclough and Arnaud Gallois
Med J Aust 2015; 203 (2): . || doi: 10.5694/mja14.00721
Published online: 20 July 2015

Early Australian environmental, social and public health conditions observed by a French “man of science”

In 1873, the French warship Atalante visited Sydney for repairs. The vessel's surgeon, Dr F Bourse, had time to observe environmental, social and public health conditions in Sydney and to visit its hospitals. In the National Library of Australia, among an obscure and disparate collection of 19th century medical documents bound into a single volume, one of us (S B) chanced upon an original reprint of Bourse's account of his stay, published in French in 1876 in the Archives de médecine navale.1 We have translated this account, which forms the primary source for this article. It reveals an observer clearly impressed to find a thriving metropolis, with health care in some institutions comparable to that in Europe, notwithstanding what he regarded as an obvious undersupply of hospital services.

  • Simon Barraclough1
  • Arnaud Gallois2

  • 1 La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.


We thank the anonymous reviewer for suggestions to improve this article, and Christine Edwards for advice on some of the pharmaceutical substances to which we refer.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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