Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

The Power Struggle

    Because of the numerous responsibilities and power the ship surgeon had, there was sometimes conflict between the surgeon and captain of the ship when it came to certain decisions being made. Specifically, an incident in the Log of the Arima will be examined in which the surgeon and captain disagree over the disciplining of a passenger. In the log, one surgeon, Dr. Raheem, reportedly complained about an individual “kicking and pushing” a Coolie, as well as using “abusive language.” Another passenger was accused by Dr. Raheem of stealing some brandy. His following punishments were to be “placed in irons for the day and to put him on half rations for a week.” This lead to some conflict between the doctor and captain of the ship who supposedly proclaimed, “No! The punishment was too severe.” Next were some back and forth arguments, with the Captain ordering to have the irons off and Raheem then continuing to punish the passenger by not allowing him to go below deck despite the cold. This situation points clearly to the power struggle between the captain and the surgeon. The captain expresses his lack of power when it comes to discipline after the immigrant begs to go below the decks, stating, “I hardly knew what to do. I did not like to interfere, it was the doctor’s duty.” The passenger eventually goes below on his own, resulting in an aggressive beating from Dr. Raheem. “I now thought it my duty to interfere,” said the captain, who then decided to protect the man himself.
   Another case of a surgeon utilizing his disciplinary power can be seen aboard . The surgeon on board approaches a seaman “for using filthy and obscene language to his compounder and interfering in his duties.”
   Another passenger aboard The Clarence, William Rose, was punished by the surgeon for having “beaten a female emigrant.” This resulted in the surgeon putting “Mr. Rose in irons on the poop.” 
   These logs are an excellent source for illustrating the power struggle between the surgeon and captain and the surgeon implementing this power.

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