• Anderson, K., 2005: Predicting the Weather: Victorians and the Science of Meteorology. University of Chicago Press, 376 pp.

  • Anon, 1821: Vanderdecken’s message home. Edinburgh’s Blackwood Mag., 9 , 127131.

  • Anon, 1838–39: Diary written on board Alfred from Plymouth to New South Wales. MS ALF, ANMM.

  • Arnold, D., Ed. 1996: Warm Climates and Western Medicine. Rodopi, 252 pp.

  • Arnold, D., Ed. 2006: The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape and Science, 1800–1856. University of Washington Press, 298 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Backhouse, J., 1831: Letter from Science of Scarborough. CR 2926/63, Warwickshire County Record Office, Warwick, United Kingdom.

  • Bannister, G. C., 1853: Diary on Credenda, from England to Geelong. MS CRE, ANMM.

  • Beer, G., 1996: Four bodies on the Beagle: Touch, sight and writing in a Darwin letter. Open Fields, G. Beer, Ed., Oxford University Press, 13–30.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Berg, M., 2007: The genesis of useful knowledge. Hist. Sci., 45 , 123133.

  • Bewell, A., 2003: Romanticism and Colonial Disease. Johns Hopkins University Press, 373 pp.

  • Bloxome, O., 1838: Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales. MS 336 Folder 1, National Library of Australia, Parkes, ACT, Australia.

  • Brocklesby, J., 1851: Elements of Meteorology. Pratt, Woodford & Co., 240 pp.

  • Bronner, S. J., 2006: Crossing the Line: Violence, Play, and Drama in Naval Equator Traditions. Amsterdam University Press, 64 pp.

  • Brown, E. C., 1998: Boyd’s Dante, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, and the pattern of infernal influence. Stud. Eng. Lit. 1500–1900, 38 , 647667.

  • Burnett, D. G., 2009: Hydrographic discipline among the navigators: Charting an “Empire of Commerce and Science” in the nineteenth-century Pacific. Imperial Map, J. A. Akerman, Ed., University of Chicago Press, 185–259.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cannadine, D., Ed. 2007: Empire, the Sea and Global History: Britain’s Maritime World, 1763–1833. Palgrave, 192 pp.

  • Carter, P., 1987: The Road to Botany Bay: An Essay in Spatial History. Knopf, 384 pp.

  • Colwill, E., 1998: Science, magic and gods. Metascience, 7 , 503514.

  • Comstock, J. L., 1837: A Treatise on Mathematical and Physical Geography. Hartford, 309 pp.

  • Cosgrove, D., 2005: Tropic and tropicality. Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire, F. Driver and L. Martins, Eds., University of Chicago Press, 197–216.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Curr, H., 1856: Diary on Morning Light, Liverpool to Australia. MS MOR, ANMM.

  • Curtin, P. D., 1964: The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780–1850. University of Wisconsin Press, 248 pp.

  • Darwin, C., 1979: The Journal of a Voyage in H.M.S. Beagle. Genesis, 843 pp.

  • Davis, F., 1858: Diary on Conway to Melbourne. MS CON, ANMM.

  • Deacon, H., 2000: The politics of medical topography: Seeking healthiness at the Cape during the nineteenth century. Pathologies of Travel, R. Wrigley and G. Revill, Eds., Rodopi, 279–297.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Deacon, M., 1971: Scientists and the Sea, 1650–1900. Academic Press, 459 pp.

  • Dening, G., 1992: Mr. Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty. Cambridge University Press, 460 pp.

  • Drayton, R., 2007: Maritime networks and the making of knowledge. Empire, the Sea and Global History, D. Cannadine, Ed., Palgrave, 72–82.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Driver, F., 2001: Geography Militant: Cultures of Exploration and Empire. Oxford University Press, 276 pp.

  • Driver, F., 2004: Distance and disturbance: Travel, exploration and knowledge in the nineteenth century. Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 14 , 7392.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Driver, F., and Martins L. , Eds. 2005: Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire. Chicago University Press, 279 pp.

  • Endfield, G. H., and Nash D. J. , 2007: ‘A good site for health’: Missionaries and the pathological geography of central southern Africa. Singapore J. Trop. Geogr., 28 , 142157.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fell, A., 1841–42: Diary on emigrant ship Lord Auckland, London to New Zealand. Mrf. 151, NMM.

  • Fordham, W., 1857–58: Diary of a voyage on Trade Wind, Gravesend to Hobart. NS 1518/1, State Archives of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania.

  • Glacken, C., 1967: Traces on the Rhodian Shore. University of California Press, 800 pp.

  • Golinski, J., 2007: British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment. Chicago University Press, 272 pp.

  • Grove, R. H., 1996: Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860. Cambridge University Press, 560 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Haines, R., 2005: Doctors at Sea: Emigrant Voyages to Colonial Australia. Palgrave MacMillan, 256 pp.

  • Hall, R., 1852–53: Diary on Kate. Liverpool to Melbourne. MS KAT, ANMM.

  • Harrison, M., 2000: From medical astronomy to medical astrology: Sol-lunar and planetary theories of disease in British medicine, c. 1700–1850. Br. J. Hist. Sci., 33 , 2548.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harrison, M., 2002: Climates and Constitutions: Health, Race, Environment and British Imperialism in India, 1600–1850. Oxford University Press, 280 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Headrick, D. R., 2002: When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution, 1700–1850. Oxford University Press, 260 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hersh, C. L., 2002: Crossing the line: Sex, power, justice and the U.S. Navy at the equator. Duke J. Gend. Law Policy, 9 , 277324.

  • Hodkinson, W., 1860: Diary of second cabin passenger aboard the White Star Line ship Phoenix, Auckland to Liverpool. DX/1481, MMM.

  • Jankovic, V., 2000: Reading the Skies: A Cultural History of English Weather, 1650–1820. Manchester University Press, 288 pp.

  • Jankovic, V., 2006: The last resort: A British perspective on the medical south, 1815–1870. J. Intercult. Stud., 27 , 271298.

  • Jankovic, V., 2007: Gruff boreas, deadly calms: A medical perspective on winds and the Victorians. J. Roy. Anthrop. Inst., 13 , 147164.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jeans, P. D., 2004: Seafaring Lore and Legend. McGraw Hill, 382 pp.

  • Jennings, E. T., 2006: Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology and French Colonial Spas. Duke University Press, 288 pp.

  • Johnson, J., 1841: The Influence of Tropical Climates on European Constitutions. 6th ed. S. Highley, 693 pp.

  • Kennedy, D., 1990: The perils of the midday sun: Climatic anxieties in the colonial tropics. Imperialism and the Natural World, J. M. MacKenzie, Ed., Manchester University Press, 118–140.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Killingray, D., Lincoln M. , and Rigby N. , Eds. 2004: Maritime Empires: British Imperial Maritime Trade in the Nineteenth Century. Boydell and Brewer, 229 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kupperman, K. O., 1984: Fear of hot climates in the Anglo-American colonial experience. William Mary Q., 41 , 213240.

  • Latour, B., 1987: Science in Action. Harvard University Press, 274 pp.

  • Livingstone, D., 2000: Tropical hermeneutics: Fragments for a historical narrative—An afterword. Singapore J. Trop. Geog., 21 , 9298.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martins, L., 1998: Navigating tropical waters: British maritime views of Rio de Janeiro. Imago Mundi, 50 , 141155.

  • Maury, M. F., 1855: The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology. Harper & Brothers, 287 pp.

  • Maybury, F., 1856–57: Diary including voyage on ship Kohinoor, to Cape Town, then on Cheapside to Melbourne. Mss 73, ML.

  • Melville, H., 2004: Moby Dick. Collector’s Library, 780 pp.

  • Millington, B., 1986: “The Flying Dutchman,” “Le Vaisseau fantôme” and other nautical yarns. Music. Times, 127 , 131135.

  • Mokyr, J., 2002: The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy. Princeton University Press, 376 pp.

  • Muir, R., 1838–39: Diary of voyage from Plymouth to Sydney on Alfred. Mss B1496, mfm CY 1143, ML.

  • Naraindas, H., 1996: Poisons, putrescence and the weather: A genealogy of the advent of tropical medicine. Contrib. Indian Sociol., 30 , 135.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Naylor, S., 2006: Nationalising provincial weather: Meteorology in nineteenth-century Cornwall. Br. J. Hist. Sci., 39 , 407433.

  • Oliver, J. E., 2005: Encyclopedia of World Climatology. Springer, 854 pp.

  • Parker, H., 1996: Herman Melville, A Biography: Volume 1, 1819–1851. Johns Hopkins Press, 928 pp.

  • Phillips, R., 2002: Dystopian space in colonial representations and interventions: Sierra Leone as the “white man’s grave”. Geogr. Ann., 84 , 189200.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pickford, J. H., 1858: Hygiene, or, Health as Depending upon the Conditions of the Atmosphere, Foods and Drinks, Motion and Rest, Sleep and Wakefulness, Secretions, Excretions and Retentions, Mental Emotions, Clothing, Bathing, &c. John Churchill, 290 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Quiller-Couch, A., Ed. 1943: The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900. Clarendon, 1084 pp.

  • Rediker, M., 1987: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700–1750. Cambridge University Press, 337 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rediker, M., 2004: Toward a people’s history of the sea. Maritime Empires: British Imperial Maritime Trade in the Nineteenth Century, D. Killingray, M. Lincoln, and N. Rigby, Eds., Boydell and Brewer, 195–206.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reed, A., 1983: Romantic Weather: The Climates of Coleridge and Baudelaire. University Press of New England, 338 pp.

  • Riehl, H., 1954: Tropical Meteorology. McGraw Hill, 392 pp.

  • Rothman, S. M., 1994: Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History. Basic, 319 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rozwadowski, H. M., 1996: Small world: Forging a scientific maritime culture for oceanography. Isis, 87 , 409429.

  • Rozwadowski, H. M., 2005: Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea. Harvard University Press, 316 pp.

  • Shelley, P. B., cited. 2009: “A Vision of the Sea”. [Available online at http://www.online-literature.com/shelley_percy/complete-works-of-shelley/109/].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Steinberg, P. E., 2001: The Social Construction of the Ocean. Cambridge University Press, 239 pp.

  • Tambiah, S. J., 1990: Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge University Press, 187 pp.

  • Thompson, R., 1856: By Steerage to the Antipodes in 1856: An Account of a Voyage from London to New Zealand in the Barque Sir Edward Paget. MS SIR, ANMM.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walton, J. K., 1983: The English Seaside Resort: A Social History, 1750–1914. St. Martin’s Press, 265 pp.

  • Wellings, H., 1857–58: Diary on David McIvor, Birkenhead to Sydney. Mss 1963, ML.

  • Wey Gómez, N., 2008: The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies. MIT Press, 616 pp.

  • White, J. E., 1863: Journal including voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne on ship Henry Fernie. M864, ML.

  • Widdowson, H., 1825–26: Diary on Albion transporting cattle and horses to Australia. Mfm 2116, ML.

  • Wills, W. C., 1841–42: Diary on voyage from England to Sidney on the barque Louisa. Mfm M934, ML.

  • Wilson, H. M., 1849: Diary from Deptford and Plymouth on barque Sarah. Mss B1535/CY 1024, ML.

  • Wilson, W. S., 1880: The Ocean as a Health Resort: A Handbook of Practical Information as to Sea-Voyages for the Use of Tourists and Invalids. J. & A. Churchill, 260 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wright, H., 1886: Diary on voyage from London to Brisbane on steam ship Duke of Westminster. MS DUK, ANMM. The Tropical Times, printed and published on board the Barque Elizabeth during a voyage from Bristol to Australia, February–April 1853. 41067/1, Bristol Record Office, Bristol, United Kingdom.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 108 97 8
PDF Downloads 61 54 2

Interpreting the Tropical Atlantic Climate: Diaries from the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Australian Voyage

View More View Less
  • 1 Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
© Get Permissions
Full access

Abstract

This article analyses representations of the tropical Atlantic and its climate in diaries written during sailing voyages from Britain to the Australian colonies in the middle third of the nineteenth century. It argues that writers employed a wide range of formal and informal knowledge about weather and climate to evaluate the physical experience of sailing through the maritime tropics. These interpretive frames include geographical conventions of latitude and longitude, colonial medical topography, natural observation, sailor’s expertise, maritime culture, and literary tropes. The article’s exploration of vernacular knowledge in an underexplored social and geographic context makes two contributions: first, to historical and geographical discussions about the distinction between expertise and belief and second, to recent attempts to emphasize the material importance of the ocean in an unprecedented era of industrial, scientific, and colonial expansion.

Corresponding author address: Katherine Foxhall, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, Simon Building, 2nd Floor, Brunswick St., Manchester, M13 9PL, United Kingdom. Email: katherine.foxhall@manchester.ac.uk

Abstract

This article analyses representations of the tropical Atlantic and its climate in diaries written during sailing voyages from Britain to the Australian colonies in the middle third of the nineteenth century. It argues that writers employed a wide range of formal and informal knowledge about weather and climate to evaluate the physical experience of sailing through the maritime tropics. These interpretive frames include geographical conventions of latitude and longitude, colonial medical topography, natural observation, sailor’s expertise, maritime culture, and literary tropes. The article’s exploration of vernacular knowledge in an underexplored social and geographic context makes two contributions: first, to historical and geographical discussions about the distinction between expertise and belief and second, to recent attempts to emphasize the material importance of the ocean in an unprecedented era of industrial, scientific, and colonial expansion.

Corresponding author address: Katherine Foxhall, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, Simon Building, 2nd Floor, Brunswick St., Manchester, M13 9PL, United Kingdom. Email: katherine.foxhall@manchester.ac.uk

1. Introduction

In 1863, a young emigrant wrote a diary during a voyage from Liverpool as he sailed to join his brother on a government contract building a breakwater in New South Wales. James Espie White entitled the third chapter “Tropics” and recorded exactly when the ship’s crew calculated they crossed the northern Tropic of Cancer: “Thursday 2nd October at 6pm” (White 1863). He described his first tropical impressions in verse:

The slumb’ring sea lies still

unstirred by the breezes breath

And its stillness almost seems

The pulseless calm of death.

He added: “nothing but scorching rays from a burning sun fills the atmosphere—the sails hang from the yards and are motionless.” Except for circling sharks, everything seemed “at a standstill” (White 1863, Part 3). Later in the diary, White wrote that a consumptive girl had “lingered on and on through the hot weather gradually getting weaker and weaker til [sic] at last conveyed to the hospital she died” (White 1863, Part 4).

The scorching sun, pulseless calm, and hot weather illustrate how a host of interpretative devices mediated the physical experience of climate in White’s diary: a tropical structure, observation, poetry, sickness, an exact record of latitude, and nautical omens such as sharks all emerge from the narrative. Many diaries of mid-nineteenth-century oceanic passengers include striking portrayals of tropical climate. Using examples archived in Britain and Australia, written on sailing voyages to Australia between 1830 and 1863, this article argues that writers such as White interpreted their physical experience of the changing environment and climate using a wide spectrum of informal and formal knowledge. Writers defined the tropics by its latitude but also by a colonial history that associated the Brazilian coast with recuperation and the African coast with sickness. They observed and measured weather and tropical fauna. As passengers’ bodies and other objects reacted to the heat, a medical framework that emphasized climate, heat, humidity, and calms remained highly relevant. As they wrote about these experiences, passengers recalled literary paradigms and styles that further shaped their engagement with the culture and working knowledge of the sailors.

Through the process of writing, Gillian Beer has suggested, “the physical hand makes contact with a repertoire of scenes, figures and emotions already, even amidst the tumult of current impressions, not before [the writer’s] eyes” (Beer 1996, p. 30). Similarly, it can be argued that geographical knowledge is “constituted through a range of embodied practices—travelling, seeing, collecting, recording, mapping and narrating” (Driver 2001, p. 12). The writers in this article are not scientists, surgeons, or colonial officials trained in, or required to undertake, meteorological observation. Yet they anticipated, feared, observed, felt, and wrote extensively about climate and weather. Although the narrators were literate, and mostly men, they did not claim authority, or a public audience for their representations. These passengers are perhaps best described as incidental tropical narrators: they include teenagers, priests, missionaries, steerage emigrants, and invalids. One source, the Tropical Times, is a collective voyage narrative presented as a weekly newspaper. These diaries suggest the extent to which ordinary people mobilized an eclectic range of corporeal, scientific, cultural, medical, and colonial frameworks to travel through, evaluate, and narrate their encounter with the tropical climate.

Never before the mid-nineteenth century had so many Europeans—whalers, convicts, laborers, explorers, traders, migrants, and health tourists—experienced the sea. As Rozwadoswki has suggested, the ocean became “a workplace, a leisure area, a stage for adventure and a natural environment” (Rozwadowski 2005, p. 4). Physicians recommended that consumptives and other invalids undertake voyages (Deacon 2000; Jankovic 2006; Jennings 2006). The sea became, as Rothman suggests, “both medicinal and magical” (Rothman 1994, p. 34). Highly publicized Arctic and scientific explorations and authors such as Herman Melville, Henry Dana, and Frederick Maryat brought the ocean and its culture into everyday life (Reed 1983; Rozwadowski 2005; Walton 1983; Deacon 1971). In Britain, the Australian voyage played an important part in this maritime moment. Government-assisted and privately funded emigration to the Australian colonies increased rapidly during the 1830s; in 1839, 10 000 emigrants sailed to Australia on assistance schemes. By the 1850s, with the discovery of gold, double-decked sailing ships carried up to 900 colonial emigrants to the Australian colonies at once, in voyages lasting from three to six months. In an important sense, therefore, the ocean also became a colonial test.

The article’s attention to a particular type of vernacular weather and climate knowledge makes a historiographical contribution in two main ways. First, it attends closely to the ways in which different forms of knowledge became useful in particular climatic and geographical circumstances (Berg 2007; Anderson 2005; Mokyr 2002). Historians and sociologists of science have long been concerned to dissolve easy distinctions between the “knowledge” of experts and the “beliefs” of others (Latour 1987; Colwill 1998; Tambiah 1990). Discussing meteorology, Jankovic emphasizes the importance of a late eighteenth-century shift from elite theory to a “down to earth empiricism” of everyday weather. If, as he suggests, “everyone could be a meteorologist—convalescents especially—because everyone was in a state of dependence upon the elements” (Jankovic 2000, 137–144), then these diaries provide a rich source for showing how this worked in practice. Of particular relevance to this article are recent suggestions that traditional “weather wisdom” of sailors and shepherds promised special meteorological insight in the nineteenth century; the continuing usefulness of these traditional authorities “raised fundamental questions about observation, precision, and scientific exchange” (Anderson 2005, p. 183; see also Jankovic 2000, p. 133). And yet, Rozwadowski suggests, maritime cultures and superstitions entertained rather than convinced nineteenth-century “landlubbers” (Rozwadowski 1996, p. 423). Under what geographical, temporal, and cultural circumstances did formal and informal knowledge, whether derived from land or sea, become useful? The diaries examined in this article suggest that passengers did not distinguish between sailors’ navigational authority and the more cultural aspects of their meteorological knowledge. Yet this is explicitly maritime knowledge; the utility of different forms of weather and environmental knowledge is as much a geographically determined question related to the immediate relevance of other types of knowledge (e.g., medical) as it is about the chronological development of new scientific modes of understanding and predicting weather.

Second, the diaries put travelers’ physical experience and the material agency of the tropical climate in the foreground (Livingstone 2000). While it seems obvious that passengers felt the tropics, the profoundly corporeal effect of this maritime environment is at odds with recent suggestions that in the era of industrial capitalism, the ocean had become “an empty space to be crossed by atomistic ships” (Steinberg 2001, p. 105). Maritime history has enjoyed a recent expansion. Studies of maritime empires have explored scientific knowledge, trade, commodities, and human movement (Cannadine 2007; Killingray et al. 2004). However, Marcus Rediker has recently warned about a continuing tendency to write maritime history with a terracentric bias, “a land-based set of assumptions about place” (Rediker 2004). Indeed, historians have begun to emphasize the importance of the sea’s agency in the formation of geographical and scientific knowledge (Burnett 2009; Driver 2004; Drayton 2007). Knowledge derived at sea was geographically specific, and nowhere was this more apparent than the tropics. Passengers’ diaries suggest a way to broaden our approach to maritime knowledge by showing how travelers constructed different colonial, medical, and cultural geographies around physical experience. Until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, access to colonial lands south of the equator or east of Africa generally required a long voyage; as Denis Cosgrove has argued, “the initial and most immediate site of tropical experience was the deck of the ship” (Cosgrove 2005, p. 201). The ocean was the route to colonial lands and crucial to the development of modern industrial society; how travelers evaluated this space has an important role in our historical understanding of an unprecedented era of colonial expansion and consolidation.

The remainder of this article proceeds in three sections. First, it shows how passengers framed their entrance into the tropics by relating weather and climate to formal measurements of latitude and longitude, their own observational activities, and their position in regard to Atlantic coasts and islands. But observation did not remain distinct from experience, and the second section shows how a contemporary medical framework that emphasized the environmental causes of disease—particularly heat, humidity, and calms—ratified physical changes effected by the tropical environment on living and inert bodies. In the third section, I suggest that tropes of maritime literature aided passengers in processing and writing down their experiences. However, literary influence, and engagement with the sailors’ navigational and cultural performances, should not be disentangled from experience and observation. Together, these sections begin to show ways in which passengers mobilized a range of different frames of tropical reference. Climate and weather acted as a focus around which these different modes of understanding coalesced. Different kinds of knowledge became useful because they mutually reinforced, and could be used in dialogue with, each other. In conclusion, I briefly relate these tropical experiences to the context of the voyage as a whole and suggest how these interpretations changed in a later period characterized by steam rather than sail.

2. Measuring the tropics

The voyage from Europe to Australia involved a particularly prolonged immersion in the maritime environment. Travelers to Australia crossed through temperate, tropical, and stormy oceans as they sailed first through the Northern and then through the Southern Hemisphere. Many of these voyages effectively crossed the Atlantic twice; from the vicinity of Madeira, captains utilized the trade winds, sailing southwest toward Brazil and the equator, and then southeast to round the Cape of Good Hope, before sailing east across the Southern Ocean.

The tropics form a belt around the earth from 23.27° north of the equator to 23.27° south, defining the outer limits of the regions where the sun shines directly overhead, although the seasonal limits vary. Nicolás Wey Gómez has argued that in the fifteenth century, the act of crossing lines of latitude was both a philosophical question and a geopolitical process (Wey Gómez 2008, 44–49). Throughout the colonial period, as many historians have shown, “the tropics” remained firmly implanted in ideas about climate, race, science, and medicine (Arnold 2006; Driver and Martins 2005; Grove 1996; Harrison 2002). Translated onto charts and maps, longitude and latitude provided the spatial coordinates by which Europeans interpreted, ordered, and colonized the physical territories and peoples of the globe—racially, botanically, and climatologically (Carter 1987; Headrick 2002). “Going south,” as Greg Dening has observed, remained even in the nineteenth century “no unimportant thing for a European whose world was north” (Dening 1992, p. 76).

In navigating the ocean, sailors measured latitude and longitude daily; writers’ incorporation of these calculations suggest that they took a keen interest and invested a great deal in the sailor’s navigational skill. For ocean travelers, latitude and longitude did not so much fix or enclose the desolate horizons of maritime space; rather, they demonstrated movement. In 1831 a missionary wrote a letter from the coordinates “Lat 13.29S, Long 34.38W,” illustrating Burnett’s suggestion that locational coordinates “amounted to the places themselves” (Burnett 2009, p. 218). After two months at sea, James Backhouse could not “conceive of anything more desolate than the ocean over which we have sailed week after week a circle of blue waters surrounding us” (Backhouse 1831). When passengers such as Backhouse could find nothing of solace or interest, sailors’ calculations provided some reassurance that the ship made progress.

Around a month’s sail from the southern ports of the English coast, the moment of tropical arrival marked a significant point in the voyage to Australia and diarists recorded it exactly; in Henry Curr’s diary this was 4.53 a.m. on 20 July 1856. Curr noted his first impressions of the torrid zone. “The sun is exactly perpendicular,” he wrote. “No shadow whatever, and the heat most oppressive.” Curr did not just rely on the sailor’s understanding of latitude. He felt a distinct, uncomfortable change in the climate that, along with the vertical sun, corroborated in sensory terms the sailors’ calculations of their tropical arrival. One passenger described hanging bottles above the deck to observe the shadows that fell vertically below, while others took careful notes of the air temperature in and out of the shade as they advanced south (Hall 1852–53, 8 February).

Two decades after Backhouse’s voyage, by the 1850s passengers appear more prepared for the tedium of the sea. The importance of environmental engagements is apparent in the collective activities of the Elizabeth’s passengers, as they sailed from Bristol to Melbourne in 1853. Intended to entertain the passengers “during a long and tedious voyage,” the weekly Tropical Times (TT) contained common newspaper conventions such as advertisements and opinion pieces as well as a medical report. Each issue meticulously recorded the ship’s daily position and wind direction in a “statistical account of the progress of the ship.” The passengers of the Elizabeth adapted a contemporary “weather collecting culture” (Naylor 2006, p. 410) to chart quotidian changes in the maritime climate and presented daily comments on weather, air temperature, and pressure in a meteorological table (TT 1853). As the Elizabeth sailed before the trade winds during early January, the editor remarked that

during the past week there has been but a slight variation, in either Thermometer or Barometer, which is accounted for by our having been in those latitudes where a wind, commonly called a trade wind, constantly blows from the Eastward, and in a great measure, tends to equalise the action of the Quick-Silver (TT, Issue 2).

As they reached tropical waters, the TT describes how strange fauna became the subject of intense scrutiny and impromptu demonstrations. The passengers harpooned a shark and sighted a whale, shoals of flying fish, and “porpoises in vast numbers”. They caught and carefully examined two nautiluses. “It swims on the back of its shell,” one contributor wrote, “which closely resembles the hull of a ship. A membrane is extended over it, which serves as a sail” (TT, Issue 5). The interest sparked by the nautilus suggests the importance of the ship as a reference point for understanding the changing natural environment. Nautiluses, with hulls and sails, navigated just as people did.

Supplementing measurements and observations, islands and coasts loomed in the imagination as passengers paid careful attention to the geographical course that they sailed; this geography was also a colonial medical topography, which navigated healthiness in terms of climate, sea breezes, and longitude and latitude (Grove 1996; Deacon 2000). The Tropical Times described how, two days after catching the northeast trade winds, the Elizabeth’s passengers enjoyed “the delightful climate of the Madeiras; and we are not surprised that invalids should recover under its genial influence.” As the ship passed the Canaries, they again benefitted from “a fine climate” before heading west toward the coast of Brazil (TT, Issue 5). On 8 March, after a month in the tropics, the Elizabeth “bade adieu to the Torrid Zone.” Reflecting on their tropical experience, the passengers of the Elizabeth observed that they had been fortunate: “the heat has been often oppressive, and sometimes almost insupportable, but not at any time so intolerable as we had anticipated” (TT, Issue 6). The passengers’ relatively benign tropical experience reflected the season of their voyage (the Northern Hemisphere summer), as well as the westerly route sailed by the Elizabeth’s captain, sailing close to the Brazilian shore. Rio de Janeiro was an important outpost providing fresh food and water and facilities for refitting and repairing European ships (Martins 1998). The Brazilian coast benefited from the ventilating trade winds. Like the Cape of Good Hope, it had earned the reputation of a healthy and restorative land.

Other passengers’ tropical geographies focused on the opposite, and very different, Atlantic coast of West Africa. The diary of Hugh May Wilson displays a continual preoccupation with illness throughout the voyage (Wilson 1849). Seven deaths occurred on board in the first month at sea. Wilson described himself as “weak” and often fretted that fellow passengers made themselves and their children ill with the wrong diet. For himself, Wilson was “resigned to meet the end which God may in his providence may see fit to appoint,” and yet his diary also indicates the collective belief that disease was intimately linked to climate and latitude. The equator, Wilson wrote on 18 September, was “anxiously talked about. Instead of spending your first breath when you meet a friend in the usual way it is generally … how is she going? How far are we now from the line? … Any more deaths last night?” Five days later Wilson reported that “disease and death reign around us.” Even stout passengers dropped fast and without warning. While reaching the latitude of the equator became a general focus, Wilson’s relief was palpable as on 4 October, he described how the captain of the Sarah had finally altered their course to head toward Brazil: “We ran westward to get clear of the fatal African atmosphere, which seemed to breathe disease among us”, he said (Wilson 1849, 4 October). Colonial and geographical knowledge, as well as the captain’s actions, guided Wilson and his fellow passengers’ hopes and fears. As soon as the Sarah “got into fine weather and a good breeze,” the health of all on board “improved wonderfully” (30 September).

The influential British physician James Johnson found it extraordinary that “no work on the diseases of Africa should have emanated from the medical press of this country …. Africa is the grave of Europeans” (Johnson 1841, p. 4). Richard Phillips has observed that by the 1830s, the “white man’s grave” had become a clichéd image that nevertheless reflected a mortal reality: between 1819 and 1836 the Sierra Leone Command lost 48% of its men, mostly to sickness (Phillips 2002, p. 195; Curtin 1964). Even at a significant distance, passengers frequently and explicitly made this connection between West Africa and illness. In 1838, an anonymous writer—becalmed and surrounded by sharks, eight degrees north of the equator—lamented his ship’s proximity to the African coast: “the Doctor’s list of the sick still presents a long melancholy number. Oh! If we could only get a good rattling breeze to carry us out of these deadly latitudes.” Medical confirmed nautical authority: the captain’s chart showed that “we are now nearly opposite to Sierra Leone, which must be truly described as ‘The White Man’s Grave’” (Anon. 1838, 16 September).

In 1841, William Charles Wills emigrated to Australia on the Louisa in an attempt to improve his asthmatic ill health, having previously worked in the London Foundling Hospital. He wrote with relief as the Louisa cleared the coast of West Africa “where the climate is considered so unhealthy.” This fact was borne out “not only by the indisposition of two or three of the passengers, but also by the appearance and colour of the sails, which are of a brownish yellow, and assume a jaundiced complexion” (Wills 1841–42, 1 December). Even at sea, passengers understood West African latitudes as characterized by a stillness that seemed heavy and pathologically laden. Victorians understood winds to be both purifying and polluting (Jankovic 2007). Bracing winds were at the heart of medical approval of the sea voyage, and resorts including Pau, Brazil, the Cape of Good Hope, and southern Australia (Wilson 1880; Jennings 2006; Jankovic 2006). In comparison, disease and illness that occurred in the proximity of West Africa seemed to directly result from the influence of its airs and winds. Even if they could not see West Africa, passengers felt it in the maladies of their bodies. Even ships seemed to absorb its influence. This atmosphere, another diarist described, was “quite suffocating” (Bloxome 1838, 6 May).

3. Feeling the tropics

As these comments about West Africa begin to suggest, sailing through the tropics was often a visceral rather than just an interpretative experience. Accounts of blistered, peeling skin, rotten food, and jaundiced ships create an impression that the climate of the maritime tropics penetrated and infected bodies, minds, and objects. Intense sun marked itself on travelers’ bodies. One writer blamed the sun for cases of inflammation of the brain and several cases of measles in children (Bannister 1853). Alongside meteorological observations, the Tropical Times reported medical cases of “serious disturbance of the nervous system, resembling sunstroke, attended with fits in one case” as they crossed the equator. Passengers suffered from headaches “induced almost immediately” by the sun’s rays, and ankles and arms burnt in the sun (TT, Issue 5).

Henry Curr, a Catholic priest sailing from Liverpool to Australia, wrote of the pervasive power of the tropical sun: “many of the passengers suffer from skinburn, the skin shaling off their faces the same as the skin off a new potato just before it comes of age.” The ship both provided protection and itself became a dangerous object. One passenger described pitch oozing out of the decks and “running about like water—feet burnt if walking around barefoot” (Thompson 1856, 13 July). Curr continued that “to put one’s hand on a piece of iron that has been exposed to the sun sometimes causes a blister” (Curr 1856, 20 July). A few days later, the tropical heat affected all aspects of daily life:

We are all without exception suffering from the effects of extreme heat. Every article of food is so impregnated by it that it is almost impossible to eat. The water is positively warm, the butter is perfect liquid, and even old biscuits one would suppose only just taken out of the oven (24 July).

The putrefying power of the sun recurs throughout European tropical discourse from the earliest colonial experience: it could produce verdant wealth and putrefy objects under its influence (Kupperman 1984; Naraindas 1996). Putridity—of air, food, and living and dead bodies—also recurs through maritime diaries, compounding the problems of a sea diet. After 10 days of calm William Fordham wrote that all the passengers and emigrants on board the Trade Wind were “very queer with sores about their bodies from the bad water and salt meat” (Fordham 1857–58, 20 December). Another emigrant, contemplating the body of the ship’s recently deceased third mate, declared himself “astonished at the rapidity with which decomposition goes on in these latitudes.” Five hours after death, the body “was spotted all over, & tainted the air” (Muir 1838–39, 21 October). With “nothing but calm,” the taint lingered.

Whereas changing latitude and longitude provided reassurance, inertness produced fear, particularly in the windless doldrums, where a ship became “her own mistress … veering round and round but making no progress whatever towards raking us out of this dreadful heat” (Anon. 1838, 13 October). Others worried what might happen if they should encounter calms ahead. While the tropical heat was trying enough for “weak constitutions,” Hall suggested, “a calm of long continuance … would be disastrous” to the health of the passengers in general (Hall 1852–53, 22 and 26 January).

A huge literature demonstrates the intertwined histories of colonialism, climate, and health (Harrison 2002; Kennedy 1990; Jennings 2006). Colonial experience reinforced the eighteenth-century revival of a neo-Hippocratic framework that emphasized the effects of heat, winds, and humidity on human health (Glacken 1967; Golinski 2007), and medicine was “a conspicuous element in the process of European expansion and colonization” (Arnold 1996, p. 5). Calms played a specific role in this understanding. In Hygiene, Henry Pickford described the doldrums as disruptions of the atmosphere. These were “the hottest [calms] of the earth,” which exercised “a powerful influence in the production of the trade winds” (Pickford 1858, p. 106). Invoking the three-week calm that preceded London’s plague outbreak in 1665 and nineteenth-century cholera epidemics, Pickford argued that calms favored “the concentration of miasmata, and of animal and vegetable effluvia, particularly among a crowded and uncleanly population … . Calms contribute in the highest possible degree to the production, aggravation and propagation of epidemic disease, and are associated with plagues and pestilence” (Pickford 1858, p. 106).

Three bands of calm straddle the Atlantic. (Fig. 1) The middle band, commonly known as the doldrums, was flanked by two subtropical bands north and south of the equator, known as the “horse latitudes.” These were variable and unpredictable, shifting north and south with the season.1 Ships sailing south from Europe around Africa had no choice but to cross these calm regions; dealing with them was at once a navigational, meteorological, and medical concern. In Physical Geography of the Sea (Maury 1855), often considered a foundational text in the history of oceanography, Matthew Fontaine Maury described the doldrums as a region of “calms and baffling winds.” To denote these “calm places” where no regular winds existed to be represented by arrows, Maury drew shaded belts (Fig. 1). Such charts, as Anderson suggests, point to “the limitations of numbers and the observation programs that produced them” (Anderson 2005, 171); Maury resorted to words to fully convey the significance of the doldrums. As his proof, he evoked the emigrants’ Australian voyage, calling the area

one of the most oppressive and disagreeable places on earth. The emigrant ships from Europe for Australia have to cross it. They are often baffled in it for two or three weeks; then the children and the passengers who are of delicate health suffer most. It is a frightful grave-yard on the way to that golden land (Maury 1855, p. 171).

Maury and Pickford depicted calms as regions of fear, threat, and death, yet the diaries of emigrants who sailed through the doldrums in the middle third of the nineteenth century reveal that, although frightening, they were psychologically and physically more manageable than Maury allowed. Ship’s captains no longer feared, as Columbus had done, that their “vessels and crew would burst into flames” as they traveled south into the doldrums (Wey Gómez 2008, p. 28), and mortality on these voyages was in fact remarkably low (Haines 2005, 17–18).

Nevertheless, passengers’ fearful expectations of the doldrums may have only recently moderated as the voyage to Australia became a more common occurrence from the 1830s on. Henry Widdowson had sailed to Australia with horses and cattle in 1825. The Albion also carried a blacksmith and his family, and servants for the fledgling Australian colony, still at this time firmly a penal destination, its distance calculated to effect total social removal. Widdowson regretted that the ship, with only forty-nine passengers, fell short (by one) of the number required for a surgeon. The ship’s crew explained to Widdowson that lightning, thunder, and rain were “visitations exceedingly common to this atmosphere.” Widdowson had been unwell. He fainted in the hold and had to be carried back to the deck. To potential future readers of his diary he wrote: “You can form no idea of natural heat in England compared with the climate we are now living in” (Widdowson 1825, 9 January). As the heat of the tropics continued, he feared that they might “share the same fate as some ships becalmed here for a month or more, and living under the constant dread of having their ships set on fire by the burning sun, their water exhausted and people dying with fever” (10 January).

For ordinary travelers, as well as their surgeons, months at sea reinforced the relevance of a colonial topography and medical system that foregrounded winds and humidity. In addition, Mark Harrison has argued that while astrological understanding of the relationship between bodies and the atmosphere declined on land, it flourished in overseas medical service (Harrison 2000, p. 26). Overt astrological explanations are evident in some diaries: the teenage passenger James Espie White risked the “falling dews” and “moonstroke” to sleep on deck and escape the stifling atmosphere below (White 1863, Part 3). On one emigrant ship the doctor explained to passengers fishing over the side that “deep sea fish are sometimes poisonous, said to be caused by the moon’s rays shining upon them.” In a demonstration of great importance, the doctor taught the passengers to put silver coins inside their fish before cooking. William Hodkinson declared that his fish “was all right as the silver came out quite bright had they been poisonous it would be green” (Hodkinson 1860, 30 September). Although by the 1860s astrological interpretations can be seen as an exception rather than a norm, the physical experience of lassitude, overcrowding, heat, calms, and sun profoundly influenced emigrants’ understandings of the effects of tropical climate on bodies, objects, and their relationships with other people on board.

Georgina Endfield and David Nash have argued that British missionaries circulated a new kind of knowledge about Africa that was based on physical presence rather than derived from an “anticipative pathological geography” of the “torrid zone” (Endfield and Nash 2007). Although reflecting the influence of popular ideas about climate, the diaries and letters of passengers must have shown contemporaries that the tropical Atlantic, while certainly threatening and debilitating, was rarely the graveyard that writers such as Maury and Pickford described. The passengers who dwelled most pessimistically on the tropical climate seem to have been those, like Wilson and Wills, who described themselves as sickly anyway. James Espie White explicitly implicated the hot weather in the death of the consumptive girl, but she had been, after all, unlikely to survive for very long.

However, the extent to which passengers perceived the tropics to be a mortal threat also diminished with class, as well as with the increasing frequency of the Australian voyage. While weather in many senses was an experience shared by all on ship, some diaries suggest the classed and gendered ways in which passengers experienced the tropics differently. While becalmed, Fanny Davis, a single female emigrant, described how the crew closed the hatches to the women’s deck at night:

We got a broomstick and hammered it till they came and opened it for it was so suffocating with the close air; we had it left open all night as it always is. I never saw such an advocate for fresh air as our Doctor is, and I do think that is the secret of all being in such good health. He will not let anyone stop down all day and woe betide anyone who is found in their berth in the daytime (Davis 1858).

Further illustrating the heightened effects of heat for those confined below, Henry Wellings’ diary is a family account, dominated by the sickness and eventual death of his young son Willie. Making short entries, Wellings divided his diary into three columns, entitled Weather, Health, and General Remarks. The entry for 26 June, for example, records the continuing daily decline of Willie, between notes on the “scorching” heat and the “great unpleasantness” of erupting social tensions in the steerage quarters (Wellings 1857–58). Yet Wellings’ diary evokes the external as well as the internal environment of the ship. He sketched a map of the voyage, including the major land masses of Europe, South America, Africa, and Australia. Like many other travelers, Wellings superimposed his family’s experience onto a grid of latitude and longitude, including the tropical lines of Cancer and Capricorn, signposted by significant maritime coasts and islands including the Canaries, St. Helena, and the Cape of Good Hope. The map also indicates with a cross Willie’s burial at sea, to the west of Australia in the southern ocean. Wellings recorded its position in his diary entry for 7 September: “Long 104.0 E, Lat 43.59 S”. Passengers who berthed in the poorly ventilated steerage, more than cabin passengers, continued to experience calms and heat as a very serious matter indeed.

4. Interpreting and performing the tropics

More ethereal interpretations also influenced passengers’ understandings of the tropical climate and its weather events. While writers drew directly from the navigational knowledge and authority of sailors’ charts and measurements, they also noted their supernatural explanations, particularly of atmospheric phenomena. The diary of the priest Henry Curr clearly shows the complexity with which writers used formal and informal knowledge frameworks together. As the Morning Light entered the tropics, Curr was unable to stand the heat below and “determined to go on deck.” Perhaps surprisingly, Curr’s diary suggests little of his religious leanings; he does not (as Wilson had done) declare his trust in providence when faced with sickness on board the ship. As Curr emerged on deck, the ship’s captain asked whether he had “come to see the light.” Curr recorded the conversation that ensued:

What light do you mean? I can see no light. On the contrary, I should call this perfect darkness. “Look up”, [the Captain] says, “to the top of the main mast at Corpo Santo.” I turned up my eyes and saw what I at first took to be a large star, but soon concluded it must be some phenomena and asked for an explanation. [I] could only ascertain that the sailors believed it to be the soul of a witch who never failed to make her appearance at the commencement of a storm, and when disappearing, if she ascended it was taken as a good sign; but if she descended toward the deck they must struggle for it. All eyes were now steadfastly fixed on this interesting object. It soon disappeared but no-one could say in what direction. I felt not a little amused at the sailors’ opinion of Will o’ the Wisp at the mast head, but I must confess I felt a little unnerved and a good deal interested, as it became more evident that we should experience a stormy night (Curr 1856, 24 July).

Although Curr believed that the ship was well ventilated he feared that “if we should be becalmed the consequences might be very serious.” Later that day the Morning Light was stranded in a dead calm. “We have not moved a fathom forward the last six hours,” Curr wrote; “three sharks are swimming about the ship which is taken by some to be an ill omen” (27 July). After the storm, omens no longer seem to have amused Curr: he states them as seriously as the fact of illness and the ship’s lack of movement. Curr’s observations demonstrate a deepening regard for the sailors’ culture, against a background of accumulating problems of sun, heat, bad food, ventilation, and illness.

As smallpox broke out among the sailors, the doctor provided Curr with no reassurance about the sickness on board; an obvious potential source of authority for the well-being of the ship’s company instead fretted about the possibility of quarantine on arrival in Australia (Curr 1856, 27 July and 8 August). Thus, while Curr’s descriptions of the light at the top of the mast and subsequent events on the Morning Light incorporate many of the common tropical interpretations and experiences this article has explored, they also alert us to how they might have become more useful as other forms of knowledge failed.

In writing his experiences down, Curr also illustrates how passengers often echoed the literary phrasing of writers such as Melville, Dana, Shelley, Coleridge, and Dampier, who had themselves been profoundly influenced by colonialism (Bewell 2003). Curr’s language bears a resemblance to the well-known prose of popular literature. When Corpo Santo appears in Moby Dick, for example, “few words were heard from the enchanted crew; who in one thick cluster stood on the forecastle, all their eyes gleaming in that pale phosphorescence” (Melville 2004, p. 670). Other tropical descriptions and atmospheric phenomena in passengers’ diaries draw directly on literary tropes even as contemporary treatises on physical geography and meteorology attempted to divest these phenomena of their supernatural explanations (Jeans 2004, p. 323; Parker 1996; Comstock 1837; Brocklesby 1851). For example, The Flying Dutchman appeared regularly in literature and drama (Millington 1986; Anon. 1821). Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner described a “spectre bark”—“at first it seem’d a little speck/And then it seemed a mist” (Quiller-Couch 1943, p. 650). One night, sailing through the tropics on board the Kohinoor, an emigrant, Francis Maybury, described how by the light of the moon a “spectre ship was seen to glide with its silent crew rapidly and mysteriously along and then vanish like the airey mist” (Maybury 1856). The “pulseless calm of death” in James Espie White’s poem, and Widdowson’s fears of fire and fever, although based in their very real experience, also echo Coleridge’s evocations of the rotting deep and the slimy sea (Quiller-Couch 1943, p. 649) and the awful images in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Vision of the Sea” (c. 1820):

Where the death-darting sun cast no shadow at noon, And there seemed to be fire in the beams of the moon, Till a lead-coloured fog gathered up from the deep, Whose breath was quick pestilence; then, the cold sleep (Shelley 2009)

Eric C. Brown has suggested that literary creations emphasized the continuing hold that the “supernatural power of such locales” had on the British imagination (Brown 1998, p. 658). Victorians were, Rozwadowski suggests, “well-schooled in the art of voyaging”: the narratives they read to prepare for their travels directed their behavior at sea (Rozwadowski 2005, p. 29). Yet by themselves neither supernatural stories nor contemporary literature were persuasive enough to thoroughly explain how travelers experienced the tropical climate of the Atlantic. As part of a diverse tropical framework, however, they were, perhaps, erudite and appealing narrative models.

The sailors’ authority and traditions emerge most clearly in the passengers’ diaries as ships crossed the equator. Since the sixteenth century, European sailors had invested the equator with as much geographical significance and cultural meaning as land itself. As the North Star disappeared below the horizon, they marked this moment of departure and transition with a “crossing the line” ceremony: a ritual dominated by gender ambiguity and the turning upside-down of social structures (Bronner 2006; Dening 1992; Hersh 2002). Accounts of the ceremony are remarkably consistent; Neptune’s entourage included the queen, a barber, a doctor, and a baby who represented the “Royal Belly,” and the ritual included the shaving, tarring, and ducking of those who had never previously crossed the equator. Afterward, Neptune departed back to his realm, represented by sailors dropping a barrel of flaming tar behind the ship. Captains often ensured that the sailors did not interfere with unwilling passengers. Nevertheless, his regard for the sailors apparently vanished, the priest Curr found the experience “perfectly disgusting” (Curr 1856). Others, however, “resolved to take part in the fun” and duly endured being washed and shaved (Anon. 1838). Contemporaries such as Charles Darwin confirmed the equatorial significance. On the Beagle, in the evening after the shavings and soakings, Darwin marveled that he had gone south of the equator; “I certainly am in the southern hemisphere … I can gaze at the southern cross, Magellan’s cloud and the great crown of the south” (Darwin 1979, p. 110).

Sailors’ traditions and supernatural meanings did not just die out, as Marcus Rediker has suggested, after the eighteenth century (Rediker 1987, p. 182). Sailors accepted and worked with weather; they continued to harness the winds to their advantage. Their incorporation of supernatural stories, and the geographically defined ritual accompanying equatorial crossings, was an integral (if unpleasant) aspect of this expertise. Simon Bronner has suggested that “in the liminal, mythological space of blazing heat, of an alpha location demarcated as zero, of unnerving calm and monotony, perceived as unknown and dangerous, the sailor effects that reversible world by assuming the roles ‘out there’ that frighten him” (Bronner 2006, p. 46). For passengers, the sailors’ performance of the crossing of the line ritual confirmed the strangeness of, but also marked the successful passage through, their tropical initiation.

5. Conclusions

In meteorologically, climatically, geographically, and culturally suggestive ways, the maritime tropics inspired some of the richest accounts of the sailing voyage in travelers’ diaries. While some passengers took a great deal of interest in the natural environment, others including invalids and steerage passengers experienced the tropics as an extreme test of the human ability to withstand pressures such as heat and overcrowding. Yet it was not just in the tropics that weather and climate proved significant. In the southern ocean, frames of reference shifted from heat to cold, calms to storms; as passengers’ diaries focused on the accumulating effects of maritime weather and climate, they resonated with the colonial implications of the voyage. In 1841, for example, a cabin passenger recorded the death of a woman who had declined throughout the voyage, her death ultimately “accelerated by [a] storm.” A delicate woman, she had been “not at all calculated for the wear and tear the wife of a first settler will have to endure” (Fell 1841).

This article has shown that passengers drew on an extensive repertoire of cultural, geographical, colonial, and medical knowledge to understand, interpret, and process their tropical encounter. The tropics, David Arnold suggests, were “invented as much as they were encountered” (Arnold 2006, p. 5). But invention and encounter also necessitated interpretation. The range of knowledge on which writers drew included traditional colonial representations of West Africa and Brazil, navigational terms and markers, a medical system that emphasized calms, humidity, and winds, maritime culture, and literary tropes. Passengers spent months with sailors whose own world view and culture emerged from their navigational and practical need to interpret geography, meteorology, topography, and more supernatural phenomena and omens. By putting different sources of knowledge in dialogue with each other, passengers could interpret the significance of their own and others’ corporeal experience of the tropics and its climate. Understanding the experience of maritime climate begins to say something about how travelers established a sense of their own colonial identity and personal limits.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the introduction of reliable steamers on transoceanic routes broke the reliance of ships on the wind and began to negate the tropical problems that were so central to the experience of sailing voyages. By 1880, as New Zealand and Australia actively competed to attract British health migrants and their money, William Wilson declared that the voyage to Australia round the Cape of Good Hope had become “emphatically the invalid’s route … . The favorite passenger ships, especially in the autumn, are half-filled with invalids of every kind and degree, who are looking forward hopefully to testing the restorative influences of the ocean climate” (Wilson 1880, p. 2).

In other ways, however, evidence from later diaries suggests that steaming through Suez ushered in new climatic concerns for travelers rather than signaling their end. Hannah Wright’s diary, written on the steam ship Duke of Westminster, a day past Aden during a voyage from London to Brisbane in 1886, suggests that the speed of the voyage and the Red Sea route left little time to get used to the rapidly increasing heat and intense sun: “one died of sunstroke and another of convulsions,” Wright wrote.

There is no wonder at sickness and death when we have it so hot. The temperature is 100 and 60 degrees in the shade today. Nearly everybody has fainted today amongst the single women … Our two friends attended well to us until they fainted themselves and then we all had to help one another. It is really marvellous to see, the girls faint with the great heat.

The problems were not just confined to the women. Wright continued that “the young men we hear are worse than us. The Doctor says they are all in faints” (Wright 1886, 1 June). Diarists’ climatic interpretations may have simply adapted to a new era of tropical travel. How mechanically driven speed and new routes affected passengers’ use of medical, cultural, and environment reference points at sea is an important question that deserves further analysis.

Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of James Fleming, John Pickstone, Vladimir Jankovic, Deborah Coen, Sarah Easterby-Smith, and two anonymous WCAS reviewers for their constructive criticism on drafts of this article.

REFERENCES

  • Anderson, K., 2005: Predicting the Weather: Victorians and the Science of Meteorology. University of Chicago Press, 376 pp.

  • Anon, 1821: Vanderdecken’s message home. Edinburgh’s Blackwood Mag., 9 , 127131.

  • Anon, 1838–39: Diary written on board Alfred from Plymouth to New South Wales. MS ALF, ANMM.

  • Arnold, D., Ed. 1996: Warm Climates and Western Medicine. Rodopi, 252 pp.

  • Arnold, D., Ed. 2006: The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape and Science, 1800–1856. University of Washington Press, 298 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Backhouse, J., 1831: Letter from Science of Scarborough. CR 2926/63, Warwickshire County Record Office, Warwick, United Kingdom.

  • Bannister, G. C., 1853: Diary on Credenda, from England to Geelong. MS CRE, ANMM.

  • Beer, G., 1996: Four bodies on the Beagle: Touch, sight and writing in a Darwin letter. Open Fields, G. Beer, Ed., Oxford University Press, 13–30.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Berg, M., 2007: The genesis of useful knowledge. Hist. Sci., 45 , 123133.

  • Bewell, A., 2003: Romanticism and Colonial Disease. Johns Hopkins University Press, 373 pp.

  • Bloxome, O., 1838: Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales. MS 336 Folder 1, National Library of Australia, Parkes, ACT, Australia.

  • Brocklesby, J., 1851: Elements of Meteorology. Pratt, Woodford & Co., 240 pp.

  • Bronner, S. J., 2006: Crossing the Line: Violence, Play, and Drama in Naval Equator Traditions. Amsterdam University Press, 64 pp.

  • Brown, E. C., 1998: Boyd’s Dante, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, and the pattern of infernal influence. Stud. Eng. Lit. 1500–1900, 38 , 647667.

  • Burnett, D. G., 2009: Hydrographic discipline among the navigators: Charting an “Empire of Commerce and Science” in the nineteenth-century Pacific. Imperial Map, J. A. Akerman, Ed., University of Chicago Press, 185–259.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cannadine, D., Ed. 2007: Empire, the Sea and Global History: Britain’s Maritime World, 1763–1833. Palgrave, 192 pp.

  • Carter, P., 1987: The Road to Botany Bay: An Essay in Spatial History. Knopf, 384 pp.

  • Colwill, E., 1998: Science, magic and gods. Metascience, 7 , 503514.

  • Comstock, J. L., 1837: A Treatise on Mathematical and Physical Geography. Hartford, 309 pp.

  • Cosgrove, D., 2005: Tropic and tropicality. Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire, F. Driver and L. Martins, Eds., University of Chicago Press, 197–216.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Curr, H., 1856: Diary on Morning Light, Liverpool to Australia. MS MOR, ANMM.

  • Curtin, P. D., 1964: The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780–1850. University of Wisconsin Press, 248 pp.

  • Darwin, C., 1979: The Journal of a Voyage in H.M.S. Beagle. Genesis, 843 pp.

  • Davis, F., 1858: Diary on Conway to Melbourne. MS CON, ANMM.

  • Deacon, H., 2000: The politics of medical topography: Seeking healthiness at the Cape during the nineteenth century. Pathologies of Travel, R. Wrigley and G. Revill, Eds., Rodopi, 279–297.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Deacon, M., 1971: Scientists and the Sea, 1650–1900. Academic Press, 459 pp.

  • Dening, G., 1992: Mr. Bligh’s Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty. Cambridge University Press, 460 pp.

  • Drayton, R., 2007: Maritime networks and the making of knowledge. Empire, the Sea and Global History, D. Cannadine, Ed., Palgrave, 72–82.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Driver, F., 2001: Geography Militant: Cultures of Exploration and Empire. Oxford University Press, 276 pp.

  • Driver, F., 2004: Distance and disturbance: Travel, exploration and knowledge in the nineteenth century. Trans. Roy. Hist. Soc., 14 , 7392.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Driver, F., and Martins L. , Eds. 2005: Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire. Chicago University Press, 279 pp.

  • Endfield, G. H., and Nash D. J. , 2007: ‘A good site for health’: Missionaries and the pathological geography of central southern Africa. Singapore J. Trop. Geogr., 28 , 142157.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fell, A., 1841–42: Diary on emigrant ship Lord Auckland, London to New Zealand. Mrf. 151, NMM.

  • Fordham, W., 1857–58: Diary of a voyage on Trade Wind, Gravesend to Hobart. NS 1518/1, State Archives of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania.

  • Glacken, C., 1967: Traces on the Rhodian Shore. University of California Press, 800 pp.

  • Golinski, J., 2007: British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment. Chicago University Press, 272 pp.

  • Grove, R. H., 1996: Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860. Cambridge University Press, 560 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Haines, R., 2005: Doctors at Sea: Emigrant Voyages to Colonial Australia. Palgrave MacMillan, 256 pp.

  • Hall, R., 1852–53: Diary on Kate. Liverpool to Melbourne. MS KAT, ANMM.

  • Harrison, M., 2000: From medical astronomy to medical astrology: Sol-lunar and planetary theories of disease in British medicine, c. 1700–1850. Br. J. Hist. Sci., 33 , 2548.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harrison, M., 2002: Climates and Constitutions: Health, Race, Environment and British Imperialism in India, 1600–1850. Oxford University Press, 280 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Headrick, D. R., 2002: When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and Revolution, 1700–1850. Oxford University Press, 260 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hersh, C. L., 2002: Crossing the line: Sex, power, justice and the U.S. Navy at the equator. Duke J. Gend. Law Policy, 9 , 277324.

  • Hodkinson, W., 1860: Diary of second cabin passenger aboard the White Star Line ship Phoenix, Auckland to Liverpool. DX/1481, MMM.

  • Jankovic, V., 2000: Reading the Skies: A Cultural History of English Weather, 1650–1820. Manchester University Press, 288 pp.

  • Jankovic, V., 2006: The last resort: A British perspective on the medical south, 1815–1870. J. Intercult. Stud., 27 , 271298.

  • Jankovic, V., 2007: Gruff boreas, deadly calms: A medical perspective on winds and the Victorians. J. Roy. Anthrop. Inst., 13 , 147164.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jeans, P. D., 2004: Seafaring Lore and Legend. McGraw Hill, 382 pp.

  • Jennings, E. T., 2006: Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology and French Colonial Spas. Duke University Press, 288 pp.

  • Johnson, J., 1841: The Influence of Tropical Climates on European Constitutions. 6th ed. S. Highley, 693 pp.

  • Kennedy, D., 1990: The perils of the midday sun: Climatic anxieties in the colonial tropics. Imperialism and the Natural World, J. M. MacKenzie, Ed., Manchester University Press, 118–140.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Killingray, D., Lincoln M. , and Rigby N. , Eds. 2004: Maritime Empires: British Imperial Maritime Trade in the Nineteenth Century. Boydell and Brewer, 229 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kupperman, K. O., 1984: Fear of hot climates in the Anglo-American colonial experience. William Mary Q., 41 , 213240.

  • Latour, B., 1987: Science in Action. Harvard University Press, 274 pp.

  • Livingstone, D., 2000: Tropical hermeneutics: Fragments for a historical narrative—An afterword. Singapore J. Trop. Geog., 21 , 9298.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martins, L., 1998: Navigating tropical waters: British maritime views of Rio de Janeiro. Imago Mundi, 50 , 141155.

  • Maury, M. F., 1855: The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology. Harper & Brothers, 287 pp.

  • Maybury, F., 1856–57: Diary including voyage on ship Kohinoor, to Cape Town, then on Cheapside to Melbourne. Mss 73, ML.

  • Melville, H., 2004: Moby Dick. Collector’s Library, 780 pp.

  • Millington, B., 1986: “The Flying Dutchman,” “Le Vaisseau fantôme” and other nautical yarns. Music. Times, 127 , 131135.

  • Mokyr, J., 2002: The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy. Princeton University Press, 376 pp.

  • Muir, R., 1838–39: Diary of voyage from Plymouth to Sydney on Alfred. Mss B1496, mfm CY 1143, ML.

  • Naraindas, H., 1996: Poisons, putrescence and the weather: A genealogy of the advent of tropical medicine. Contrib. Indian Sociol., 30 , 135.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Naylor, S., 2006: Nationalising provincial weather: Meteorology in nineteenth-century Cornwall. Br. J. Hist. Sci., 39 , 407433.

  • Oliver, J. E., 2005: Encyclopedia of World Climatology. Springer, 854 pp.

  • Parker, H., 1996: Herman Melville, A Biography: Volume 1, 1819–1851. Johns Hopkins Press, 928 pp.

  • Phillips, R., 2002: Dystopian space in colonial representations and interventions: Sierra Leone as the “white man’s grave”. Geogr. Ann., 84 , 189200.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pickford, J. H., 1858: Hygiene, or, Health as Depending upon the Conditions of the Atmosphere, Foods and Drinks, Motion and Rest, Sleep and Wakefulness, Secretions, Excretions and Retentions, Mental Emotions, Clothing, Bathing, &c. John Churchill, 290 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Quiller-Couch, A., Ed. 1943: The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900. Clarendon, 1084 pp.

  • Rediker, M., 1987: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700–1750. Cambridge University Press, 337 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rediker, M., 2004: Toward a people’s history of the sea. Maritime Empires: British Imperial Maritime Trade in the Nineteenth Century, D. Killingray, M. Lincoln, and N. Rigby, Eds., Boydell and Brewer, 195–206.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reed, A., 1983: Romantic Weather: The Climates of Coleridge and Baudelaire. University Press of New England, 338 pp.

  • Riehl, H., 1954: Tropical Meteorology. McGraw Hill, 392 pp.

  • Rothman, S. M., 1994: Living in the Shadow of Death: Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History. Basic, 319 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rozwadowski, H. M., 1996: Small world: Forging a scientific maritime culture for oceanography. Isis, 87 , 409429.

  • Rozwadowski, H. M., 2005: Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea. Harvard University Press, 316 pp.

  • Shelley, P. B., cited. 2009: “A Vision of the Sea”. [Available online at http://www.online-literature.com/shelley_percy/complete-works-of-shelley/109/].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Steinberg, P. E., 2001: The Social Construction of the Ocean. Cambridge University Press, 239 pp.

  • Tambiah, S. J., 1990: Magic, Science, Religion and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge University Press, 187 pp.

  • Thompson, R., 1856: By Steerage to the Antipodes in 1856: An Account of a Voyage from London to New Zealand in the Barque Sir Edward Paget. MS SIR, ANMM.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walton, J. K., 1983: The English Seaside Resort: A Social History, 1750–1914. St. Martin’s Press, 265 pp.

  • Wellings, H., 1857–58: Diary on David McIvor, Birkenhead to Sydney. Mss 1963, ML.

  • Wey Gómez, N., 2008: The Tropics of Empire: Why Columbus Sailed South to the Indies. MIT Press, 616 pp.

  • White, J. E., 1863: Journal including voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne on ship Henry Fernie. M864, ML.

  • Widdowson, H., 1825–26: Diary on Albion transporting cattle and horses to Australia. Mfm 2116, ML.

  • Wills, W. C., 1841–42: Diary on voyage from England to Sidney on the barque Louisa. Mfm M934, ML.

  • Wilson, H. M., 1849: Diary from Deptford and Plymouth on barque Sarah. Mss B1535/CY 1024, ML.

  • Wilson, W. S., 1880: The Ocean as a Health Resort: A Handbook of Practical Information as to Sea-Voyages for the Use of Tourists and Invalids. J. & A. Churchill, 260 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wright, H., 1886: Diary on voyage from London to Brisbane on steam ship Duke of Westminster. MS DUK, ANMM. The Tropical Times, printed and published on board the Barque Elizabeth during a voyage from Bristol to Australia, February–April 1853. 41067/1, Bristol Record Office, Bristol, United Kingdom.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

APPENDIX

Abbreviations Used in the References

  • ANMM Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, NSW, Australia

  • ML Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

  • MMM Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, United Kingdom

  • NMM National Maritime Museum, London, United Kingdom

  • TNA The National Archives, London, United Kingdom

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Detail of “Winds and Routes,” Physical Geography of the Sea (Maury 1855), Plate VIII.

Citation: Weather, Climate, and Society 2, 2; 10.1175/2010WCAS1029.1

1

The “doldrums” are most commonly known as the calms of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), where the northeast and southeast trade winds meet. Moist air forced upward creates clouds and heavy squalls. The doldrums shifts seasonally from roughly 5° south of the equator in January to 15° north in July. At roughly 30° north and south of the equator two further belts of calms known as the “horse latitudes” signal a zone of subtropical high pressure, characterized by light winds (Riehl 1954; Oliver 2005).

Save