The field of colonialism, health and medicine has been extensively and creatively theorized by scholars located in a range of disciplines and the emergent literature on the subject is voluminous, varied and valuable. Any analysis of the relationship between colonialism and health requires a recognition of the complexity and multi- dimensionality of this encounter. So far a variety of themes within this domain have engaged the theoretical and practical interests of scholars. Some examples include the impact of colonialism on indigenous systems of healing (Levine 1998, Marks 1997), on the use of ‘modern medicine’ to dominate and thus govern colonized populations, i.e., with emergent issues of power and social control (Haynes 1999, Lorcin 1999), utilization of modern medicine by ‘natives’ (Leng 1982) and even the benefits of Western medicine for maintaining good health of ‘natives’ and lessons to be learnt from Eastern experiences (Given 1929).
Despite the variety of themes addressed, a common thread runs through these accounts and discussions: that is, a sustained and singular focus on the colonies and the colonized populations, and the subject matter so defined is the state of health and healing in non-Western, colonized contexts (Denoon 1989, Manderson 1987, Patterson 1981, Yeoh 1991). I propose that this mode of approaching the field of colonialism and health is limited in being one-sided, in bracketing off attention to actual health conditions and healing strategies current in colonizing societies at specific points in colonial history. This chapter attempts to redress this imbalance by explicitly focusing on one colonizing context, and detailing the health scene in nineteenth-century Britain and the nature and impact of modern medicine in managing day-to-day health issues at ‘home’.
By now historical accounts of medicine and health care in Britain are plentiful (Lane 2001, Porter 1987, Wohl 1983). Much of the more insightful work has emerged under the banner of ‘social history of medicine’ in currency for the last 3 decades (Berridge 1990).