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Beyond the StateThe colonial medical service in British Africa$
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Anna Greenwood

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780719089671

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719089671.001.0001

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Elder Dempster and the transport of lunatics in British West Africa

Elder Dempster and the transport of lunatics in British West Africa

(p.104) Chapter Six Elder Dempster and the transport of lunatics in British West Africa
Beyond the State

Matthew M. Heaton

Manchester University Press

This chapter examines the role that Elder Dempster played in transporting so-called ‘lunatics’ between the United Kingdom and British West African colonies in the first half of the twentieth century. Many Europeans inhabiting the colonies and many more colonial subjects traveling abroad in the UK and other West African territories succumbed to mental illnesses while far from home. When this occurred and the patient was deemed likely to benefit from repatriation, Elder Dempster was typically the agent charged with providing transport. As such, Elder Dempster frequently had to negotiate with the Colonial Office about the practicalities of transporting lunatics. The cost of transport and who was to pay, the types of accommodations necessary for mentally ill passengers, and considerations of liability all had to be orchestrated to the satisfaction of the commercial shipping giant. This chapter argues that the relationship between Elder Dempster and the British government represents an example of the importance of public-private cooperation in the maintenance of the medical geography of Empire, even as it reveals significant tensions underlying such cooperation. In so doing, it helps to move the historical study of psychiatry in colonial Africa into a broader engagement with its international, transnational and commercial influences.

Keywords:   Elder Dempster, West Africa, psychiatry, repatriation, colonialism

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