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A Surgeon-Superintendent was a position, held by a surgeon officer of the Royal Navy, on board convict transport ship and ships transporting indentured labour, with overall authority in all non-nautical matters.

Before 1792, authority over convicts during transportation was wielded by the ship captain. For various reasons this arrangement resulted in neglect of the convicts' health and well-being, and there were many deaths. Often the deaths during a single voyage would number in the hundreds. In 1792, the decision was made to appoint the ship's surgeon to a position of authority in all matters not directly related to the sailing of the ship; this was an immediate success, reducing the death rate to no more than around ten per voyage.

Officially styled "superintendent", the responsibilities of the surgeon-superintendent were largely equivalent to that of a Naval Agent; however they also continued to fulfill the role of a naval surgeon, and so were commonly referred to by the title "surgeon-superintendent".


  • Bateson, Charles (1959). The Convict Ships 1787–1868. Glasgow: Brown Son & Ferguson.