In 1859 a British Army medical officer, Henry Huggins Jones, published a booklet: Western Australia, recommended as a sanatorium, for the restoration to health and usefulness of European soldiers, prostrated by those diseases of India, for which the climate of the hill stations does not afford a remedy.
The ‘invaliding season’ in India started at the end of autumn. Regimental officers put forward the names of men incapacitated for further Indian service. The annual invaliding board then passed the men who usually went back to the UK. If other men showed symptoms of needing a change of climate after the board had met, the army surgeon had no alternative but to carry on treating them unless the regiment was stationed within reach of a sanatorium. Jones believed that men were dying unnecessarily and proposed that they be taken from India to Western Australia. The voyage by steam vessel would be beneficial because of the ‘health-reviving influence of the S.E. trade wind’.
Jones criticised military hygiene – cramped living quarters, stinking urinals, ‘confined’ bathrooms, bad drainage, imperfect clothing, unfiltered water, badly managed cooking. Western Australia offered a plentiful supply of fresh water, natural products and food crops. It was free from epidemics which hit other parts of Australia. There were few fever cases, and no syphilis. Dysentery, diarrhoea, and liver disease were rare. The climate was healthy: from mid-March to the beginning of November ‘not surpassed by any in the world’. During April to October ’there is an elasticity of the atmosphere indescribably exhilarating, when nature allows a license to the European, denied to the resident of India. Man feels intended not to die’.
The advantages of the plan were said to be:
• Many useful lives would not be lost in India.
• Soldiers might like Australia and take their discharge to settle there rather than be invalided to the UK.
• Once their health improved, soldiers could be dispersed throughout the colony to strengthen the military presence.
• If there was another uprising in India, an immediate large force would be available in Australia.
A principal hospital at Perth and convalescent barracks in different parts of the colony could be staffed with medical officers from India who had suffered from the climate. Once recovered, soldiers could be returned to India in early November to avoid the hot season when temperatures could reach over 100˚F. This heat caused lassitude ‘though totally differing from the same sensation experienced in India’.
Henry Huggins Jones had been born in India. He was baptised in Calcutta on 8 February 1824, the son of John Benjamin Jones, a writer in Palmers & Co’s office, and his wife Frances. He joined the British Army as a surgeon and served in both India and Australia. In 1854 Jones married Frances (Fanny) Brockman at Gingin in Western Australia. Henry and Fanny had eight children, born across the globe where the Army postings took them: Australia, India, Ireland and Gibraltar.
Jones was appointed to the rank of Surgeon Major in January 1869 on completion of 20 years’ service. However he died on 21 May 1869 at his home in Bristol aged 46, leaving Fanny to raise their family, the youngest aged just eleven months. Fanny did not remarry and died in Bristol on 21 February 1925.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
Jones’s postings to different British Army regiments can be traced through the British Newspaper Archive – his name is often recorded as Henry Higgins Jones.