Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Arnold (1782–1818)

by Charles Bateson

This article was published:

Joseph Arnold, n.d.

Joseph Arnold, n.d.

Suffolk Magazine (UK)

Joseph Arnold (1782-1818), naturalist and naval surgeon, was born on 28 December 1782 at Beccles, Suffolk, England, the fourth son of Edward Arnold, a tanner. Educated locally, he was apprenticed in 1799 to a surgeon and apothecary, obtained his surgeon's diploma at Edinburgh in 1807 and next year joined the navy as an assistant surgeon. He served in H.M.S. Victory, and on 3 March 1809 was promoted surgeon and transferred to H.M.S. Hindostan, detailed to convey the 73rd Regiment to Sydney. In 1815 he visited Sydney again in charge of the female convict transport Northampton, the first surgeon-superintendent of a convict ship appointed on the British government's adoption of that system. He contemplated settling in Sydney to practise but, partly because Macquarie ignored him and partly because he was unable to reduce his living expenses below 13s. a day, he relinquished the idea and took passage for England in the Indefatigable. She was burnt to the water's edge at Batavia and Arnold lost most of his possessions, including some of his journals and his collection of insects from South America, Australia and Sunda Strait. He was befriended by Sir Stamford Raffles and eventually returned to England. When Raffles was appointed governor of Sumatra in 1818 Arnold gratefully accepted a post on his staff as a naturalist. He studied intensively in London for some weeks before sailing for Bencoolen, where he arrived on 22 March 1818. After an expedition into the interior, he died of fever at Padang on 26 July.

Throughout his life Arnold was an ardent letter-writer and from May 1808 to 17 December 1815, kept a journal which has been preserved with a few gaps. The Mitchell Library has letters he wrote to his brother from Sydney in 1810, the originals of some of his journals and copies of others; with these interesting descriptions and comments on the Sydney of the period are copies of his 'Sea Sketches' (1809-17) and his 'Visit to the Moon', a philosophical romance. His collection of fossils and shells was deposited in the museum of the Linnean Society, of which he was a fellow.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Turner, Memoir of Joseph Arnold (Ipswich, 1849)
  • C. Bateson, The Convict Ships, 1787-1868 (Glasgow, 1959)
  • Beccles and Bungay Weekly News, 10, 17 Dec 1861
  • Gentleman's Magazine, Feb 1820
  • British Medical Journal, 2 Jan 1915.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Charles Bateson, 'Arnold, Joseph (1782–1818)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Joseph Arnold, n.d.

Joseph Arnold, n.d.

Suffolk Magazine (UK)

Life Summary [details]


28 December, 1782
Beccles, Suffolk, England


26 July, 1818 (aged 35)
Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia

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