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Adventurers, Emissaries and Settlers: Ireland and Latin America
27-30 June 2007, National University of Ireland, Galway

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Daniel O’Sullivan (1760-1796): An Irish military physician in late colonial Mexico

Fiona Clark (Queen's University Belfast)

This paper will investigate the impact of the work of an individual Irishman, Daniel O’Sullivan, within the context of events in the history of medicine in late colonial Mexico . As the paper will demonstrate, O’Sullivan stands as prime example of one of the many Irish migrants studying and working within the medical arena of a geographically and culturally diverse eighteenth-century world.

Trained at the universities of Toulouse and Montpellier , with later experience garnered across France , Britain , and Spain , O’Sullivan stands, in many ways, as an example of the new breed of self-assured medical man appearing in the final decades of the eighteenth century. On his arrival with the Spanish Infantry in Mexico he became one of the first scientifically trained foreigners in Mexico to study in the newly established Royal Botanical Gardens, thereby becoming involved in one of the bitterest polemics surrounding the introduction of European scientific systems in colonial America . As will be shown, unlike many foreign physicians who practised covertly in Mexico , O’Sullivan associated with the highest echelons of Spanish colonial society and was a decisive player in events concerning public and military healthcare. In the Spanish Americas the growing professionalisation of the medical world, and the institutionalisation of many interconnected areas of science, brought questions of patriotic identity to the forefront of Creole experience, frequently colouring their response to new European arrivals. In particular, O’Sullivan’s work sheds new light on the internal workings of the hospital system, providing a rich and detailed account of the deception and intrigue at work behind the search for a non-mercurial treatment of syphilis in the early 1790s. This study will examine the significance of O’Sullivan’s role in the midst of political and scientific change, and explore the effect of Creole discontent on the path of his career, including the positions he held in the army, Mexican hospitals, and later attempts to enter the Royal Pontifical University of Mexico.

Online published: 24 April 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

The Society for Irish Latin American Studies

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