Adult height and juvenile growth patterns are now widely used as indicators of health. The extent to which any individual will reach their biologically programmed height depends upon the conditions that they encounter in utero and early childhood. As the genetic determinants of height change little between one generation and another, fluctuations in stature between different birth cohorts can reveal much about past childhood circumstance. Over the last forty years historians have turned to historical height records in order to construct data series that can measure the biological standard of living. These have revealed some sobering insights into the impact of industrialisation and other societal transformations on the health of past populations. Settler Tasmania is blessed with particularly abundant historical height data. This paper will outline the ways in which this information can be used to explore the impact of changing conditions on Tasmanian living standards in the 19th and early 20th century.
Hamish has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh and worked for the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Glasgow, before migrating to Tasmania in 1997. He is currently writing a history of collective action in convict Australia as well editing a special issue of Social Science History on identifying and controlling for selection bias in historical work. He has contributed to a number of historical interpretation projects, the latest of which is Pandemonium launched in the Penitentiary Chapel, Campbell Street, Hobart in November 2016.