Recrystallised alumina is used as a high performance crucible material. Its thermal shock resistance is known to be affected by component shape, and also by processing variables, since the defects and internal stress at both the microscale (i.e. between grains due to anisotropic crystal properties) and macroscale (i.e. due to differential shrinkage during sintering) influence the fracture strength. The aim of this thesis is to study the nucleation and growth of defects in pure alumina and Cr-doped alumina, and to investigate how their behavior is affected by residual stresses, such those introduce by thermal expansion of the crystal grains.In this thesis, digital image correlation is applied to polycrystalline aluminas (i.e. Cr-doped alumina and pure alumina with average grain 3.6 µm and 1.5 µm respectively) that are stressed in an optical microscope. The defect size and the surface crack opening displacement were measured using digital image correlation. The distribution and population of crack nucleating defects were obtained by in-situ observation of the stressed surface and by analysis with digital image correlation. These data are then compared with independent measurements of the defect population using Hertzian indentation, from which defect populations are derived for the pure and Cr-doped alumina samples.Grain boundary plane and grain orientations in the vicinity of crack nuclei were characterised by electron microscopy. Crack nuclei were shown to develop at boundaries predicted to have high tensile thermal strains, caused by the orientation of the grain boundary plane relative to the adjacent grains, such as basal plane grain facets. The techniques of focused ion beam (FIB) milling and electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) characterization of the crystallographic orientations and structure of cracked grain boundaries were used to provide data for a model to explain the cracking of these boundaries as a result of the thermal strains and the anisotropic thermal expansion behaviour of alumina.