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Daily progress of the disease or hurt
October 3, 2010 7:38 AM   Subscribe

More than 1000 diaries kept by surgeons of Britain's Royal Navy between 1793 and 1800 have been cataloged by the National Archives, and are now available for public study.

Some images from the collection have been posted to Flickr: an illustration of yaws, a device to stabilize a broken patella, a sketch of a gunboat from the Waikato Invasion, a long-nosed monkey.

Some material is available in PDF, including several journals from convict ships headed to New South Wales, an eyewitness account of a measles epidemic which killed nearly a third of the population of the Fiji Islands (coinciding with the Fiji Islands becoming part of the Empire), and a journal that describes a young intersex shipmate.

In an echo of Tuskegee, Guatemala, and other syphilis studies [previously] journal ADM101/103/2, not available online, describes a female passenger with syphilis and gonorrhea with whom both her "keeper" and a ship's officer had intercourse so that the ship's surgeon could study how venereal disease was spread.
posted by catlet (20 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hear the galloping sound of tens of thousands of Stephen Maturin groupies racing for their computers.
posted by Miko at 7:46 AM on October 3, 2010 [16 favorites]


Whoops - wrong link for the long-nosed monkey. It's this one.
posted by catlet at 7:53 AM on October 3, 2010


The actual pages are pretty difficult reading, being handwritten and relatively low contrast. I couldn't find any transcription, but the highlights guide contains summaries.
posted by Nelson at 8:03 AM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


That must have been amazing on the one hand, to fight walruses and see things you didn't know existed before, but the constant references to mutinies and unrest and poor treatment of passengers are even more frightening. Crazy times, all that progress and brutality at the same time.
posted by shinybaum at 8:19 AM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


1 January 1793

Rum.

2 January 1793

Sodomy.

3 January 1793

The lash.
posted by tommasz at 8:26 AM on October 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


They've been doing this for a while, and I've actually got a copy of one set of ship's journals that I wanted for a project (and ended up not using due to lack of time). The copies they send you (that you have to pay for) are much easier to read, even though the handwriting is still challenging.

They're an amazing medical record, and I'm glad they're getting the sort of publicity and recognition they deserve.
posted by Coobeastie at 9:35 AM on October 3, 2010


I hear the galloping sound of tens of thousands of Stephen Maturin groupies racing for their computers.

Indeed Maturin's diary is described to have illustrations just like these ones. I gather Patrick O'Brian read plenty of material such as this as research for his books.

My name is Villa and I am a Maturin groupie
posted by Authorized User at 9:52 AM on October 3, 2010


Noone seems to be suffering either the Marthambles nor the Strong Fives!

Ps: I hereby publicly stake claim to "King Billy and the Marthambles" and "Mr Bollocks and the Strong Fives" as band names.
posted by cromagnon at 11:23 AM on October 3, 2010


I gather Patrick O'Brian read plenty of material such as this as research for his books.

He was an obsessive researcher and a polymath. I suspect he went and saw them in the original. I'm reading a biography of him now, but haven't gotten to the part where he starts the project, so I'm looking forward to learning more about his specific projects.

/also a junkie
posted by Miko at 12:51 PM on October 3, 2010


Yay! I've downloaded the highlights guide. Man, the drawings of scurvy were disturbing. Looking for citrus now. /Maturin groupie
posted by dragonplayer at 1:26 PM on October 3, 2010


This is amazing. Also, in my mind Aubrey was Maturin's sidekick.
posted by variella at 1:59 PM on October 3, 2010


The journal also contains the case of a boatswain’s mate who “on the act of playing tricks upon one of his messmates, his penis was slit with a knife at about an inch wounding the glans to a line in depth”.
I don't care if you're just playing tricks, you try this shit you die. That's just the rules.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:58 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also… goes without saying, but this is an awesome post.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:59 PM on October 3, 2010


That whole National Archives flickr page is pretty great, not just the surgeons' part. It also led to this incredible Dixon-Scott project.

Thanks a lot catlet, this is a good post.
posted by Rumple at 3:26 PM on October 3, 2010


Wow - this is really fascinating stuff. Thanks for posting.

I'll tell ye what, me hearties. A sailors life is nae for me.
Not then anyway.
Nor a passenger thanks very much.
posted by jan murray at 4:24 PM on October 3, 2010


This is best of the web. Great post!
posted by mochapickle at 4:33 PM on October 3, 2010


“on the act of playing tricks upon one of his messmates, his penis was slit with a knife at about an inch wounding the glans to a line in depth”.

I don't care if you're just playing tricks, you try this shit you die.


I hope this puts into context the seriousness of the messamates relationship, in which it would be more apt to say "you try messing with your messmates, you die." This is because your messmates shared your watch and often your battle assignment; you lived or died together, on the basis of your ability to cooperate and act as a unit. Screwing around with a messmate for a few laughs was something that experienced sailors, especially those who had seen battle already, would look on as a serious betrayal and an endangerment of the safety of the entire team of eight or so. Not to condone that sort of punishment, but in the context of the relationship, it is something meant to send a message and would have been considered mild compared to the damage to life and limb which a compromise in the ability of the team to function in battle would have wreaked.
posted by Miko at 5:24 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't fancy yaws much
posted by Flashman at 6:37 PM on October 3, 2010


Well then, I won't fancy yaws either.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:03 AM on October 4, 2010


Great post! Just browsing through these at random is fascinating. 200 years have passed and many clinics' logbooks look eerily similar.
posted by rainman84 at 7:52 AM on October 4, 2010


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