SCURVY, (scorbul, Fr.) a well-known disease to which seamen are peculiarly exposed, from being necessitated to eat salted provisions, and sometimes to drink unwholesome water, &c. in long voyages.

This disease was formerly very prevalent among seamen, but now little known in the British navy, from the improvements in medicine, the great attention of our medical officers, and the wholesome regulations introduced by the naval officers in our ships war.

A proposition has been submitted to the French government by Citizen Rivoire, of the marine, to contribute to the health of their seamen, by diminishing the quantity of salted meats used at sea, and rescuing the men in a certain degree from the ravages of the scurvy. The government had so far given sanction to the plan, which the inventor asserts to be tried efficacy, as to insert it in the official paper, the Redacteur, of the 10th of August, 1799.

"Salted meats," says Citizen Rivoire, "form the general food of persons at sea, and, however carefully they may be prepared, the use of them is at all times pernicious. When vessels are a long time at sea without putting into any port, the scurvy is found to rage among the crews, and in a manner the more dangerous, as the means of cure are slow and uncertain. The following is the, process which Citizen Rivoire employed, which he says is the result of many experiments, with which he had every reason to be satisfied:

"It will be necessary in the naval slaughter-houses, to select the most fleshy parts; the four quarters, for instance, of the beeves which are killed for their daily consumption, which of course must then be doubled. The muscles being cleared of the surrounding fat, are to be cut in large slices perpendicularly, according to the direction of the fibres. These slices are to be exposed to the heat of the ovens in which the bread and biscuit are baked for the use of the navy, when they are at the heat of fifty degrees by the thermometer of Reaumur, and to remain there until the ovens be cold: and opening should be left for the evaporation of the moisture.

"The same operation is to be repeated, taking care to turn the larger slices until they are entirely dried, and of an horney but friable, consistence.

"On the other hand, it will be necessary to melt the fat which has been taken away with the suet of the cattle, and to purify the whole by means of salt and boiling water; but, in the fat thus purified, care must be taken that no moisture remain; and it would also be of advantage, if some aromatic herbs were employed in this part of the process. Every thing being thus prepared, a number of casks should be ready: those which have served for the conveyance of sweet oil are most suited for the purpose; the slices of dried meat are in these to be placed in layers, and the melted fat, not being too hot, is to be poured upon them. The casks are then to be headed, taking care that no vacant spaces are left, and both ends are immediately to be calked."

This process is very simple, and by no means expensive, being executed with precision, has the advantage of securing an agreeable food, of preserving the health of the sailors, and of containing a double quantity of provisions in the same space that would be occupied by meat salted in the ordinary manner.

The provisions being reduced into a small compass, a smaller quantity may of course be given.

The fat of the beef being purified with care, may serve to season the roots and greens, and to enrich the soup of the crews.

The process is to be exactly the same with respect to mutton; and where this is not dearer than beef, such a quantity may be laid in as to preclude entirely the necessity of using salted provisions. See Naval Chronicle, Vol. II.

William Burney: A New Universal Dictionary of the Marine, being, a copius Explanation of the Technical terms and Phrases usually Employed in the Construction, Equipment, Machinery, Movements, and Military as well as Naval, Operations of Ships: with such parts of Astronomy, and Navigation, as will be Useful to Practical Navigators. Illustrated with a Variety of Modern Designs of Shipping, etc. together with separate views of the Masts, Yards, Sails, and Rigging. To which is annexed, A Vocabulary of French Sea-phrases and Terms of Art, Collected from the Best Authorities. Originally Compiled by William Falconer, Author of the Shipwreck, &c. Now Modernized and much Enlarged, by William Burney, LL.D. Master of the Naval Academy, Gosport.
T. Caldell & W. Davies, London, 1815. 4to, xvii, 708, 88 pp, 35 plates.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

Sjöhistoriska Samfundet | The Maritime History Virtual Archives | Naval Medicine | Search.

Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.