James Cook and the Introduction of Lime Juice in the British Navy.

On the recommendation of David MacBride, author of Historical Account of a New Method of Treating the Scurvy at Sea, containing ten cases which show that this destructive disease may be easily and effectually cured without the aid of fresh vegetable diet (1764), the British Admiralty issued 40 bushels of malt in hogsheads, together with portable soup, but only a few bottles of rob of lemons for James Cook's first voyage in 1768.

The ship's company had in general been very healthy owing in great measure to Sour Krout, Portable Soup and Malt; the first two were served to the people, the one on beef days and the other on banyan days. Wort was made of the malt and at the discretion of the Surgeon given to every man that had the least symptoms of scurvy upon him. By this means, and the care and vigilance of Mr Monkhouse the Surgeon, this disease was prevented from getting a footing in the ship.

Writing shortly before his death James Cook complained that:

Every innovation whatever, tho ever so much to their advantage, is sure to meet with the highest disapprobation from Seamen: Portable Soup and Sour Krout were at first condemned by them as stuff not fit for human beings to eat. Few men have introduced into their ships more novelties in the way of victuals and drink than I have done. It has, however, in a great measure been owing to such little innovations that I have always kept my people generally speaking free from that dreadful distemper the Scurvy.

It is a little known fact that James Cook's report to the Admiralty based on his experiences from his first and second voyages came to delay the introduction of lemon juice (later lime juice) against scurvy in the Royal Navy for twenty years or until 1795.

Updated 1996-06-01 by Lars Bruzelius

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.