William Hutchinson: A Treatise on Naval Architecture . . , 1794.

On the Sea Scurvy.

I had the experience of this destructive disease for about three months in a passage to the East-Indies, in the year 1738-9, when for the advantage of private trade, as I was told afterwards by the ship's husband) we sailed with ten tons of beer and fresh water short of the usual quantity allowed to be carried, and yet the ship so deep laden, that in our passage to the downs, the shiped so much water that filled her deep waist, and frightened and occasion the seamen to protest and refuse to proceed on the voyage without the ship's being lightened. But a ship of war in the Downs settled the affair by taking, and changing for other men, some of the principal promoters of the protest, which made the others comply to proceed on the voyage.

We were seven months on our outward bound passage without touching any were for refreshment, till we got to Pullicat, a Dutch factory near Madras, were we where bound, and were five months at short allowance of water, which, with the very salt beef that had remained from the last voyage, (consequently above three years salted) being the first used in this, was the occasion of the scurvy coming the sooner, and being more severe, amongst us.

This being my first voyage in this trade, and only a forecastle man; as I was advised, I laid in a little sea store, of what was thought necessary, nourishing things for these long passages; but I happened to meet with a messmate of a saving and trading turn, who, in his last voyage to China, had made great profits from a small adventure; and as we were bound from Madras to China, he advised me to sell my little store of brandy, sugar, sage for tea, &c. when they became a good price, and join him in partnership in adventures; which I did, thinking my youth, health and strength of constitution, would enable me to live npon [sic] the ship's salt provision as I had done in common merchant's ships before: but I found myself much mistaken; for after being about four months in our passage from the Downs, after eating a hearty breakfast of salt beef, I found myself taken with a pain under my left breast, where I had formerly received a dangerous blow. From this time the sea scurvy increased upon me, as it had done upon many others, a good while before me; and I observed that they soon took to their hammocks below, and became black in their armpits and hams, their limbs being stiff and swelled, with red specks, and soon died; I therefore kept exercising in my duty, and went aloft as long as possible, and till forbidden by the officers, who found it troublesome to get me down with safety, as I frequently lost the use of my hands and feet, for a time, in the same manner as I had done when I received the abovementioned blow. I then endeavoured to be useful below, and steered the ship, till I could not climb by the notches of the stantion at the fore hatchway, upon deck, which I told the Captain; who then ordered the carpenter to make a ladder, that answered the purpose for the sick, who were able to get upon deck for the benefit of exercise, and pure air, as that below being much tainted by so many sick. I thus struggled with the disease 'till it increased so that my armpits and hams grew black but did not swell, and I pined away to a weak, helpless condition, with my teeth all loose, and my upper and lower gums swelled and clotted together like a jelly, and they bled to that degree, that I was obliged to lie with my mouth hanging over the side of my hammock, to let the blood run out, and to keep it from clotting so as to cloak me; till after a seven months passage we arrived in Pullicat Road; from whence we got fresh provisions, and sent for men to carry the ship to Madras, where, what remained of the sick were got on shore to sick quarters; and where, with fresh provisions and fomentations of herbs I got well, and returned on board in eighteen days; where I found a stout gang of the country seamen, called Laskers, to work the ship in her voyage to China and home.

This attack of this destructive disease, appeared evidently to proceed from eating too much salt meat, and a short allowance of water &c. I therefore formed a resolution, as much as possible, to endeavour to avoid it in future, by eating no more salt meat than just to give a small relish to my breador rice instead of bread, which we had for eleven months in the voyage. and at all possible opportunities, to get a little tea made for breakfast, instead of salt meat (which increased thirst the whole day) and by that means to save of the short allowance of water. When we came to Canton in China, I there saw my adopted manner of living, in real, general practice; where they cook their animal food, highly seasoned, in small morsels, and only take one of them at once, into the mouth, which is nearly filled with boiled rice) and drink tea afterwards, without sugar, to digest it.

It has been my custom, ever since, to drink tea, twice a day, when I could get it. And to let lovers of tea know, I have had it made in a very nice manner on board a ship, where there were no tea untensils; I will inform them that it was by putting the tea into a quart bottle, filled with fresh water, corked up and boiled in the ship's kettle, along with the salt beef. When it came out, it was as fine drawn tea as ever I saw. It may afterwards be sweetened at pleasure, in the same bottle; and with something to eat, may be given to given to sick people in bed, to bite and sup, in stormy weather, when teapots, cups and saucers, and other means cannot be used with safety. No doubt coffee may occasionally be made and used in the same way.

With the above proposed method of living, I kept clear of the scurvy during the rest of the voyage, when many of my ship mates died with it; and except these disorders here mentioned, I ahve ever since, through providence, enjoyed an uncommon share of health, to my seventy-eighth year. In this voyage we had instance to prove, that a sufficient allowance of fresh water, and a little fresh meat prevented the scurvy, and preserved those alive, that had it longest. Our butcher and poulterer, by having water for the Captain's live stock, and the offals from them, I suppose, kept them free from it. The first man that took it, was a reduced ship master, that happened to be the Captain's townsman, who sent him a plate of fresh meat every day from his table, which prevented the disease from increasing upon him for above four months, and which certainly saved his life.

But to preserve the health and lives if seamen through all the different climates and extremes of heat and cold, we must have recourie to the immortal character of Captain Cook, mentioned page 6; who explored the world and fixed its geography in a much more perfect manner than was ever done before; and preserved the health and lives of his ships crews in so extraordinary a manner, for so long a time in unexplored seas, both North and South, as far as the ice would admit, as hardly could be equalled in the same number of persons in any part of the world; and who may be said to have died gallanty on his duty, by being too anxious to prevent the effusion of human blood.

William Hutchinson: A Treatise on Naval Architecture . .
T. Billinge, Liverpool, 1794. pp 286-289.

Updated 1995-10-18 by Lars Bruzelius

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

Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzeliuse.