The Introduction of Lemon-juice into the Royal Navy.

Mr. Editor,

As the introduction of lemon-juice into the royal navy has been productive of unparalleled advantages, by preserving the health and lives of our brave and invaluable seamen (as every officer and person connected with that service can testify), I trust it may not be unacceptable to your numerous readers to be informed, to whom its introduction and general use may be attributed; and I am at a loss to devise a mode of communicating this circumstance more clearly, than by requesting the favour of you to insert the following extract of a letter addressed, on 2d of November, 1805, by Dr. Harness, senior commissioner of sick and wounded seamen, to the Right Hon. Lord Barham, then first lord of the Admiralty, on the subject of consolidating the service of the Sick and Wounded Office with that of the Transport Board: --

I cannot but consider it a duty which I owe to your lordship, to point out some of the important advantages which the service has derived since the establishment of a Naval Medical Board, as well in the prevention as in the remedying diseases incident to seamen, by its being duly enforced on the minds of professional men, the necessity of a strict attention to cleanliness, ventilation, clothing, and the absolute necessity of keeping the ship clean by other means than frequent wetting -- a process so much had recourse to at the period of my embarking in the navy in December, 1776, that our ships were ever burthened with numerous sick, labouring under all the various diseases produced by cold and moisture, and which, I am persuaded, terminated in innumerable cases of dreadful scurvy, of which disorder many hundreds at that, and subsequent periods, were annually lost to the navy. Among the many advantages derived to the service, by a constant and regular endeavour to prevent and mitigate the diseases common to a sea life, the discovery of the use of lemon-juice does not rank last on the list. I hope your lordship will allow me to relate the circumstance which led to the use of this specific against the sea scurvy, without exciting any impressions on your lordship's mind of my entertaining the most distant idea of assuming merit not due to myself.

During the blockade of Toulon in the summer of 1793, many of the ships' companies were afflicted with symptoms of scurvy; and as the object Lord Hood (then commander in chief in the Mediterranean) had in view, would not allow of the ships, whose companies were so afflicted, to be detached into port, to obtain the necessary refreshment, I was induced to propose to his lordship the sending a vessel into port for the express purpose of obtaining lemons for the use of the fleet; with which his lordship most cheerfully complied; and the good effects of its use were so evident to every commander employed on the station, that an order was soon obtained from the commander in chief, that no ship under his lordship's command should leave port without being previously furnished with an ample supply of lemons. And to this circumstance becoming generally known may the use of lemon juice, the effectual means of subduing scurvy, while at sea, be traced: nor must the many important advantages resulting from the use of lemon-juice rest here, as it is evident its administration as a preventive, with its prescribed concomitants, cleanliness, ventilation, &c. which are constantly impressed on the minds of the surgeons by the medical members of the Sick and Wounded Board, and most assiduously enforced by the executive officers of the navy, have been the means of preserving the health of our fleets to an unparalleled degree; as may be evinced by comparing the numbers of sick sent to our hospitals and sick quarters, and the proportion of deaths formerly, and during the late and present war.

Subsequently to Dr. Harness writing the above to Lord Barham, the weekly returns transmitted from the office of sick and wounded seamen to the lords commissioners of the Admiralty, have been strictly examined; and by them it appears, previous to the general introduction of lemon-juice, that one seaman and marine in four of the number annually voted for the service of the navy, were sent sick, either to hospitals, hospital-ships, or sick quarters, on the home stations alone; whereas, since the general introduction of lemon-juice, the numbers received do not exceed one in ten. And a further compensation for the expense incurred by the general supply of lemon-juice, may be reckoned the incalculable advantages resulting to the kingdom from a completely effective navy; the ships' companies being now enabled to continue at sea an unlimited time, whereas, previously to its introduction, a few weeks only necessarily put a period to their cruises.

I am, Sir, yours, &c.

A Constant Reader.

P.S. Lord Hood (who has ever been alive to adopt every rational means prescribed to prevent the occurrence of disease in the fleets under his lordship's command) was also the first officer who occasioned the fleets to be supplied with bullocks and vegetables during their service in blockades; a measure which is continued at this day.

Nautical Chronical, Vol. 18 (1807), pp 386-388.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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

Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.