Kevin Brown Historian

History of health, medicine and naval history

Seeking the Seasick Admiral

Aren’t there enough books on Nelson without yet another appearing, you may be thinking? What can anyone say that is new about him? Is it possible to have an unusual take on the subject? All valid thoughts. Well, I hope that my latest book does just that. It examines Nelson’s personal medical record and shows this as a microcosm of the health of the men in his navy and also how it made him sympathetic towards improving conditions to keep his men fighting fit. It is a wider subject than just the medical history of a great naval hero, interesting though that may be in itself.Seasick Admiral cover

The real heroes are the naval surgeons. Until the wars against Republican and Napoleonic France in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries these had enjoyed a low status. Nelson earned their gratitude by supporting their campaign for better pay and conditions as he realized the importance of working alongside them to maintain a healthy and efficient ship. Earlier this summer I enjoyed a convivial evening among their present day successors when I was invited to give the after dinner speech at a mess dinner for naval doctors in training at the Institute of Naval Medicine at Gosport. They were more than worthy of their predecessors in their camaraderie, love of a  good time, enjoyment of a drink (things got interesting when they started to compare tattoos!) and their sense of being part of a great tradition of  Royal Navy medical officers. I think that I was forgiven in criticizing James Lind for not having pushed the anti-scorbutic value of citrus fruits, even if the criticism was expressed in the Lind Room! The conquest of scurSeasick Admiral launch 008vy was one of the great medical achievements of Nelson’s day and was pushed by naval surgeons. At that mess dinner I was touched to be told by one officer that I understood them.

Nelson himself should never have gone to sea. From his childhood he was never in good health and after he joined the Navy he contracted just about every fever that was going. Impetuous and bold in battle, he was often wounded. He lost the sight in one eye and had his right arm amputated.  Unfortunately for a naval hero, he also suffered badly from seasickness. This personal experience of ill-health and injury made him uniquely aware of the importance of health and fitness to the efficient running of a fleet,

My new book investigates Nelson s personal contribution to improving the welfare of the men he commanded. It ranges from issues of diet, through hygiene to improved medical practices. Believing prevention was better than cure, Nelson went to great lengths to obtain fresh provisions, insisted on cleanliness in his ships, and even understood the relationship between mental and physical health, working tirelessly to keep up the morale of his men. Many other people contributed to what became a revolution in naval health but because of his heroic status Nelson s influence was hugely significant. This is a role which this book reveals in detail for the first time.  The concern shown by the Royal Navy for navalPoxed and Scurvied Cover health and hygiene gave it superiority over its foes which helped give it command of the seas.

The book follows on from my earlier book Poxed and Scurvied: The Story of Sickness and Health at Sea. It uses extensively the wonderfully detailed and expressive medical journals kept by the surgeons, now available to researchers at the National Archives in Kew. However not all the research was done in dusty archives. I have gained inspiration from visiting places which evoke those far off days: the Trafalgar waters, HMS Victory at Portsmouth, , the former naval hospitals at Haslar, Gibraltar , Malta and Menorca (where I memorably spoke in aid of the  restoration of the first permanent British  naval hospital), and indeed  I finished writing the book off  Aboukir Bay, site of Nelson’s victory at the battle of the Nile, while lecturing  on the history of medicine to passengers on a cruise ship, the Pacific Princess at Easter 2015.Steve and Tudor

So to a new Band of Brothers, I present my new book.

The Seasick Admiral: Nelson and the Health of the Navy, Seaforth Publishing, 3 November 2015, ISBN 1848322178, £25.


8 comments on “Seeking the Seasick Admiral

  1. Matthew Wright
    November 23, 2015

    Nelson was such an astonishing character! My brother in law, who is the RNZN’s official artist, painted a portrait of Nelson back in 2005 – the RNZN’s gift to the RN in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar. I believe it was hung for a while in HMS Victory.

  2. Lorraine Ure
    December 1, 2015

    I have just obtained a copy and will forward details to all the Volunteers on the Isla del Rey in Menorca. We much appreciate your continued support towards our efforts. I will donate the book to our Library when I have finished it! Very best wishes – Lorraine

    • Kevin Brown Historian
      December 1, 2015

      Thank you, Lorraine, and success to all the work being done by Menorcan and British volunteers to restore the first Permanent British naval Hospital on Island del Rey.

  3. Peter Warwick
    December 7, 2015

    Dear Kevin, Good to make your acquaintance through your book (yet to read!”) and friend Lorraine Ure. I have the honour to be Chairman of The 1805 Club and we are supporting her and the effort to restore the naval hospital hospital on Isle del Rey. We take a wide interest in the Royal Navy of the sailing era preserving the memory of those that served during the Georgian period, although inevitably Nelson is the essential hero, and in Mahan’s words, the ‘durable monument’. Feel free to be in touch. You might even enjoy membership of the club! Kind regards, Peter

    • Kevin Brown Historian
      December 7, 2015

      Thank you, Peter. I have heard from Lorraine of the support she and her colleagues on Isla del Rey have received from the 1805 Club, and I am also aware of your sterling work in preserving naval monuments of the period. I believe we may have met briefly a few years ago at a Trafalgar Day lecture I gave at the Royal College of Surgeons. Good to be in touch – and perhaps work together on some future relevant project. Best wishes, Kevin.

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