Kevin Brown Historian

History of health, medicine and naval history

Poxed and Scurvied: The Story of Sickness and Health at Sea

Poxed and Scurvied Cover

When European sailors began to explore the rest of the world, the problem of keeping healthy on such long
voyages became acute. Malnourishment and crowded conditions bred disease, but
they also carried epidemics that decimated the indigenous populations they
encountered – and brought back new diseases like syphilis.

As navies developed, the well-being of crews became a dominant factor in the
success of naval operations, so it is no surprise that the Royal Navy led the
way in shipboard medical provision, and sponsored many of the advances in diet
and hygiene which by the Napoleonic Wars gave its fleets a significant
advantage over all its enemies. These improvements trickled down to the
merchant service, but the book also looks at two particularly harsh maritime
environments, the slave trade and emigrant ships, both of which required
special medical arrangements. Eventually, the struggle to improve the fitness
of seamen became a national concern, manifest in a series of far-reaching – and
sometimes bizarre – public health measures, generally directed against the
effects of drunkenness and the pox.

In this way, as in many others, an attempt to address the specific needs of the
seafarer developed wider implications for society as a whole. It also produced
scientific breakthroughs that were a universal benefit, so far from being a
narrow study of medicine at sea, this book provides a fascinating picture of
social improvement

Hardback 256 pages £25.00
ISBN: 9781848320635

Published: 4 May 2011

About the Author


KEVIN BROWN is the Curator of the Alexander FlemingMuseum at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, and Trust Archivist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. He is an expert on the history of medicine. He is the author of Penicillin Man, which tells the story of the antibiotics revolution that began in the laboratories he now curates, The Pox, a history of venereal disease, and also Fighting Fit, a history of military medicine in the wars of the twentieth century


One comment on “Poxed and Scurvied: The Story of Sickness and Health at Sea

  1. Pingback: Maritime Medicine and Mayhem in 1853 | No more wriggling out of writing ……

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