UKC

"Scurvy" by Stephen Bown

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 Offwidth 30 Apr 2021

The interesting story of how Scurvy affected the Royal Navy, until the early 19th century; when citrus fruit became a regular part of on-ship rations. Including how the science and medicine of the time actually got in the way of useful countermeasures, and how some old folk cures and new discoveries were ignored based on mad theory (including being highly critical of Sir John Pringle, the highly influential head of the Royal Society, who delayed uptake of proven cures based on no evidence, in support of his own useless recommended alternatives). The flawed heros are: a surgeon (Lind) who did some of the first controlled tests of potential solutions; Captain Cook who kept his ship scurvy free during his three scientific voyages, using Lind's correct methods; and Pringle's useless ones, and an Admiral's physician (Blane) who tested both, realised what worked and eventually pushed for change, being well placed socially to influence the Admiralty.

It's really easy reading apart from the truly gruesome content. Scurvy probably cost us the US colonies in 1776, but citrus fruit almost certainly saved us from Napoleon a few decades later. It's also a useful reminder of how cheap the lives of ordinary sailors were in the 17th century.

Post edited at 14:40

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