Disease In The Merchant Navy - A History Of The Seamen's Hospital Society
By Gordon C. Cook MD, DSc, FRCPE, FLS. Published By Radcliffe Publishing, 18, Marcham Road, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 1AA. www.radcliffe-oxford.com £75.00. ISBN: 978 1846192364
Hardback 250mm x 175mm size 640 pages, profusely illustrated with b/w photos, drawings, sketches and tables.
The author is visiting professor to University College, London, and is well qualified to write on the subject of the history of the Seamen's Hospital which was founded in 1821. To quote Gordon Cook:
Founded in 1821, the Seamen's Hospital Society (which was, and remains, entirely dependent on voluntary contributions) became one of the greatest of Victorian charities - supported by Queen Victoria herself, and also by many royal personages throughout Europe and beyond. At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars, London's dockland was inundated with unemployed mariners from numerous nations who were without family and friends; many were suffering from a sexually-transmitted, or tropical disease. In 1818, a small group of philanthropists (which included William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay) conceived a plan to assist this multi-ethnic group and this was enthusiastically supported by public subscription.
This organisation was known as the Committee for the Relief of Distressed (destitute) Seamen. The 'plan of campaign' was that clinical facilities were to be made available free to seafarers of all nations in the Port of London (the Royal Navy already had a well developed welfare system) irrespective of race, religion or nationality, without the necessity of a letter of introduction (which was demanded by most of London's general hospitals). So successful, in fact, was this enterprise that it was decided to found a permanent institution (the SHS); the first meeting of the Committee of Management took place on 8 March 1821. Between the date of foundation and 1870, clinical facilities were placed on three successive ships which had been hulked - HMS "Grampus ", HMS "Dreadnought ", and HMS "Caledonia" (renamed "Dreadnought") - all on loan from the Admiralty and moored off Greenwich Reach.
This then sets the scene which does not merely cover the Hospital in isolation, but takes a very thorough look at the conditions under which mariners served in perhaps less enlightened times. The book traces the environment in which mariners lived and worked at the time when the idea was conceived, together with Britain's main maritime organizations - the docks and the shipyards - and examines the social conditions and diseases which resulted.
The book is divided into four sections. The first sections cover the period of the hospital ships, leading into the founding of Greenwich Hospital in 1870, and charts the expansion of the service to 1914 with the different problems and disease the hospital had to combat as social conditions changed. Part four, covering the two World Wars brings us up to date with the importance of the Society declining as the National Health Service took over many of its unique attributes. The Society, however continues to flourish into the 21st century, now looking into tropical diseases and medicine, and still plays a most important part in the lives of mariners.
This book is a huge tome but I do not feel I have ever seen a more complete book on its subject, written in an easy to understand way, yet with much technical information. Whilst its price may put off people, for sheer value of the contents it is a book not to be missed. Hopefully, it will join books in the University and local authority libraries, particularly those with maritime history and social history departments. This book is profound in its coverage of the subject and the personalities and staff involved, and as may be expected from such an illustrious publisher, is extremely well referenced and indexed. If you have an interest in disease in the merchant navy and the social conditions that gave rise to the necessity for the Seamen's Hospital, then this is a book for your library, and not to be missed.
Reviewed by D. B. Clement
Add your comments
Please note: this is not an email facility, all comments are placed on
this page and on our Forum
Comment on this