Tuesday, September 27

Advices on the Health of Sailors

Sailors may also be numbered among the laborious. They undergo great hardships from change of climate, the violence of weather, hard labour, bad provisions, Sec. Sailors are of so great importance both to the trade and safety of this kingdom, that too much pains can never be bestowed in pointing out the means of preserving their lives.

One great source of the diseases of sea-faring people is excess. When they get on shore,, after having been long at sea, without regard to the climate, or their own constitutions, they plunge headlong into all manner of riot, and often persist till a fever puts an end to their lives. Thus intemperance, and not the climate, is often the cause why so many of our brave sailors die on foreign coasts. Such people ought not to live too low; but they will find moderation the best defence against fevers, and many other maladies.

Sailors, when on duty, cannot avoid sometimes getting wet. When this happens, they should change their clothes as soon as they are relieved, and take every method to restore the perspiration. They should not, in this case, make too free with spirits or other strong liquors, but should rather drink them diluted with warm water, and go immediately to bed, where a sound sleep and a gentle sweat would set all to rights.

But the health of sailors suffers most from unwholesome food. The constant use of salted provisions vitiates their humours, and occasions the scurvy, and other obstinate maladies. It is no easy matter to prevent this disease in long voyages; yet we cannot help thinking, that much might be done towards effecting so desirable an end, were due pains bestowed for that purpose. For example, various roots, greens, and fruits, might be kept a long time at sea, as onions, potatoes, cabbages, lemons, oranges, tamarinds, apples, &c. When fruits cannot be kept, the juices of them, either fresh or fermented, may. "With these all the drink, and (even the food of the ship's company, ought to be acidulated in long voyages.

Stale bread and beer likewise contribute to vitiate the humours. Flour will keep for a long time on board, of which fresh bread might frequently be made. Malt too might be kept, and infused with boiling water at any time. This liquor, when drank even in form of wort, is very wholesome, and is found to be an antidote against the scurvy. Small wines and cyder might likewise be plentifully laid in j and should they turn sour, they would still be useful as vinegar. Vinegar is a great antidote against diseases, and should be used by all travellers, especially at sea. It may either be mixed with the water they drink, or taken in their food.

Such animals as can be kept alive, ought likewise to be carried on board, as hens, ducks, pigs, &c. Fresh broths made of portable soup, and puddings made of peas, or other vegetables, ought to be used plentifully. Many other things will readily occur to people conversant in these matters, which would tend to preserve the health of that brave and useful set of men *.

We have reason to believe, if due attention were paid to the diet, air, clothing, and above all things to the cleanliness of sea-faring people, they would be the most healthy set of men in the world; but when these are neglected, the very reverse will happen.

The best medical antidote that we can recommend to sailors or soldiers, on foreign coasts, especially where dampness prevails, is the Peruvian bark. This will often prevent fevers, and other fatal diseases. About a drachm of it may be chewed everyday; or if this should prove disagreeable, an ounce of bark, with half an ounce of orange peel, and two drachms of snake-root coarsely powdered, may be infused for two or three days in an English quart of brandy, and half a wine glass of it taken twice or thrice a-day, when the stomach is empty. This has been found to be an excellent antidote against fluxes, putrid, intermitting, and other fevers, in unhealthy climates. It is not material in what form this medicine is taken. It may either be infused in water, wine, or spirits, as recommended above, or made into an electuary with syrup of lemons, oranges, or the like.

* Our countryman, the celebrated Captain Cook, has shewn how far, by proper care and attention, the diseases formerly so fatal to seamen may be prevented. In a voyage of three years and eighteen days, during which he was exposed to every climate, from the 52° north to the 71° of south latitude, of one hundred and eighteen men composing the ship's company, he lost only one, who died of a phthisis pulmonalis. The principal means he used were, to preserve a strict attention to cleanliness, to procure abundance of vegetables and fresh provisions, especially good water, and to allow his people sufficient time for rest.

from: Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines: With an Appendix, Containing a Dispensatory for the Use of Private Practitioners, 1790 edition.  Page 45

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