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The Seaman's Medical Friend

Date: 1863
166 x 110 x 10 mm
Medium: Wove paper, black printing ink, bookcloth, gilded title, lead (graphite?) pencil
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Mr D Charters
Classification:Books and journals
Object Name: Book
Object No: 00042381

User Terms

    This sixth edition of 'The Seaman's Medical Friend' was written by F D Fletcher and published by William Fearnall of Liverpool, England in 1863. The book was written to accompany the medicine chest proscribed by the Merchant Shipping Act (1854) to be carried by all British merchant vessels greater than 15 tons.
    SignificanceThroughout the 19th century the Board of Trade attempted to regulate British merchant shipping through a variety of Acts and Regulations. Although this legislation was primarily introduced to protect British trade it had the added benefit of greatly improving safety for passengers and crew. Although the 1844, 1850 and 1854 Merchant Shipping Acts had shortfalls in regards to the scale of medicines required, the Acts did recognise the need to provide a safer environment for those on board ship and went someway to providing it. 'The Seaman's Medical Friend' is an example of this attempt and is an indicator of the desire of the British Government to improve the working conditions of British sailors and passengers traveling by sea in the mid-19th century.
    HistoryIn 1621 the commercial problems of the British Government and the Crown had become so complex that they no longer could be handled by individuals and The Privy Council was ordered by the King to resolve the problems as quickly as possible. The Privy Council set up a committee of enquiry named 'The Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations' who were responsible for promoting the trade and inspecting work places, mainly plantations.

    The loss of the American Colonies following the American War of Independence saw The Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Foreign Plantations abolished in 1782. One year later it was re-established to regulate trade between Britain, its colonies and the independent United States of America; and between Britain, its colonies and France (after the Peace of Versailles in 1783). In 1786 the Committee was put on a formal basis and has been known as the Board of Trade since this date, the title being adopted officially by an Act of 1861.

    The Board's main function during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was to advise the Crown on matters relating to economic activity in the Britain and the Empire. During the second half of the nineteenth century the Board also became responsible for new legislation on such matters as patents, designs and trademarks, company regulation, labour and factory matters, mines, agriculture, transport, power, forestry, lighthouses and the merchant marine.

    The Merchant Marine or merchant navy is a collective name which is used to describe all the merchant vessels on the official ship's registers of a particular nation. The merchant marine covers merchant vessels of all categories from passenger ships, tankers, and container vessels to small coasting vessels but does not include commercial fishing vessels. (Kemp, 1988:542)

    The Board of Trade attempted to regulate the merchant marine under a series of Merchant Shipping Acts. The first in 1786 required all vessels over 15 tons to be registered at the local Customs House and for these records to be copied to the main Customs Houses in London and Glasgow. Further amendments, additions and re-writes of the Merchant Shipping Act occurred in 1835, 1844, 1850, 1854, 1857, 1867, 1871,1876, 1877 and 1894 and introduced such concepts as a standardised method of measuring ships for tonnage, sailor's contracts, sailors certificates of service, a Register of Seaman, Bills of Laden, Plimsoll Lines, Official Numbers, navigations lights, lighthouses and salvage.

    The Marine Department of the Board of Trade was created in 1850 to oversee these major changes and other new statutory requirements such as the survey of passenger steamers, the compulsory examination of masters and mates, the establishment of shipping offices for the engagement and discharge of seamen, the protection of navigable harbours and channels, pilotage, seaman's saving banks, seaman's insurance funds and the health and welfare of seaman.

    Under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1850 it became compulsory for all registered merchant ships, including passenger and immigrant ships, to provide a medical chest and instruction manual for the use of passengers and crew. The contents of the chest and the nature of the manual were stipulated under the Act and fines and other penalties were introduced for non-compliance.

    In 1850 the naval surgeon Thomas Spencer Wells was asked by the Board of Trade to prepare a scale of medicines to be carried by law on all merchant ships together with a handbook on first-aid. This handbook 'The Scale of Medicines with which Merchant Vessels are to be furnished ...with observations on preserving the health of seaman' went through numerous editions and renaming including 'The Seaman's Medical Friend' re-written by F D Fletcher, Lecturer in Anatomy and Physiology at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary's School of Medicine.

    Although an adept surgeon Wells, and later F D Fletcher, were not dieticians and their recommendations that sugar and vinegar could be carried as a substitute for lemons and limes as a suitable treatment for scurvy resulted in a notable increase in scurvy amongst passengers and crew between 1851 and 1894 when sugar and vinegar were dropped in favour of lime juice alone. (Lloyd and Coulter, 1963, 113-117).

    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: The Seaman's Medical Friend

    Web title: The Seaman's Medical Friend

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