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Ship's medicine chest used by a Liverpool Captain

Date: c 1875
Dimensions:
Overall: 240 x 260 x 180 mm, 5.1 kg
Display Dimensions: 34 x 18 x 18 mm
Medium: Wood, glass, velvet, metal.
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Medicine chest
Object No: 00004269

User Terms

    Description
    A ship's medicine chest made of mahogany and lined with red velvet. It belonged to a Liverpool ship's captain and was used on vessels in the Atlantic trade in the 1870s and 1880s. The lid of the chest opens to reveal 24 glass medicine bottles of different sizes and makes. A single draw at the bottom contains a set of scales, a blood letting glass and small glass tubes.
    SignificanceThis Captains medical chest represents the medical knowledge and resulting treatments in favour at the time. Considering the vast array of injuries and illnesses that could happen aboard an Atlantic trade vessel in the late 19th century, it seems an unenviable job for the captain or ships surgeon, to treat them all from a chest such as this.
    HistoryIn the 19th century seasickness was almost inevitable and 'bugs' such as fleas and lice were everywhere. The ships surgeon was responsible for passenger's health which he attempted to maintain by enforcing good hygiene.
    There were occasional outbreaks of 'killer' diseases such as typhus, typhoid and cholera on some ships, but most deaths resulted from diarrhoea among children under five. When surgery was required and there was no surgeon on board this was performed by the Captain and passengers relied upon the ships medicine chest, medical guides and the training of the Captain or sick berth attendant for all medical treatment.
    Immigrants were also advised to bring their own medicines to treat minor illnesses. Contents of these personal chests could include essence pf peppermint, mild purging pills and many other drugs and remedies.
    By the late 19th century, ships doctors were hopefully educated men with some scentific or medical qualificaions, either surgeons or apocotheries. Despite this, their resources were still very limited to the knowledge of the time, what they themselves felt the best cure would be, conditions on board and of course, what they could carry in their chests.

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