Monday, 8 August 2011

Surgeons at Sea: Medical Journals, UK National Archives

The UK National Archives, supported by funding from the Wellcome Trust , has done an extensive cataloguing project of ADM101- Surgeons Journals (Royal Navy Medical Officers Journals). The journals are compiled by the Surgeons aboard the the Naval ships and detail the health and medical treatment provided to those in their care.

They have digitised fourteen journals which are available for free download. The fourteen are a mixture of Navy, convict and emigrant voyages.

The fourteen journals are:

ADM101/1/9  Albion male convict ship to New South Wales 9 May-14 September 1828
ADM 101/23/3  Eliza male convict ship to New South Wales 19 June- 26 November 1822
ADM101/38/2  John Barry convict ship to New South Wales 16 May- 10 November 1821
ADM 101/57/8 Ocean convict ship to New South Wales 21 June 1817 - 16 June 1818
ADM101/76/9  Elizabeth emigrant ship of Irish settlers from Cork to Quebec  4 May-21 July 1821
ADM101/77/8  John Barry  emigrant ship of Irish settlers Cork to Quebec and to Upper Canada 22 April - 25 July 1825
ADM 101/77/9  Juliana emigrant ship from Gravesend, Kent England to New South Wales 17 October 1838 - 21 May 1839
ADM 101/85/4  Arab voyage to West Indies 27 March 1799 - 27 March 1800
ADM 101/86/1 Arethusa  Europe and voyage to West Indies 15 May 1805 - 13 June 1806
ADM 101/97/5 Dryad  Mediterranean 1 November 1827 - 31 March 1828
ADM 101/103/5 Griper on discovery voyage to Arctic and West Passage 10 June - 8 November 1824
ADM 101/110/3 North Star voyages in Arctic Seas  21 February 1852- 19 August 1853
ADM 101/115/3  Princess Royal employed in Channel service 7 February 1801-7 February 1802
ADM 101/245  Dido January - December 1875

HMS Dido built in 1869 (

These are reasonably large PDF files, averaging around 30 MB with some at 70MB so it is best to download them and then view them.

The Archives have done a great job in the cataloguing and you can search by ship, name and disease. 

I like the new Discovery search, where if you ask for the search only to be done within the ADM101 series, gives you very directed results.

Unfortunately none of my Quested One Name Study people were aboard but a search for Busby found two entries one of which is below from ADM 101/285/2:

Folio 6: William Busby, aged 27, Seaman; disease or hurt, attacked with fever; taken ill, 14 October 1804 during passage from Surinam to Barbados; discharged to hospital in Barbados, 16 October 1804.

Also listed in Folio 6  were the below
Folio 6: James Webb, aged 21, Mariner, disease or hurt, attacked with fever; taken ill, 14 October 1804 during passage from Surinam to Barbados; discharged to hospital in Barbados, 16 October 1804.
Folio 6: Murphy Johnson, aged 28, and Jonathan Stephens, aged 26; disease or hurt, attacked with fever; taken ill 14 October 1804, died 16 October 1804. 
Folio 6: Thomas Sawer, aged 25, marine; Jonathan Philips, aged 24, marine; Robert Douglas, aged 25, Seaman; Thomas Bennet, aged 25, marine; Charles Glandy, aged 14, boy; Mr Irons, aged 34, Boatswain; Jonathan Farrow, aged 24; Jonathan Johnson, aged 29; Eli[?] Ferguson, aged 33; Mr Grey Martin, aged 27, Mate; Mr Waddy, aged 18, Midshipman; George Kemp, aged 20; Mr Cooper, aged 30, Purser; Michael Cronin, aged 32; Robert Joblin, aged 25; Lawrence Ward, aged 36; Jonathan Holding, aged 33; [Soro Noguard], aged 30; Jonathan Dunn, aged 35; Thomas Smith, aged 28; William Smith, aged 26; were all attacked with fever between Surinam and Barbados on 15 October 1804, all discharged to the hospital in Barbados, 16 October 1804. 
These particular files are not downloadable at this stage, but copies can be ordered, so it is worth having a search for your family as there are many names listed.

In the downloadable files the writing is generally quite readable and there are a number of post-its attached to the files which are transcriptions of the file.

The amount of detail varies between journals but you usually get the date of sick call, the name, the age and what illness they presented with. You also get a description of the treatment given, this may be only a few lines or go on for pages.

You can search for specific diseases but remember to be flexible in your spelling and in what the disease may be named as at this time there was no standardisation of disease names. There are 708 examples of syphilis and six of syphillis. Search results for venereal does bring up Lues Venera which is excellent.

The Journals are also a fascinating glimpse into conditions aboard the ships and also the general health of the convicts compared to the Irish emigrants compared to the Naval seamen.

These journals are a fantastic resource for family, social and medical historians. I can see many hours ahead looking at the medical terminology used and some of the interesting treatments, many of which we would shudder at today.

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