- Pearce, Robert L., AM RFD OM(Fr) CStJ FRCS FRACS Colonel RAAMC (Rtd), Associate Professor
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
We can take a few significant points from this experience:
Medical Officers were appointed as Naval Surgeons and there were Assistant Surgeons, none of them well qualified by today’s standards because of the lack of scientific/medical knowledge. But most Naval Surgeons at the beginning of the 19th Century were Edinburgh graduates, and the Edinburgh medical school was considered the most advanced for well over a century.
On joining the Royal Navy these men had to obtain approval from the Royal College of Surgeons and in particular their instruments were inspected and passed by this body. William Beattie had the latest instrument box, but it contained very limited armaments for a surgeon with very limited scope, training or experience.
With the prospect of increasing emigration of convicts and free settlers to new colonies the British government enacted legislation to ensure that vessels carrying more than thirty passengers employed a doctor, and a ship’s doctor was given authority that demanded respect. In this regard the Royal Navy and British merchant fleets were to benefit from improved levels of sanitation and hygiene that were way ahead of their rivals.
There is no doubt that the improvements in health standards in the Royal Navy by the time of Trafalgar were effective in maintaining morale and providing Nelson with a more efficient fighting force