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Ship surgeons

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I'm looking to hook up with anyone else interested in the subject of ship's surgeons. I've been in re-enactment for some time now, and usually portray physicians or surgeons from about 1700-1880, depending on who's paying me. But I've always been land-locked. I've become more and more interested in sea-faring things, thanks mostly to my wife Red Bess, who also lurks about these parts.

Any other sawbones and leech doctors about?

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I was thinking about doing that too; although being female would automatically make it non-historical.

I had the opportunity to tour the ship from the movie "Master and Commander" and one of the displays was of the doctor's cabin. He had many of his medicines in vials in a pouch, for easy transport I suppose.

I also did a few searches for medicine in the 18th century to see what the knowledge was at the time.

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Speaking of leeches; did you know they are still used in modern medicine? They are used to suck out blood to prevent, e.g., a cauliflower ear from developing.

At the Pharmacy Museum here in New Orleans they keep a live one on display. Though he's not at work.

Capt. William

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From the way I understand it, if you're a surgeon/barber-surgeon and want to be a ship's surgeon all you need to do is walk on the boat! Most physicians didn't become ship surgeons because A- they had to touch people, B- the pay stinks and private practice pays better (except on a pirate ship where you're valued) and C- It wasn't an elevated position.

If you were with the Royal Navy or the East India Company you would be supplied with a Ship's surgeon's chest and plaster box which contained 270+ medicines as well as surgeon tools. Generally you'd have done your 7 year barber-surgeon apprenticeship then gone into the Navy or into practice. Most navy surgeons had no experience. Not sure how you got into EI co.

Hope this helps.

PS they're starting to use leeches again but not in bloodletting. (Although I'm sure some new agers are) but in surgeries in tiny places the surgeons cant reach.

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The Sutler of Mount Misery, G. Gedney Godwin, offers 18th century medical instruments.

http://www.gggodwin.com/

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This whole subject is givin' me the shivers! :lol: I'll need another few shots o' rum afore I let any o' you ghouls cut into me.

YIKE!!!

Wartooth

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Thanks fer the Godwin site, Bloody Jack! Lots of great stuff there; sorry I saw it! :lol:

There was a bloke at the Battle of New Orleans reenactment a few years ago who had a great display of period medical instruments. I'd pictured him painstakingly accumulating antiques, over the years. Now I wonder if he didn't just buy the whole shebang from Godwin's? :D

Capt. William

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Did ye check out the swords from Godwin? That's how I ran across them. Not the biggest selection, but reasonably priced alternatives to the standard pirate blade. Of course, I have yet to get a decent pirate blade, much less alternatives, so i can't attest to their quality. perhaps someone else has used their blades?

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I was thinking about doing that too; although being female would automatically make it non-historical.

I had the opportunity to tour the ship from the movie "Master and Commander" and one of the displays was of the doctor's cabin. He had many of his medicines in vials in a pouch, for easy transport I suppose.

I also did a few searches for medicine in the 18th century to see what the knowledge was at the time.

Capt Grey

Not necessarily. Women were trained as surgeons up till the 1820 or so when surgical colleges first appeared. Some even had eccleastical liencese and practiced leagally. I have even found one women in Portsmouth Engalnd who had a licence in both surgery and physick (medcine) named Mary Rose. Her practice was restricted to in port Naval personell so she never as far as I know set foot on a ship. I have a pesona with another pirate crew partially based on Mary Rose except my charecter did set sail on a ship. It wasn't easy for a woman to train as a surgeon but it was possible. I have somewhere and article about feamle surgeons from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. I'll try and dig it up.

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Found it! the title is: "The Surgeoness: The Female Practitioner of Surgery, 1400-1800" by A.L. Wyman in the periodical "Medical History" v.28, 1984 pgs.22-41. If anyone wants a copy I will photocopy it for the price of the copies plus postage. :)

There is also a book the titled "Health, Medicine, & Mortality in the Sixteenth Century" Charles Webster editor. There is a good essay in there about education and training of various types of medical practioners in Britian during the 16th c. While earlier than Golden Age of Piracy many things stilled appiled then as they did later. I am trying to track it down to get the essay. My copy is packed away and in storage.

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Most physicians didn't become ship surgeons because A- they had to touch people, B- the pay stinks and private practice pays better (except on a pirate ship where you're valued) and C- It wasn't an elevated position.

PS they're starting to use leeches again but not in bloodletting. (Although I'm sure some new agers are) but in surgeries in tiny places the surgeons cant reach.

Yes, surgery was considered to be a distinct profession from physic (doling out medicine, hence the title physician) Surgeons were much further down the status ladder from physicians. To this day, if a Physician in the UK specializes in surgery, he/she loses the title "Doctor" and reverts to Mr, Mrs or Miss. They don't suffer the same drop in status or income, however.

I understand ship's surgeons to be warrant officers, i.e. entitle to the same benefits and respect due an officer, but was not a proper member of the Navy. A warrant officer was also accorded the right to board and disembark the ship as he pleased, subject to Captain's approval. On board a pirate ship, however, who knows how a surgeon fit into the hierarchy. I haven't come across any factual accounts of such a situation.

I've heard of leeches being used today in reattachment of severs bits -- fingers, ears, etc. They secrete a natural anticoagulant, and this keeps the blood in the severed bit from clotting.

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My primary way of studing history has to date always been to come to a mean understanding as I have yet to get involved in reinacting(working on it though) I haven't made the detailed study of specific periods that has been done by several others here, however I have come across several more general ideas about medicine from the general time frame and wonder if anone could set about correcting any flaws in them?

1 Medical knowledge in the middle east was at least in terms of infection more advanced than that of the west through out this time frame.

2 The massive number of ambutations performed by surgeons of this time period were not neccasarily due to a lack of knowledge as the wonds recived by a large slow moving ball were much more devistating to bone than today's lighter higher velocity rounds..... my refrence on this is civil war era but the same would concevably hold true for earlier fire arms as they for the most part were very heavy by todays standard and moved at much slower velocities.

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Found it! the title is: "The Surgeoness: The Female Practitioner of Surgery, 1400-1800" by A.L. Wyman in the periodical "Medical History" v.28, 1984 pgs.22-41. If anyone wants a copy I will photocopy it for the price of the copies plus postage. :)

Red Maria,

I sent you an email. I am interested in getting a copy. :)

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I found this intersting bit in "Pirates: Myths &Realities" by Robert C. Ritchie:

"There were two groups who did not share in the contract (articles)... Physcians were also forced o board to watch over the men's health. Once on board the experts had to make their mind up about their future. If they freely joined the crew & shared in the booty they could go home without risk of being jailed for piracy. However if the man wanted to return home, he got his comrades on board to his old ship to report to hios family and the authorities that he had been siezed against his will. Some went so far as to get a certificate from the pirates attesting to their innocence. ... If the ship had a physician he might get more than a share ..."

Sometimes it was a share and a half. :lol:

"These actions might thwart leagal charges when they returned home, but the law was unforgiving if the kidnapped person ever particapted in sharing the booty. Possesion of stolen goods automatically brought a charge of piracy"

I guess it was hard to have your cake and eat it too. Medical personell did serve aboard pirate ships. Sometimes willingly, sometimes not.

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Aye, Maria: it's hard to share the wealth, and play the innocent! In one of the stories in CAPTURED BY PIRATES, the freebooters have taken a liking to the captain of the vessel they've captured, and want to give him a share of their pillage. He can't seem to convinvce them that for him to accept same would be a moral and legal wrong. They just regard his rebuffs as ingratitude! :(

This whole pirate surgeon thread is very interesting. I've not really thought out a coherent pirate persona. Maybe a ship's surgeon or doctor could be the way to go. Of course, I know virtually noting about medicine in real life; which might add to my persona's authenticity! :D

Capt. William

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The Sutler of Mount Misery, G. Gedney Godwin, offers 18th century medical instruments.

http://www.gggodwin.com/

G. Gedney Godwin has, IMHO, the best medical supplies for the reenactor available anywhere. Their prices can be a bit on the high side, however, which has earned them the nickname, in some circles, of "Oh My Godwin." Worth every penny though.

:)

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Right now Iam reading an article titled "Pratical Medicine & the Britsh Armed Forces After the Glorious Revolution" by Harold J. Cook "Medical History" v.34:1, pg. 1-26. It's about reforms in army & naval medicine under William & Mary (mostly by William III). William III sought improvments in the standard of medical care soilders & sailors received. One of his counselors even proposed to impress memeber of the College of Barber-Surgeons! The Barber-Surgeons were not impressed :(

There is some bits that men went into the armed force as surgeon's assistants to learn the trade and avoid havig to deal with the politics of the College of Barber Surgeons. They could attain the title of Surgeon and still leagally practice after serving duty because of "an Act of 1698 that allowed all discharged "soilder" to practice their trade regardless of guild rules." (afroementioned article pg. 8).

So you play someone who joined the navy at one time to learn surgery on the job, did so and then ended up on a pirate ship.

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Aye capnwilliam sounds like a real 17th century doc already B)

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Now, why do you say that, Hitman? Because I know about the medicinal use of leeches? Or, because that's about all that I DO know about medicine! B)

Capt. William

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A little of both mate but more of the latter than the former. :ph34r: As a side note from the reading I hve done from this period it looks like there were some pretty smart people acting as doc.'s around about this time just none of em wanted to be aboard ship longer than it took to cross the channel.

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I really think that this ship's surgeon angle has real potential for me old self; I could portray a "forced" doctor who comes to love life on the account. :)

Capt. William

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I just remembered there was a dcotor who was also a pirate (well actually privateer) captain, Thomas Dover of Dover's Powder fame. He was captain of the Bachelor Frigate under Woodes Rogers. He was one of the people who found Alexander Selkirk on Juan Fernandez Island.

He was also known as "the Quick-silver Doctor" for proscribing metallic mercury fro just about everything! :)

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I've always thought reenacting a surgeon would be fun. I've got a Wilderness First Responder license, meaning I know about the right amount o' medicine to convincingly be one... :unsure:

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Aye,

Re-enacting a surgeon could be fun. Many years ago at an English Civil War re-enactment, we had a Lad doin' that.... he got one of our unit members ta play along with him...

We did a battle fer th' public, and this lad got "hit" by a musketball in th' shoulder, I believe he had a blood squib ta make it look real. So a few of the other lads dragged him off the battlefield, and over to th' Doc.... Who performed field side surgery on him... got out his probes, wiped away some blood, "removed" the musketball, and then cauterized the wound, he had a hot iron from a fire, and a small wet sponge in his hand, made a nice sizzling sound.... Hehehehe.... I think one o' the public onlookers almost fainted... It was grande!!!!

Hawkyns, ya remember this? down at Bacon's Castle, oh, so many years ago.....

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That sound great! Certain things I do I do for the most realism possible (Airsoft, anyone?) and that battlefield surgery sound just fantastic. It reminds me of advanced wound rules for skirmishes: Every player randomly selects an envelope, and if they are hit they open the envelope to see what their wound is. Then the medic, who has a dressing for every wound card, has to dress the player on the spot. There are movement limits, minimum surgery times - all this to heighten the realism.

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