During her imperial heyday, Britain's greatest fighting force - the Royal Navy - was only ever as good as its surgeons. Surgeons of the Fleet explores the dramatic story of medical practice on the high seas, offering the first full portrait of the men who dedicated their lives to the Navy and their contribution to its efficacy as a military machine.
Naval medicine did not emerge in an organised fashion until the imperial conflicts of the eighteenth century. In this period, the crucial advances made by men like James Lind and Gilbert Blane not only reduced the scourges of disease and poor hygiene, greatly improving fighting efficiency, but also raised the status of naval medicine from that of an unpleasant and occasional duty to a serious and respected profession. As iron and steam came to replace the wood and sail of Nelson's day, naval medicine proved essential not only for the maintenance of Empire but also for the growth of medicine at home. David McLean shows how, in the wake of Trafalgar, maritime medicine expanded onto dry land, establishing some of the best hospitals in nineteenth-century England as well as throughout the world. McLean also recounts how naval medicine fed into a growing Victorian concern with sanitation, making it a wellspring of the modern public health movement. By the start of World War I, medics in the Royal Navy had made a significant contribution to world health, in war and in peace.
With vivid and occasionally eye-watering description, David McLean traces the development of naval medicine from the gory days of Cook and Nelson - when as many as 65 per cent of maritime casualties were due to illness - through to the outbreak of World War I, recounting the advances in surgery, diet and hygiene which allowed Britannia to rule the waves. Surgeons of the Fleet also offers a unique window into the development of public health services on land, many of which grew out of maritime initiatives. Brimming with original research and colourful storytelling, Surgeons of the Fleet makes an invaluable contribution to the fields of military and imperial history.