The crew of Cutty Sark had their share of illnesses and accidents. Captain Moore had a medical chest with a range of the most likely medicines needed to treat common ailments and a medical book to help him diagnose illnesses and their treatments. 

However, when in a tropical port the likelihood of catching a local disease from insect bites or poor quality food and water was high and the help of the local medical services could be called on. Accidents were treated (no pun) in the same way with guidance for dealing with broken bones and wounds needing stiches etc.

Page from Captain Moore’s logbook

During the ship’s thirteenth voyage, described by Captain Moore in his log, Cutty Sark visited three ports: Samarang, Madras and Cocanada. Samarang was by far the worst for health problems. Cutty Sark arrived on 20 August 1882 and the first log entry mentioning illness was on 28 August:

Carpenter caulking  outside  one  hand  sailmaking  Sailmaker on  shore  to  see  a doctor Crew Discharging  cargo  discharged  2000 cases

Three days later the sailmaker was again ashore to see the doctor. The nature of his illness is not recorded, but he was to remain on the sick list for the rest of the time they were in Samarang. Johan Anderson, an able seaman, was hospitalised for eleven days, and in the log entry below four more men are recorded as laid up.

Finished  discharging  Cargo  and  took  in  20 Tons  Ballast also  cleaned  up dunnage  2 mate  & one hand  at  sails  5 coolies  at  work  Carpenter & Sailmaker & ABraham  & O Norman  AB laid up

What particular illnesses these men suffered from is not recorded. However the first date medication was bought was on 28 August, the same day the sailmaker visited the doctor. A clue might be found in a receipt from an Apothekers (apothecary) for medical items purchased in Samarang. A translation of the receipt could lead us to the illness suffered by these crew members and any others who visited the doctor. Any Dutch speaking readers with medical knowledge are invited to email us if they are interested in helping out.

Of course not all reports of someone being ‘laid up’ were life threatening, some minor incapacities were entered in the log, describing the affliction such as the carpenter with a bad foot and Oliver Norman with a fever; both at Samarang. Paramore caught a cold in Madras and passed it on to the Second Mate Charles Heins, and Apprentice Jackson had a cut finger, while Apprentice Gordon suffered the effects of a gum boil while they were in Cocanada.

By the time the ship had reached Madras the crew seemed in much better health. The sailmaker, who had been laid up for twenty five days in Samarang, was working again.

The crew comprised six Apprentices and seventeen crew and Officers. Of the Apprentices five were laid up at some point but only six of the rest of the crew got ill. Might we infer from this that most of the seasoned men had developed a degree of resistance to the tropical illnesses?

About Roger

“I have been a volunteer at Cutty Sark for eighteen years; assisting with school programmes, acting as a tour guide, carrying out surveys for the archival records and, during the conservation project, assisting with the recording of items dismantled and removed from the ship to be preserved and reinstalled. Recently I was asked to research the log of Cutty Sark’s thirteenth voyage, which has formed the basis for this series of blogs. I also write comedy plays for adults as well as plays and pantomimes for children, several of which have been published. The writing stems from forty years of acting and producing plays with amateur dramatic societies.”