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The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

British Naval Surgeon's Journal Describing Prisoners from Ship of American Captain John Paul Jones

British naval surgeon's journal describing prisoners from ship of American Captain John Paul Jones

A notebook kept by the unamed surgeon of the British naval vessel “George & Jean”. It is divided into several sections by subject. The first section, written in 1780, describes the surgeon’s ship taking on board ill prisoners from the ship of American Naval Captain John Paul Jones – considered the Father of the United States Navy - while near Texel Island, off the coast of Holland. According to this journal, the British seamen brought with them a febrile illness which proceeded to spread amongst the crew of the George & Jean. John Paul Jones is a legendary American naval commander, considered to be the father of the U.S. Navy. His ship, the famed 42-gun USS Bonhomme Richard, fought a naval battle with the 44-gun British ship HMS Serapis in the North Sea at Flamborough Head in 1779. When requested to surrender by the British captain, Richard Pearson, Jones famously stated "I have not yet begun to fight". Jones was victorious, but because his own ship was badly damaged, he transferred his crew to the Serapis and, with captured British seamen on board, sailed to the neutral Dutch port of Texel. This is apparently the source of the British prisoner transfer described by the naval surgeon of the George & Jean armed ship in this medical journal. It states:

"Ship employed in [Battle deleted] Cartell: On the 14 of Feby anchored within the Texel in Holand, in company with two other sips [sic] in the same service. And the 3 day after our arrival took in 100 Prisoners who, had been taken by Paul Jones - Out of these were 36 sick, and the proportion was not less in the other two ships. Almost the whole of them had a fever of a particular kind, which proved highly contagious on board, and was communicated to the sick Quarters in England, and spread then with encreasing malignity...The same sort of fever, had prevailed for some time among them, in the Dutch ships, where they had been confined...There was in general a great degree of oppression upon the System. A degree of tuper & insensibility, the tongue was dry and parched, either covered with a thick yellow crust, towards the root; or black all over, with deep chaps, and a black furring also adhered to the roots of the teeth - They had an intense thirst, and heat of the shin, which was not so perceptible on the first application of the finger, but communicated an uneasy sensation, which remained sometime after the touch. The pulse was languid, andf frequent; sometimes so feeble as scarcely to be felt. There was rather a stupor & Coma Vigil than Delirium the eyes had very early a cloudy look and became inflamed...";

The second section of the ship surgeon's journal contains medical formulas and notes on diseases. A third section contains discussions or extracts of various diseases by named doctors – these include croup by Mr. Disney Alexander, whooping cough by Professor Helfand, diabetes, dropsy by Dr. Fowler, dysentery, hydrothorax, ophthalmia, psorophthalmia, purulent eyes of infants, watery eye, fistula lachrymalis and lumbago. The final section deals with cowpox, is dated November 1800, and describes patients being inoculated with the cowpox (Jennerian vaccination).

Contributed by anonymous