East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

Scurvy…

The National Achives has recently released journals and diaries compiled by Royal Navy surgeons and assistant surgeons between1793 - 1880. Amongst other things – including lightning strikes, shark attacks and shipwrecks – these refer to the effects of scurvy, the condition caused by deficiency of Vitamin C that can cause anaemia, gum disease with bleeding, and pains in the muscles and joints.

A safeguard against scurvy

A safeguard against scurvy

This was not a problem on board ships during short journeys, but on one voyage to the Pacific in the 1740s to raid Spanish shipping, all but one of six ships and two thirds of the crews were lost, most of the latter to the effects of severe scurvy. As well as its physical effects, this was said to have heightened the senses to the extent that ‘the sound of a gunshot was enough to kill a man in the last stages of scurvy, while the smell of blossoms from the shore could cause him to cry out in agony. This susceptibility of the senses was accompanied by a disposition to cry at the slightest disappointment, and to yearn hopelessly and passionately for home’ (BBC History in-depth, Captain Cook and the scourge of scurvy’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/captaincook_scurvy_01.shtml). There was much disagreement about how to prevent scurvy, but after the losses on this particular voyage came to public attention ships were issued with a variety of foodstuffs thought to be effective in one way or another. These included ‘portable soup’ (a preparation of dried vegetables), malt, concentrated fruit juice, vinegar, mustard, sauerkraut, molasses and beans, and did appear to reduce its incidence to some extent. 

The journals can be accessed at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/surgeonsatsea/, and there is also a podcast at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/surgeonsatsea/podcasts.htm in which National Archives staff explain something of the significance of the records.

 
 

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A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.

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