James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy

James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy

James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy

James Cook and the Conquest of Scurvy

Excerpt

On August 26, 1768, a young naval lieutenant departed Plymouth, England with his ship, the Endeavour, on what was to become a historical milepost. Certainly the voyage ranks as one of the greatest "endeavours" of all times. Over 200 years later, the Apollo 15 space flight paid tribute to Cook's voyage as the first "purely scientific expedition in history," by carrying within the Apollo 15 command module a small piece of the Endeavour's sternpost (Spedding, 1973).

When James Cook sailed from England on his first circumnavigation in 1768 little did he realize the lasting effects this and subsequent voyages would have upon world events to follow. Cook, a man tied to the sea, set precepts during his voyages of discovery that had profound and lasting effects. Sociology, geography, medicine, the natural sciences, astronomy, navigation and cartography, military history, colonization, and mercantilism were all changed by his explorations.

My enthusiasm for nautical medical history during the Age of Sail led from the medical science laboratory to the library, and from my home in Kansas across distant oceans to far corners of the earth. Perhaps the origin of this expanding interest began with a distant relative said to have been a ship builder plying his trade by the River Clyde in Scotland. His tool chest has a prominent place in our home adjacent to a model of the Endeavour I carefully crafted. Further fuel was added to this fire from the reading and rereading of the Hornblower series by C. S. Forester and the Bolitho series by Alexander Kent. History became an exciting reality--medical history and the development of nautical medicine during the eighteenth century in particular. Being a physician it was natural to combine nautical medicine with naval history. One is drawn to the effects of scurvy, the dreaded scourge of the sea, and other sea diseases upon voyages of exploration. Nautical medicine during the Age of Sail naturally focuses upon scurvy, which in turn leads to the discoveries and precepts of Dr. James Lind and Captain James Cook. Lind established a potential cure for scurvy. Cook used Lind's precepts to conquer the ailment. Indeed, Cook finally broke the tether of scurvy. The pres-

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