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‘As His was Not a Surgical Case it was Not My Duty to Attend Him’: The Surgeon’s Role in the Nineteenth-Century Royal Dockyards

Authors
Journal
Medical History
0025-7273
Publisher
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
Volume
57
Issue
4
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1017/mdh.2013.39
Keywords
  • Articles
Disciplines
  • Medicine

Abstract

Despite a varied historical literature on the nineteenth-century royal dockyards, very little has been written about the health issues associated with naval shipbuilding or the healthcare facilities that were provided for dockworkers in the period. This article focuses mainly on the latter. Drawing on archival sources from the home dockyards, an examination is made of the duties and responsibilities of dockyard surgeons. These are found to have expanded considerably as healthcare provision became steadily more comprehensive. It is argued that as providers to a civilian workforce, the naval authorities were in the vanguard when it came to implementing perceived advances in medical practice. It is also contended, however, that while many dockworkers benefited as a result, this positive appraisal needs to be set against the more ambiguous aspects of the surgeon’s role. Although surgeons treated the sick and injured, their growing prominence in other dockyard matters, such as retirement and the policing of sickness, is shown to have created tension in their relationship with the workforce.

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