The opening event of 2016’s Arts & Humanities Festival can now be viewed on YouTube. In the talk chaired by Professor Alan Read, Alan Bennett and Nicholas Hytner discuss researching archives to write The Madness of King George III, the challenges of translating an acclaimed stage show to a multi-award winning film, and how they see George III.
A new exhibition based on research undertaken on Georgian papers at the Royal Archives by King’s academic staff and students is now open to the public. The exhibition stems from work initially conducted as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme, in which students worked with King’s academics on a research project. The theme of the exhibition is medicine and exploration in the long eighteenth century and includes facsimiles of Royal papers relating to the last hours of George IV, extracts from a “book of cures” by Lady Augusta Murray, wife of Prince Augustus Frederick, alongside King’s College London Archives’ recent digitised notebook on the 1769 observation of the transit of Venus by the Royal household.
A PDF version of the exhibition content can be downloaded here. This version has been amended due to copyright restrictions so if you would like to have the full exhibition experience you will have to visit the display cabinets at King’s Building entrance hall on the Strand Campus. The exhibition will be running from 29 November 2016 until 3 February 2017.
Ayesha Hussain and Anna Maerker, Department of History, King’s College London
The long sea voyages of the Georgian period took their toll on the health of sailors. Most dreaded of all was scurvy, a disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency. On a naval voyage to the South Seas under Captain George Anson in the 1740s, navy chaplain Richard Walter witnessed the crew’s suffering: “putrid gums, ulcers of the worst kind, rotten bones, and a luxuriancy of funguous flesh”, and, for many, death.
Not surprisingly, then, the prevention of disease on board became a key concern to British officers and medics. Upon the return of George Anson, who had lost three quarters of his men to scurvy, Scottish naval surgeon James Lind (1716-1794) began to experiment systematically with different foods to determine whether they were effective in preventing the outbreak of scurvy (Fig.1). While the concept of vitamins was still unknown at the time, Lind documented that citrus fruits, in particular, and other foods with a high vitamin C content, improved the condition of patients. In 1795 the British Royal Navy ordered the routine use of citrus juices on their ships. Following this, the incidence of scurvy decreased markedly, as citrus fruits were widely accepted to be antiscorbutics.
On his Tahitian voyages in the 1770s, Captain James Cook (1728-1779) used a wide range of foods to prevent or combat scurvy – from malt and citrus fruit to mustard and sauerkraut. Cook’s crew also harvested plant species for food from South America, Tierra del Fuego, South Pacific Islands, Tongo, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, The Falkland Islands, and Kerguellen Island. Thus they discovered scurvy-preventing plants such as Cardamine glacialis, found in South America, which became known as ‘scurvy grass’ (Fig.2). As Cook’s crew were rarely at Sea for more than 60 days, and were encouraged by their captain to eat green salads and plants, outbreaks of the dreaded disease were rare on his ships.
As the causes of many diseases were still unknown, naval medics investigated a range of potential causes beyond malnutrition. The cramped living conditions on board ship came under special scrutiny, as a prevailing medical theory taught that infections were transmitted by foul air. In order to prevent disease and the transmission of infection, it seemed of great importance that ships should smell sweet. It became routine that the ships’ decks would be cleansed regularly. This also led to the widespread use of ventilation below decks. As there was little fresh water to spare, the men placed their efforts into washing their clothes regularly, instead of themselves, considering there was also no suitable place to bathe. Captains were liable to be blamed for keeping dirty ships if disease broke out on board, so officers had good reasons for attending to the cleanliness of their ships and their crew.
Sources and further reading
Richard Walter, A Voyage Round the World in the Years 1740, 1, 2, 3, 4, by George Anson (1748).
James Lind, A Treatise of the Scurvy in Three Parts (1753).
James Cook, The Journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery. I. The voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771 (1893).
Philip Edwards (ed.), The Journals of Captain Cook (1999).
N.A.M. Rodger, The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy (1986).