Good Reading : May 2015
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING MAY 2015 50 BOOK BITE 2 Practitioners and patients alike often shunned new ideas. While preliminary understanding was developing about heart disease, malaria, scurvy, even blood circulation, and a vaccination for smallpox and new equipment such as the thermometer had been developed, generally treatments remained basic. They mostly consisted of cupping, bleeding and purging.Venereal diseases were dealt with by large, sometimes fatal, doses of mercury. The surgeon’s tool kit contained equipment that reflected this focus: emetics and purgatives, knives and saws for amputations and tools for pulling teeth or lancing infected gums. Surgery was developing and amputation was a defining skill for naval surgeons. It was one of the few major operations they might perform although often under cramped, fraught conditions. Even with great skill, such operations carried considerable risk for the patient including blood poisoning. Little was known about sources of infection or how to control it and surgeons and their assistants often transmitted infections between patients. Prospective patients sometimes avoided a surgeon’s attention, if they could. In a later voyage, the Reverend Samuel Marsden records that he helped his wife, Eliza, deliver their first baby without other assistance. Surgeons in today’s world occupy a prestigious position in the employment hierarchy. But back in the late 1700s, the job of surgeon – especially one working on a ship – received scant respect. DAVID HILL, author and former managing director of the ABC, has written First Fleet Surgeon: The voyage of Arthur Bowes Smyth, which is based on the journal of a surgeon aboard one of the First Fleet ships that set off in 1787. In these extracts, David Hill outlines the crude and inadequate methods of treating various medical conditions. BY DAVID HILL FIRST FLEET SURGEON to control it and surgeons THE VOYAGE OF ARTHUR BOWES SMYTH This porta ble wooden chest is thought to have been used as a sea surgeon’s medicine dispensary during the 1850s.