Surgeons at Sea
Royal Navy Medical Officers' journals

About the project

The ADM 101 series consists of journals and diaries compiled by Royal Navy surgeons and assistant surgeons who served on HM ships, hospitals, naval brigades, shore parties and on emigrant and convict ships in the period 1793 to 1880.

Medical officers serving in the Royal Navy were required to submit detailed records of the health, treatment and survival rates of their charges. This has provided us with journals which exhibit a completeness, consistency and coherence unlikely to exist elsewhere for this period.

In June 2008, The National Archives was successful in its bid for a grant under the Wellcome Trust’s Research Resources in Medical History programme, to catalogue the journals. The key objective of this funded project was to open up this under-utilised resource for researchers by fully cataloguing over a thousand journals.

As a result of this extensive work the records can be easily searched by the name of the medical officer, the patient, the ship or even by disease or ailment. The cataloguing also revealed some unexpected 'bonus' material contained in the journals. For example, the presence of watercolour illustrations, sketches, hand-drawn maps, charts showing details of the climate, details about the lay-out of the vessels and ideas about ventilation, and details of the countries visited and people encountered.

The journals include a variety of colourful tales of 18th and 19th century ship life, from drunken rum-related incidents, venereal disease, scurvy, shark bites and tarantulas, to lightning strikes, gun fights, mutiny, arrests and court martial - not to mention ship wrecks and even murder.

Start by reading our highlights guide (PDF, 52kb) to help navigate your way through the files.

 

(Due to the large size of some of these files, we recommend you save them to your computer before opening them. Please right click on the links and select the ‘save’ option).

 

“Drunkenness nowadays in the Navy kills more men than the sword – I am sure of it.”

Surgeon William Warner - 17 April 1813 (ADM/101/125/3)