Tuesday, December 27, 2011

History: Hygiene Aboard Us

In the early 19th century, concerns for the good health of any general population came to the fore in more than one Western government. Curiously, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution when children pulled coal carts on hands and knees and women stood at machines for fifteen hours a day, medical professionals and leaders of nations began advising fresh air and vegetables for their burgeoning populations.

Of course, the same focus on health and hygiene applied to the many navies on both sides of the Atlantic. Even merchant vessels – notorious for their ill treatment of their marginal crews – got in on the act, giving at least lip service to good physical health. The privateers of the Gulf incorporated these thoughts to their daily shipboard business as well, and the health of many a mariner probably did improve. Though bacterial infections did not subside, certain persistent illnesses like scurvy virtually became a thing of the past.

Here are a few of the common sense admonitions that were put to good use aboard ships of the time via Peter H. Spectre’s The Mariner’s Book of Days:

Every vessel should be pumped out morning and evening.

A clean, sweet, and dry hold is essential to the health of the crew.

Nothing can be more injurious than for men to sleep over bilge-water which must be the case if any water is left in the hold.

The hold ought to be cleaned often, and when it is, it should be white-washed; and also the between-decks often whitewashed.

In tropical climates, avoid painting as much as possible, particularly in-board.

In port in tropical climates, give the men a little coffee before they go to work.

The inconsiderate indulgence in new rum has been one great means of increasing the numbers attacked by yellow fever.

Do not allow the men to lay about in night dews, and particularly not to wait about at the wharfs.

Allow the men use of fresh water whenever it can be spared for washing clothes, and also themselves.

Generally speaking – perhaps aside from that interesting connection between rum and yellow fever – good advice all around.

Header: The Sailor’s Farewell, anonymous lithograph circa 1820


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I guess we shouldn't be too surprised, but I agree, that does seem to be mostly good advice...

Pauline said...

It does and it certainly applied aboard almost all ships by the end of that century.