On my return from the west coast of Africa, in November, 1839, in H.M.S. Scout, I learnt that it was the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to send out an Expedition to the river Niger, and at once volunteered to accompany it.
In September, 1840,1 was appointed Surgeon of H.M.S. Albert, and Senior-Surgeon to the Expedition.
The Expedition left England on the 12th of May, 1841, and entered the Niger on the 13th of August. Three weeks from this period fever broke out among the crews, and soon produced effects so disastrous that two of the three steam-vessels composing the Expedition were obliged to return to the sea, and the other was compelled to follow a few weeks after.
From the peculiar and distressing situation in which I was so soon placed, it was impossible for me to make copious notes of incidents as they occurred, or to direct that attention to many important particulars which were deeply interesting. However, I consider it to be my duty to give a permanent record of such facts and observations as I did collect, and, without encroaching on the province of other parties, to delineate the leading features of our progress in the River, as far as they may refer to or may be considered necessary to elucidate the history of my own department, and thus enable me to produce "A Medical History of the Expedition."
For this purpose the work is divided into three parts: The First comprises as much general description as is necessary to put the reader in possession of those circumstances of position and climate which could produce or modify disease.
The Second contains an account of the fever as it occurred on board the Albert, embracing its main features and treatment.
In the Third Part will be found a few facts relating to the state of medicine in the Niger, and to vaccination among the Blacks; a brief description of the system of ventilation adopted in the ships, with some remarks on its employment on the coast and in the river; an abstract of the meteorological observations which were made after the plan recommended by the Royal Society; and lastly, a brief account of the geology of the Niger.
If the Expedition had terminated as could have been desired, and if sickness had not made such frightful ravages on our strength and numbers, it would have been in my power to obtain information on many other subjects which I had intended to investigate.
I trust a perusal of the latter part of the narrative, and a consideration of the peculiar position in which I was placed, will furnish an excuse for many imperfections.
I cannot terminate this notice without gratefully acknowledging my great obligations to Dr. W. Stanger, the geologist of the Expedition, for the valuable information which he at all times most liberally afforded me: and to Mr. T.R.H. Thomson, surgeon of the Soudan, for the manner in which he conducted and recorded the cases in the hospital, during my sickness at Fernando Po.
J. O. M‘W.
Ormonde Cottage, Southsea;
May 1, 1843.