The Naval Surgeon
The Naval Surgeon

Royal NavyNaval Surgeon1847

The Lancet, 1846, vol II, page 280:


NAVAL ASSISTANT SURGEONS. - A correspondent of the Navy and Military Gazette, in speaking of the condition of naval assistant surgeons says, -"We have long and patiently borne the degraded position in which we are placed, as members of one of the learned professions, in hopes that the Admiralty would, sooner or later, see their error, and give us that position in the service which we are so justly entitled to. Many have already left in disgust, of which any person that feels an interest in the matter may easily satisfy himself, by referring to the Navy Lists of the last ten years.

"One of two things must happen, - either Sir Wm. Burnett will be obliged to lower his demands as to qualifications or the Admiralty must hold out greater inducements for properly-qualified persons to offer themselves. Many hang on with the hope of getting promoted, whist others only wait a fair opportunity of getting into practice on shore, even in foreign climates, to cut the service altogether. Almost every town on the east and west coasts of South America has one, and some two or three medical men, who once held the situation of assistant-surgeons in the navy."

The writer further remarks, - "I was not three months afloat before I felt how utterly impossible it was even to keep up a knowledge of the things I had learned in the schools. If there had been a cabin, or any place where I might be free from interruption, how gladly would I have availed myself of it to keep pace with my profession," which, however, he says, he found it impossible to do, and he advocates, as a remedy for the evil in the class to which he belongs, being furnished with separate cabins, and, otherwise, not obliged to be members of the midshipmen's mess.

The Lancet, 1846, vol II, page 306:


POSITION OF ASSISTANT SURGEONS IN THE NAVY. - In a recent letter to the Naval and Military Gazette, signed "An Assistant Surgeon," are the following remarks: - "We have been called the dry nurses of the navy by some heartless individuals who would fain be witty at our expense; that is to say, we are placed in the midshipmen's mess to keep the youngsters in order, to regulate their mess affairs, and see that the expenditure does not exceed the income. This is literally the fact, although I have no doubt it will appear quite incredible to shore-going people, that highly-educated gentlemen, members of an honourable profession, should be so degraded in Her Majesty’s service in the nineteenth century.

"Not one out of every fifty of the assistant-surgeons that enter the navy has the most remote idea of the privations and petty vexations they will be exposed to, until they are fairly entered into it, and have expended large sums of money on the purchase of uniform, instruments, &c. When they find their mistake out they are ashamed to retreat. Four or five years are passed on foreign station; there is no chance of keeping up a knowledge of their profession, much less of acquiring additional information; for how is it possible to study in a narrow doghole of a berth, often crowded to suffocation, where, if you want to make yourself heard, it is necessary to speak at the top of your voice. From four a.m. to eight p.m. the hurly-burly continues, then the lights are put out, and all is dark and silent until the same hour next morning, and so it continues to the end of the chapter.

"It may be a matter of surprise to some, that persons who have served one commission should ever be induced to try another. My own reasons for doing so are these: - On being paid off, I felt conscious that I had retrograded in my profession, and saw if I should try and get into practice on shore it would be absolutely necessary to return to the medical schools to regain what I had lost in the service; then, an unwillingness to throw away so much time after having chosen the navy of my own free will, and the hope that I would not have much longer to wait for my promotion, have induced me to return to a position which casts discredit on the whole profession."

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