The third Aluminar of 2022.
On September 16th we had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by A/Prof Jim Tibballs entitled “Lemons, Limes and bitter outcomes for the French Navy”. This was based on his recent PhD thesis, in French, on the subject, which explored the differing rates of acceptance of a new anti-scurvy remedy in England and in France. Dr Tibballs was introduced by the President, Jim Wilkinson, and discussion at the end of the talk was led by Dr Caroline Clark, the secretary of the Alumni.
An audience of about 40 members and guests enjoyed a fascinating presentation in which Jim enlightened us about the early naval voyages by French and English expeditions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to New Holland (now Australia). As was always a feature of such long sea voyages many of the crew were affected by the disease known as “La Peste de Mer” which resulted from the lack of fresh fruit and food in their diet. This was scurvy and resulted from lack of vitamin C.
Evidence acquired through experiments performed by Dr James Lind that lemon juice given regularly could prevent the disease and could cure affected individuals emerged in the middle of the eighteenth century and provided the basis of practice in the Royal Navy in the latter part of that century, though the chief physician to the British Navy, Dr Gilbert Blane, can be credited with having been largely responsible for adopting this. This discovery had been made almost 200 years earlier by an English Sea Captain – Sir Richard Hawkins, who should be credited with having identified citrus fruit as a cure for scurvy, a finding which was backed up by another English Sea Captain Sir James Lancaster using experiments on seamen in around 1600.
Dr Tibballs discussed the work of Everett Rogers on the slow acceptance of new innovations, which was well demonstrated by the story of Scurvy. It is a sad reflection on physicians in this period that they often preferred traditional dogma, despite the evidence that lemons and limes could cure scurvy and that regular use of juice of such citrus fruits could prevent its development.
Dr Tibballs took us through the story which covered many events from the sixteenth century expeditions to “the new world”, including South America, The Spanish Armada, and on to the early European settlement with convict colonies in Australia, the Napoleonic wars, etc. Tragically the French Navy were even slower to accept the evidence about citrus fruit and its capacity to prevent and to cure scurvy.
The talk can be viewed here