Information on disease
The 1867 Merchant Shipping Act contained a range of provisions aimed at improving the health of seamen, but was only specific about one condition – scurvy. Here was a disease with a known remedy – lemon or other citrus juice – that, if used, was often adulterated and so not fit for purpose. What were the other health problems in seamen that this Act aimed to remedy? This is not easy information to find. It is difficult to relate the disease descriptions then used, especially by non-medical people such as ship captains and British consuls, to present-day terminology.
The most detailed records are those from hospitals treating seamen, notably the Dreadnought, but also others, for instance the British Hospital in Callau (or now more commonly Callao), Peru, which saw seafarers after arduous trans-Pacific and Cape Horn passages. There are a small number of studies based on ships' log-books and rather more covering passengers and especially emigrants, where the maintenance of a log and its presentation at the end of a voyage was a statutory requirement. Contemporary articles in medical journals can give information, while the Ship Captain's Medical Guide, although not a source of quantitative information, gives a perspective on how various diseases were viewed and categorised.
In reviewing such data many aspects must be considered in addition to the contemporary nomenclature of disease.