Scurvy - David E. Harrington

Title: Subtitle
Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and
a Gentlemen Solved the Greatest
Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail
Uses subtitles to chapter titles
Clever—it appears Bown
wrote it himself.
Begins with a story,
which—I believe—is an
example of creative nonfiction. Bown is painting a
picture of what it was like to
be a sailor suffering from
A conventional
introductory paragraph,
one that I or any student
might write, making the
case that scurvy was an
important disease for many
centuries and was not well
understood. It makes the
case that we ought to want
to read more about it.
Implications for the James’
ship—”scarcely any [sailors]
strong enough to sew [the
dead] into their hammocks.”
Vivid—if they can’t do
James was a sailor of the
Anson Voyage, which
suffered a disastrous loss of
life, losing 90% of its sailors.
Loss of life appalled the
public; loss of expensive
ships worried the Admiralty.
A particular Sailor (James)
Tragic expedition (Anson)
Millions lost to Scurvy
during the Age of Sail
Scurvy plagued 18th
Century seafaring
“grey killer”
“not uncommon” for
only “three hundred
sickly wretches” to return
from a warship crew of
seven hundred, a
mortality rate of 57%.
Vivid, concise
description of scurvy.
“Occupational disease”
I’m not a fan of long
quotes, that are a substitute
for saying it clearly
yourself, often leading to
the feeling that they are
being shoehorned into the
essay. I try to reserve the
use of quotes for purposes
that I could not easily
achieve myself. I couldn’t
find anything in this quote
that Harvie doesn’t say
elsewhere in the
introduction. For example,
the quote tells us “Armies
have been supposed to lose
more of their men by
sickness than by the
sword.” Later, Harvie
tells us that “[s]urvy killed
more men and destroyed
more naval and military
operations than did the
totality of enemy action.”
The purpose of quotes
1. Credibility or Evidence
2. Give Credit or Honor
Harvie doesn’t give as
explicit a set of symptoms
of scurvy as Bown does—
here is where he comes the
closest. Harvie then
emphasizes that scurvy
was often thought to be a
venereal disease, a
confusion that highlights
the lack of understanding
of what scurvy was. To
me, it says, “I will tell you
some interesting stuff.”
bazillion of theories of
the cause of scurvy
bazillion of treatments
for scurvy, nicely set up
to prime the reader for
the treatments chosen by
Lind to test.
Culminates with “Scurvy
could not be cured
because it could not be
understood.” It was a
medical mystery!
Mortality rate of voyage (v),
where D is the number of
deaths and S is the initial
number of sailors.

∙ 100 =   ,  ,  , 

Mortality is a function of the
number of miles traveled (M),
whether it lost sight of land
(L), and whether its mission
was to blockade an enemy’s
port (B) or explore unknown
areas of the globe (E).
AER Reference Style
Haines, Robin and Ralph Shlomowitz. 2000. “Explaining the
Mortality Decline in the Eighteenth-Century British Slave
Trade.” The Economic History Review 53(2):262-83.
Mortality rate of voyage (v),
where D is the number of
deaths and S is the initial
number of sailors.

∙ 100 =   ,  ,  , 

Mortality is a function of the
number of miles traveled (M),
whether it lost sight of land
(L), and whether its mission
was to blockade an enemy’s
port (B) or explore unknown
areas of the globe (E).
Elegantly written
paragraph. Scurvy didn’t
rack up the number of
deaths that bubonic plague
did, but “during one brief
period of time in the late
eighteenth century, the
hinges of history turned on
the discovery of a cure for
Arguments supporting his
thesis that curing scurvy
was a hinge of history.
Nice touches… calls it the
“plague of the sea,”
equating its importance to
that of the bubonic plague.
Chooses to make it a story
of 3 men, James Lind,
James Cook and Sir Gilbert
Blane, leaving out Thomas
Echoes the subtitle—“At that
time, despite several
centuries of suffering, scurvy
was still the greatest medical
mystery of the age, a puzzle
that continued to baffle
mariners and medical
theorists [italics added]”
I like the phrase: “It was a
long road to a simple
solution,” yet Bown makes
clear that it is often difficult
to uncover simple solutions
from the thicket of theories.
You should want to read this
book! Solving the mystery
of scurvy was as important
as three other, more
recognized achievements, the
discovery of how to
determine longitude at sea,
the discovery of a way to
protect people against
smallpox and the invention
of the steam engine. The
final sentence once again
echoes the subtitle.
This paragraph is very
similar to one of Bown’s,
but tells a few new things
and focuses more on the
Royal Navy. It tells us that
ships could stay out to sea
for about six weeks before
their crews suffered from
scurvy. And, it emphasizes
the role of trade in forcing
the Royal Navy to make
longer voyages to protect
merchant fleets.
The distinction between
physicians and ship
surgeons will be important
to the story but does it
deserve this much space in
the introduction? Yes—it
is interesting and helps
explain why it took nearly
a half century for the Royal
Navy to adopt Lind’s
recommendation that
sailors be given lemons to
ward off scurvy. No—it
isn’t crucial to attract
readers at this point.
Elaborating on why the
distinction between
physicians and ships
surgeons helps explain the
lag in adopting the policy
having sailors be given
Important paragraph– tells
us that his will be a story
about three surgeons,
Lind, Blane and Trotter,
who appears in Bown’s
index but not his prologue.
Harvie’s introduction
places greater emphasis on
the Admiralty’s policy
change in 1795 than
Bown’s, although I wonder
whether Harvie shouldn’t
have told us this date prior
to talking about the lag of a
half century between
Lind’s experiment and the
policy change.
Third long quote!
Here, Harvie explains the
title of his book and tells us
that there was a further (or
farther?) lag in the
government ordering
merchant fleet to give sailors
limes / lemons to prevent
scurvy. One wonders why
governments needed to.
Should Harvie have told us
who gave the order?
The British support for its
West Indie colonies
production of limes is
interesting but once again
one might wonder whether
important enough for the
Promises the reader that he
will also talk about arctic
Like Bown, he equates
solving the mystery of
scurvy to solving the
longitude problem. But,
for obvious reasons, I
like Bown’s equating it
also to the discovery of
Sparked the
development of the
soft drink industry,
another interesting
tidbit. Harvie’s
introduction is not as
well honed as Bown’s
and not as elegantly
written but gets the job
Summary that
emphasizes that the
story will focus on
how policies get
developed and
The History of Scurvy & Vitamin C
How a
Surgeon, a
and a
of Scurvy
The History
of Scurvy &
Vitamin C
Ghost Map
Number of
(# Sellers)
Number of
Direction of Causation?
“Sometimes scurvy’s effects were confused
with its causes, as when fatigued sailors were
told to exercise more—even dance on the dock
every day—to resist the disease. ‘For if you
once fall to laziness and sloth, then the scarby
is ready to catch you by the bones and will
shake out every tooth in your head’, warned
the secretary of one sixteenth-century
– Sonneman (2012, chp. 3)
Fatigued / Lazy
Scurvy / Sick
Sonneman, Toby. 2012. Lemon: A Global History. London, England: Reaktion Books.

similar documents