Some weeks ago, I floated the idea of posting the work of guest bloggers here, and invited interested people to write brief posts about their historical passions, their works-in-progress, the thorns in their historical sides, and so on. Our first guest blogger is Society member Dr Lorraine McConaghy. Lorraine is the Public Historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.Lorraine McConaghy is interested in U.S. Navy medicine in the antebellum period, and has studied the medical history of the sloop-of-war Decatur, 1854-1859. The Old Navy records at Archives 1 – National Archives and Records Administration – include instructions for outfitting the ship’s sick bay as well as stipulating the books provided for the surgeons’ library, and the drugs, instruments and medical supplies allocated to the ship. Illness and injuries on board ship are documented by a day-to-day medical log, and – for the first half of the commission – the surgeons’ medical journal of treatment. Analysis of these records demonstrates the relationship of illness to disciplinary offenses, the course of shipboard epidemics of infectious disease, the relationship of liberty to a variety of medical complaints, and the pattern of workplace injury during bad weather or other dangerous duty. Also, during the first half of the commission, Surgeon Richard Jeffrey and Assistant Surgeon John Taylor acted as amateur scientists, documenting the natural history and anthropology of the Strait of Magellan, and shipping specimens back from Valparaiso to the Naval Lyceum at the New York Navy Yard. During the second half of the commission, the Decatur became a hospital ship for survivors of William Walker’s filibuster of Nicaragua, and Assistant Surgeon Levi Cooper Lane – later one of the founders of what is today the Stanford University School of Medicine – supervised their care and later published reminiscences about his experiences. McConaghy is interested in exploring whether the Decatur’s medical experience was a typical one in this period on the eve of the Civil War. We welcome your questions and comments.
© 2011 Society for the History of Navy Medicine