Royal Naval Museum


Disease on the Squadron

Mosquitoes, Matson’s Tropical Diseases, 1911. 

Few posts were as unpopular as service on the West Africa Station.  Between 1825 and 1845 the percentage of men dying from disease was higher than on any other station.

The climate around Sierra Leone was notoriously unhealthy.  Alexander Bryson, a naval surgeon claimed that no vessel could ‘remain more than a week or two at anchor with safety to the health of her crew’. His report paints  a bleak picture of chest complaints, rheumatism, dysentery, the ‘black vomit’ (yellow fever) and the ‘vapours’ (malaria).

To prevent sickness the Admiralty prohibited shore leave for seamen but malaria and yellow fever epidemics still occurred – the connection to mosquitoes remained unknown.  In the worst recorded case on HMS Eden 123 men of the 135-man crew died in four months.

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