1749 Gilbert Blane was born at Blanefield at Kirkoswald and he also
received his early schooling in Maybole. He became Sir Gilbert Blane and
was made a fellow of the Royal Societies of London, Edinburgh and
Gottingen, of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg and of
the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris. He was physician to the fleet in
the West Indies during the American War and it was during this period he
found a preventative for scurvy which was a plague to all seamen at that
time. It is said a ship was captured which had a load of limes as cargo
and Sir Gilbert dosed the sailors on his ship with the juice of these
fruits and found his seamen did not contract the disease. From then on all
British seamen were given lime juice as a preventative for scurvy and this
gave them the nickname of "Limejuicers", which is now shortened to
"Limey", the name for Englishmen in nearly every foreign country. He was
commended in a letter written by Lord Rodney for his "assiduity in
preserving the lives of thousands of the fleet". He later became physician
to both King George IV and King William IV, afterwards retiring to spend
the remainder of his days at Blanefield where he carried on his research
in medicine and found a vaccine for smallpox before he died in 1834.
(From the chapter from book Maybole,
Carrick's Capital titled "Famous
Another article about Sir Gilbert
Extract from BR
2193 "Handbook for Royal Navy Medical Officers". Articles 0101 to 0107.
The last great name in naval medicine of the century was
Gilbert Blane, who has already been mentioned in connection with pulmonary
tuberculosis. Blane did not himself introduce many innovations, but, had
it not been for his powerful advocacy in high quarters, Lind's and
Trotter's recommendations, especially in connection with scurvy, would
have taken much longer than they already had before they were eventually
adopted by the Admiralty in 1795. Until then only a few enlightened
executive officers, such as Captain Cook, had made the health of seamen
their special concern and had adopted Lind's measures for preventing
scurvy. Soon after he qualified, Blane secured introductions to London
society, and this led to Admiral Rodney inviting him to accompany him as
his personal physician on board HMS SANDWICH. Blane made the most of his
opportunities and Rodney gained such a high opinion of his abilities that
he appointed him Physician to the Fleet. In this capacity he was able to
institute numerous reforms, which included all Lind's recommendations, to
whom he always gave the credit. Through his 'Memorial to the Admiralty'
and his 'Observations on the diseases of seamen', Blane was able to
persuade the Admiralty to adopt those principles of preventive medicine by
which the incidence of disease fell so dramatically in the next century.
Blane said that one of the most impressive arguments that influenced the
Admiralty to issue lemon juice in preventing scurvy was the voyage of the
SUFFOLK in 1794 to India, which took 23 weeks. The crew was issued with 2
to 3 oz of lemon juice daily, and they arrived at Madras without one death
and with no cases of scurvy. When a year later the First Lord visited
Portsmouth and asked to see the pitiful victims of scurvy at Haslar, he
was informed there were none. By contrast, 16 years before, 2400 cases bad
been put ashore from the Fleet after ten weeks' cruise in the Channel. In
his 'Brief statement of the progressive improvement of the health of the
Navy', addressed to William IV in 1830, Blane tactfully wrote:
'The scurvy has been extirpated and the means of
counteracting fevers has so far attained that they can never prove a
serious evil under such vigilant, zealous and intelligent commanders and
medical officers as now belong to the naval service.'
Elsewhere he described how the endorsement of Lind's rules
enabled a fleet of the same striking force to be maintained at sea with
half the number of ships, and Robert Finlayson, a naval surgeon, wrote:
'It is the opinion of the most experienced officers that
the blockading system of warfare which annihilated the power of France
could never have been carried on unless sea-scurvy had been subdued.'
Blane's 'Memorial to the Admiralty', which had the full
support of Rodney, included the following principles for improving health:
a. Cleanliness and
dryness of ships and regular inspection by officers.
b. For the
prevention of scurvy: 'every 50 oranges and lemons might be considered as
a hand to the Fleet.'
necessities for the sick.
d. Free supply of
certain drugs and medicines (until then paid for by naval surgeons).
arrangements for the conduct of naval hospitals.
f. Fresh soap to
g. Removal of sick
bays in ships to a better position under the forecastle.
Blane could at times be outspoken, and he did not hesitate
to castigate the Admiralty on their failure to shoulder the responsibility
for health measures, and said that the oversight for not carrying out all
available measures to preserve the health of seamen was:
'not imputable to the inhumanity of those who conduct
the Navy and the civil and military departments, but to that error of
judgement by which they conceive that all that concerns the health of the
man lies in the department of the medical officers, and that if they take
care and provide professional gentlemen, possessed of due skill and
furnished with an adequate assortment of drugs and instruments, they stand
absolved from all further responsibility in what regards the health of the