Sir Gilbert Blane
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Sir Gilbert Blane, 1747-1834.

In 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 Folks")

Another article about Sir Gilbert Blane  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.'

c. Adequate necessities for the sick.

d. Free supply of certain drugs and medicines (until then paid for by naval surgeons).

e. Better arrangements for the conduct of naval hospitals.

f. Fresh soap to seamen.

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 mariner.'