'Not in Glorious Battle Slain’: Disease and Death in the Royal Navy’s Western Squadron during the Seven Years’ War

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Title: 'Not in Glorious Battle Slain’: Disease and Death in the Royal Navy’s Western Squadron during the Seven Years’ War
Authors: Wills, George
Date: 2016
Abstract: The Seven Years’ War represented a period of great mobilization of British sailors and soldiers. Not only did men need to be found to man the ships and garrison the forts in the Western Squadron and North America, but they also needed to be fed and kept healthy during the conflict. Due to poor living conditions aboard Royal Navy ships, expeditions to North America were met with disease that would drastically reduce the numbers of able seamen. This was compounded by demobilization that followed the War of the Austrian Succession, forcing the British forces to rely on impressment to augment their troop numbers. Though there was a concerted effort to take healthy men with seafaring knowledge, local magistrates and constabularies saw this as an opportunity to rid their towns of the unwanted, and the demands of manning an ever growing Navy forced the Admiralty to take the sick and infirm. British prisons during this time were rife with typhus and smallpox, and the guardships that the impressed men would travel to were also areas of infections. The Royal Navy vessels were typically overfilled with men, and the tight living conditions encouraged the diseases to spread, creating ships that were not a wartime asset, but a liability to arrive in friendly ports in North America. There, the infection would spread to the local population, causing continued manning problems for the British during the conflict, and strained relations between the Admiralty and local governors. The infected troops limited British military effectiveness, and threatened the success of operations, as seen in the delay of the siege of Louisbourg in 1757, and the defeat of the British forces outside Quebec City in 1760. The experience with disease within a wartime context allowed Britain’s emerging medical class to publish important research, leading to positive changes to shipboard hygiene and medicine by the end of the eighteenth century.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/35268
http://dx.doi.org/10.20381/ruor-226
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -
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