Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Prevention of Scurvy - James Lind (1716-1794)

James Lind was born in Edinburgh in the year 1716, to a family of middle class merchants. He was well educated and at age 15 was apprenticed to an Edinburgh physician and surgeon, spending eight years studying medicine. In 1739, war broke out with Spain and Lind joined the Royal Navy as a lowly surgeon's mate, spending the next 7 years practicing his trade. He was promoted to Naval Surgeon aboard "HMS Salisbury" which had a crew of 350. Lind conceived and conducted the earliest recorded clinical trial involving supposed remedies for scurvy.

With the advent of large ocean-going sailing vessels in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the disease became prevalent and a major factor in the fields of exploration, commerce and warfare. Scurvy (caused by a lack of Vitamin C) rotted gums to the very roots of teeth, legs became feeble and full of aches and pains. In 1740-44, a fleet of seven ships of the Royal Navy left with 2,000 men; it returned with one ship and 145 men, with over 1,000 deaths due to scurvy. An analysis of the 185,000 men who served in the Seven Years' War with France, recorded that approximately 133,000 died of disease, primarily scurvy, while only 1,500 were killed in action!

Lind analyzed the treatment given to the twelve participants in his trials and concluded that "the most sudden and visible good effects were perceived from the use of oranges and lemons". Such benefits had been noted by others before Lind, but did not have any impact. Lind likewise did not have any influence with the Admiralty at that time. But he later qualified as a "Graduate Doctor of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh", established a private practice in Edinburgh and in 1750 was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Then he published his "Treatise on the Scurvy, Containing an Inquiry into the Nature, Causes, and Cure, of that Disease…" in 1753. His ideas made little official progress even after 1758, when he was appointed chief physician to the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar, just outside Portsmouth. Even so, his findings influenced a number of intelligent seafarers - Captain James Cook (son of a Scotsman) did not lose a sdingle man to scurvy on his epic first circumnavigation of the globe in 1768-1771 due to his insistence on the men having the juice of lemons.

It was another Scot, Sir Gilbert Blane, who was later instrumental in eventually fully implementing Lind's ideas about administering lemon juice to sailors on a daily basis. Sadly, this was after Lind had passed away in 1794 and he did not witness the introduction of his recommendations made forty years earlier.

The lemon/lime extracts produced for the mariners of the Royal Navy were originally preserved with the addition of alcohol. In 1865, Lauchlin Rose (1829-1885) a descendent of a prominent family of Scottish ship builders, founded L. Rose & Company in Leith, Edinburgh, describing himself as a "lime and lemon juice merchant". In 1867, Lauchlin developed and patented a process that effectively prevented fermentation and preserved fruit juice without alcohol, resulting in the famous "Rose's Lime Juice Cordial". In the same year, the Merchant Shipping Act was passed, whereby all vessels, Royal Navy and Merchant, were required to carry lime juice for a daily ration to all British sailors, who henceforth became known worldwide as "limeys"!

The text of this article is based on a lecture by Alec Provan to a branch of the Saltire Society in Canada.

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