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James Lind who's experiment discovered a cure for scurvy

Updated on November 5, 2012

What was scurvy?

Scurvy was an illness that was prevalent amongst sailors on ships. The symptoms of the disease are exhaustion and feeling extremely unwell followed by spots which ooze and bleeding sores, especially on the gums. Sailors who caught scurvy were not fit enough to work and on long voyages the ship and the crew were put in danger as there were not enough fit men to crew her. Although the disease had been recognised since the time of the Romans, a cure was not found.

Plaque of dedication to James Lind at  the former Medical School at Edinburgh University, Scotland
Plaque of dedication to James Lind at the former Medical School at Edinburgh University, Scotland | Source

Naval Surgeon

James Lind, a naval surgeon of board the 60 gun HMS Salisbury was responsible for one of the most important medical developments of the eighteenth century. Born in Edinburgh in 1816 he trained as a doctor before entering the Royal Navy as a surgeons mate. There had been theories, especially that of John Woodall in the seventeenth century that Citrus fruit might be a cure for scurvy.

At this stage of development the science of epidemiology was in infancy. James Lind’s work was important because it was the first time a theory was proven by an experiment, using patients who had the disease.

Observing that the diet supplied to the crew of the Salisbury was dominated by salt and starch and that one of the characteristics of scurvy sufferers was an overwhelming craving for fruit and vegetables, he conducted a controlled clinical trial. HMS Salisbury had been patrolling the Bay of Biscay and the ship’s crew were developing scurvy.

He chose twelve scurvy patients and supplied them all with the usual ship’s diet for six days. He split the twelve sufferers into six groups of two people. The diet was supplemented as follows

· Group One - plus one quart of cider

· Group Two- 25 drops of sulphuric acid

· Group Three - 6 spoonfuls of vinegar

· Group Four - half a pint of seawater

· Group Five - 2 oranges and 1 lemon

· Group Six - spicy paste plus drink of Barley water

The supply of fruit was limited as there was little fruit on board. By day six the fruit had been used but at this point one sailor was well on the way to a full recovery and the other had returned to duty. The two sailors in group one, who had received the quart of cider were also showing signs of recovery. Lind now knew that fresh fruit could cure scurvy. This is regarded as the first experiment to prove theorys about the causes of illness amongst a certain group of people. Having evidenced his theory Lind resigned his commission and worked on his theory. In 1753 he published his theory on scurvy which received little acknowledgement, either from the medical or naval circles.

The Admiralty Acts

As more naval officers became aware of Lind’s theory it gained popularity as they had always noted that it took time for Scurvy to develop on long trips, especially after the supply of fruit had run out. In 1794 HMS Suffolk was given supplies of lemon juice when the ship undertook a long voyage to India. By mixing the lemon juice into the sailors daily allowance of grog, the men’s vitamin C levels were kept high and at the end of the voyage there had been no serious cases of scurvy onboard the ship. Captains hearing of the success of the experiment with lemon juice demanded that they be given it for their crews and in 1795 the Admiralty agreed to supply lemon juice for the whole of the British fleet. However this did not occur until the year 1800 as plants were sourced and lemons supplied.

James Lind Alliance

James Lind is remembered today with the formation in 2004 of the James Lind Alliance, which brings carers, patients and medical experts together to address uncertainties in research and the effects of medical treatment- echoing James Lind’s experiments onboard HMS Salisbury. Today Epidemiology is a science where the causes of disease are investigated and solutions or cures found wherever possible using both statistical and environmental data. James Lind is viewed as the founding father of Epidemiology.


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    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      thelyricwriter- thankyou for your kind comments. I guess that everything has to be discovered and maybe some one will find a cure for the illness like cancer which is a problem in our time.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 6 years ago from West Virginia

      Votes up, useful and interesting. I have always loves history and I am glad we came across each other my friend. You really do a great job writing about such events. I couldn't imagine living during this time. It is a wonder more people didn't die cause of the consitions if this age and time. I had heard scurvy before, but that is about it. I think it is really cool how all their work over many years combines and makes what we use today. Thank God for these unsung heroes. Lind is among them for sure. I agree with Susan, medical research for sure. Very important. Great work J.H. Best wishes.

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      PeggyW- thank you for your visit- you are right we do need experimentation to show the cure

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We can all be beholding to men of science like James Lind who discovered a cure for scurvy. One does not hear much about that disease any longer which of course is good. Clinical trials are as important today just as it was when Lind conducted his experiments on the sailors. Voted useful, interesting and up!

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      cameciob- thanks for your visit and your vote. I think it was " what to do with a drunken sailor" or something.....

    • cameciob profile image

      cameciob 6 years ago

      I am glad that someone found a cure for scurvy. I didn't know much about it but that song "what do you do with a scurvy sailor...." or something similar. Voted up.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

      Thanks for that - now added to my blog beezine(dot)wordpress(dot)com. Let me know if you are happy with it, happy to amend.

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      Judi- thanks for asking, a Link is fine but with an original summary- my other account has plunged and I am being ultra cautious on this one. Thanks for your visit. Trafalgar day? My claim to fame is that I once had dinner in the room where Nelson's body was supposed to have been brought ashore in Gibraltar- seemed a bit ghoulish to me but as it was my dad's boss house I really had no choice!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

      Really interesting - knew how us Limeys got our name, didn't know the name of the man responsible though. Can I post a link to this Hub on my blog, please (especially as it's Trafalgar Day)? Will write my own summary, so no duplicate content worries. Anyway, voted up and interesting.

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      kitty the dreamer- thanks for your visit- it is just amazing how these things get discovered

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

      Voted up, useful, and awesome. Didn't know any of this but very interesting. I love learning about the finding of cures. :)

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      Eiddwen- thanks for your visit- I intend to keep on learning and writing- it is so absorbing

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and so many interesting facts.

      I am so glad we are never too old to,learn so carry on withthese hubs becuse I want to learn more again.

      Take care and have a great day.


    • Just History profile image

      Just History 6 years ago from England

      Yes, he is believed to have started the first pratical experiments to find a cure for an epidemic, which was what scurvy was on a long voyage. Thanks for your visit and kind comment.

    • Susan Starts Now profile image

      Susan Starts Now 6 years ago from California

      Very interesting article - sounds like Lind was actually conducting an early form of a medical research study.