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Sites of Care and Control: Healthy Environments and Royal Navy Hospital Ships 1790-1815

Sat, April 13, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Morrow


During the 1797 mutinies, William Yeo, the Governor of Haslar Naval Hospital defended his decision to send riotous men to the hospital ship Gladiator. Yeo decried the “vast number of Men since the Mutiny of the very worst complexion,” who “stir up Riot and create confusion,” within the hospital. Furthermore, the very act of “allowing them to remain in the Wards is subjecting Patients who are really very ill to their Noise and Disturbance, and which ought and shall ever be for the good of His Majesty’s Service kept as quiet and orderly as possible.” (ADM 1/3533). Yeo’s decision to send disruptive patients to the Gladiator highlight three key conceptions of hospital ships in the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth century: the ability to control patients to prevent desertion and disorder, provide medical care in a healthy environment, and to preserve the economy of the Royal Navy. This paper will consider these three aspects of hospital ships to showcase the role of hospital ships within the network of naval medical care, with a focus on the medical and environmental underpinnings of hospital ships as sites of care and control. Specifically through an examination of the ships themselves (the role of environment in the provision of medical care and the importance of ventilation) and as entities in a spatial medical network through the interactions of hospital ships with ships of the line and on-shore hospitals.