Thursday, February 23, 2012


The doctor on board the sailing ship Euterpe on the voyage of 1879 was Dr W. R. Davies. His responsibilities for the health and safety of the passengers and crew began early in the voyage when a "gentleman in the saloon had a fit but recovered nicely".

Soon afterwards Charles Brown, the engineer, lost his forefinger in the cog wheels of the condensing engine. The ship's newspaper "The Euterpe Times" reported the accident and scolded the management for negligence: "These wheels not only were not protected by a shield ... but they were even deficient of means to throw them out of gear. We understand that ... the carpenter is busy making a screen or shield for these same cog wheels." One of the passengers volunteered to take over running the engine so that all could continue to enjoy fresh water.

On a stormy Wednesday a lad called Taylor fell down the fo'csle steps and dislocated his elbow, and Mrs Todnor slipped on the deck, fell heavily on her side and was badly bruised. On Saturday 25th October Mrs Owen, sailing to New Zealand to join her husband, fell out of her bunk and broke her leg. Dr Davies consigned her to her cabin in the care of her four young sons, all of whom grew up to lead successful and productive lives in New Zealand.

The doctor attended Mrs Fairhurst when she gave birth to a daughter, to be christened Euterpe, on 14th September. Later he was sorry to report that the health of another passenger – a bit of a drama queen perhaps – had been in a very "precautious" (precarious?) state and was consequently suffering from excessive exhaustion. He had thought it proper to admit her into the hospital.

The doctor had a sense of humour. When he didn't have anything to report, he made much of what he had. He expressed his regret that Captain Phillips had suffered considerably "during the last few days from a somewhat small but protracted abscess of the arm. The inflammation has however disappeared and he is now almost convalescent."

He made a great to-do over the affair of scratched thumb. "I also regret that our much respected Chief Officer Mr Algernon Back had the mishap to have his right thumb scratched whilst playing with the large black retriever dog on the poop last Thursday. With that presence of mind which is characteristic of the English sailor, he promptly applied the gunpowder remedy & thereby probably saved his life. Should this happily prove to be the case nothing more will be necessary to effect a "cure" but absolute repose for a week or more from the cares and responsibilities of his arduous duties."

Picture: The doctor's quarters, courtesy (c) Mike Wood Photography, with thanks

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