Brockliss, Laurence. Cardwell, John. & Moss, Michael.


Oxford University Press, 1st.ed., 2005. Xx + 216 pp., errata slip, frontis + 16 plates, 4 maps, 1 table & 1 figure. D.j., 24 x 16cm. FINE. This book fills a gap in the story of Trafalgar and examines in general the health of seamen in the Royal Navy of this period, and in particular the life of Nelson’s surgeon aboard VICTORY - William (later Sir William) Beatty (1773-1842). Beatty was an Ulsterman from Londonderry and had entered the navy in 1791. During the early years of his naval career he had survived a yellow fever epidemic, court-martial and shipwreck. After Trafalgar he was appointed Physician of the Channel Fleet based at Plymouth, and eventually Physician to Greenwich Hospital where he served until his retirement in 1838. Before Trafalgar, Beatty was just one of some 2,000 surgeons who had applied for naval service during the Napoleonic Wars. After Trafalgar he found himself in a unique position as the surgeon of the slain hero of the hour, with a growing public curiosity about how Nelson died. In 1807 Beatty satisfied that curiosity by writing a book on Nelson’s death which immediately brought him additional fame. His account of Nelson’s final hours have formed the basis of the subject ever since. The original intention was to incorporate it in Clarke & M’Arthur’s mammoth work but Beatty was urged by friends not to wait until 1809 and he therefore had it published two years earlier. This was also to stem the rising tide of incorrect accounts of Nelson’s wound and death. This is an interesting study, with a few minor errors, but the authors provide the first full biography of Beatty and weave the health of the fleet around the story of Trafalgar itself.

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