Under the knife on the open seas

The weekly portrait series takes a break this week, and in it’s place we’ll have a couple of notes about new items we’ve recently added to the collection. The first is Usher Parsons’ Physician for Ships, published in Boston in 1851.

It’s a medical guide tailored to the kinds of issues a shipboard doctor would be most likely to see: tropical illnesses, venereal diseases, etc. In addition to descriptions of symptoms, treatments and surgical procedures, it includes a helpful chart listing the typical supplies of a ship’s medical chest and their expense (based on the number of crew members).

The best thing about this particular copy (discovered on the shelves of Boston’s famous¬†Brattle Bookshop) is that it shows numerous signs of use. The flyleaf offers a number of clues to earlier owners.

First is the inked notation, “Bark Aurora” and the date 1856. A number of whaling vessels operated under that name (in fact we have the log of a different Aurora.) The penciled note “Marshall, master” next to it let’s us pin down the exact voyage in question, a whaling trip lasting from 1856 to 1861 under master Joseph Marshall.

According to the stamp on the title page, the book was purchased from James E. Blake, druggist and apothecary in New Bedford before it was sent out to the Pacific on board the Aurora, where it was apparently put to good use. Salivation seems to have been a major issue on board: Not only did the owner of this volume make an addition to the index:

he also noted a passage in the text, using a symbol that had been in use for a very long time:

Physician for Ships will be added to our Nicholson Whaling Collection.

(This item will also be among those featured in the next issue of Occasional Nuggets, so if you want to read more, subscribe now.)

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