The Scourge Of Scurvy

By | November 1, 2019

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Corpses of Dutch scurvy victims in 1634, drawing by V Foulquier, Spitsbergen, Norway, from Il Giro del mondo (World Tour), Journal of geography, travel and costumes, Volume IV, Issue 8, August 24, 1865. Source: (

Scurvy was a scourge of sailors from the 16th to 18th centuries. This disease killed more mariners than battle, sinkings, or any other sickness. Centuries were spent trying to find a cure, which in the end was simple.

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Page from the journal of Henry Walsh Mahon showing the effects of scurvy, from his time aboard HM Convict Ship Barrosa. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Symptoms of Scurvy

Typically scurvy begins with lethargy and malaise. This soon develops into soreness, short breath, and soft and bleeding gums. Conditions grow worse, eventually leading to jaundice, the reopening of old wounds, and then death. Scurvy was not a pleasant disease.

One English surgeon recorded some of the symptoms:

“...their gums were rotten even to the very roots of their teeth, and their cheeks hard and swollen, the teeth were loose neere ready to fall out...their breath a filthy savour. The legs were ffeble and so weak, that they were not scarce able to carry their bodies. Moreover they were full of aches and paines, with many blewish and reddish staines or spots, some broad and some small like flea-biting.”