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Historical Records of New Zealand Vol. II.

Captain Cook to Sir John Pringle, Bart., F.R.S.*

Captain Cook to Sir John Pringle, Bart., F.R.S.*

[No date.]



As many gentlemen have express'd their surprize at the uncommon good health which the crew of the Resolution, under my command, experienced during her late long voyage, I take the liberty to communicate to you the methods that were taken to obtain that end.

A good deal was owing to the extraordinary attention paid by the admiralty, in causing such articles to be put on board as either experience or suggestion was judged would tend to preserve the health of seamen. I shall not trespass on your time in mentioning all these articles, but confine myself to such as were found the most usefull.

We had on board a quantity of malt, of which we made sweet wort, and given to such of the men as showed the least symptoms of scurvey, and also to such as were thought to be threat'ned with that disorder, from one to two or three pints a day each man, or in such proportions that the surgeon found necessary, which sometimes amounted to three pints. This is, without doubt, one of the best antiscorbutic sea medicines yet found out, and, if given in time, will, with proper attention to other things, I am persuaded, prevent the scurvey from making any great progress for a considerable time. But I am not altogether of opinion that it will cure it at sea.

Sour krout, of which we had a large quantity, is not only a wholesome vegetable food, but, in my opinion, highly antiscorbutic, and spoils not by keeping. A pound of this was served each man when at sea twice a week, and oftener as was thought necessary.

Portable broth was another great article of which we had a large supply. An ounce of this to each man, or such other proportion as was thought necessary, was boil'd in their pease three page 128 days in the week, and when we were in places where vegetables were to be got it was boiled with them, and wheat or oatmeal every morning for breakfast, or else with pease and vegetables for dinner. It enabled us to make several nourishing and wholesome messes, and was the means of making the people eat a greater quantity of vegetables than they would have done without.

Rob of lemon and orange is an antiscorbutic we were not without. The surgeon made use of it in many cases with great success.

Amongst the articles of victualling we were supplied with sugar in the room of oil, wheat for a part of our oatmeal, and were certainly gainers by the exchange.

Sugar, I apprehend, is a very good anti-scorbutic, whereas oil (such as is usually supplied the Navy), I am of opinion, has the contrary effect. But the introduction of the most salutary articles, either as provisions or medicines, will generally prove unsuccessful unless supported by certain regulations. On this principle, many years' experience, together with some hints I had from S'r Hugh Palisser, Captains, Campbell, Wallis, and other intelligent officers, enabled me to lay a plan whereby all was to be governed.

The crew was at three watches, except on some extraordinary occasions. By this means they were not so much exposed to the weather as if they had been at watch and watch, and had generally dry cloaths to shift themselves when they happened to get wet. Care was also taken to expose them as little to wet weather as possible.

Proper methods were taken to keep their persons, hammocks, bedding, cloathes, &c., constantly clean and dry. Equal care was taken to keep the ship clean and dry betwixt decks, and once or twice a week she was aired with fires, and when this could not be done she was smoaked with gunpowder mixed with vinegar or water. I had also fires frequently made in an iron pot at the bottom of the well, which was of great use in purifying the air in the lower parts of the ship. To this and cleanliness in the ship as amongst the people too great attention cannot be paid; the least neglect occasions a putrid and disagreeable smell below, which nothing but fires will remove.

Proper attention was paid to the ship's coppers, so that they were kept constantly clean. The fat which boiled out of the salt beef and pork I never suffered to be given to the people, being of opinion that it promotes the scurvey. I took care to take in water whenever it was to be got, even tho' we did not want it, because I look upon fresh water from the shore to be more wholesome than that which has been kept some time on board a ship. Of this essential article we were never at an allowance, but had always plenty for every necessary purpose. I am of opinion that page 129 with plenty of fresh water and proper attention to cleanliness, a ship's company will seldom be much afflicted with the scurvey, even though they are not provided with any of the anti-scorbutics above mentioned. We came to few places where either the act of man or nature had not provided some sort of refreshment or other, either in the animal or vegetable way. It was my first care to procure whatever of either kind could be met with, by every means in my power, and to oblige our people to make use thereof, both by my example and authority. But the benefits arising from those kind of refreshments soon became so obvious that I had little occasion to make use of either the one or the other.

These, sir, were the methods, under the care of Providence, by which the Resolution performed a voyage of three years and eighty days, through all the climates from 52° north to 71° south, with only the loss of four men out of one hundred and eighteen. Two were drownded, one was killed by a fall, and the other died after a long illness occasioned by a complication of disorders, without the least mixture of the scurvey.

* Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society from 1772 to 1778.

Quoted in Pringle's address to the Royal Society, November 30, 1776. —See Cook's Voyage towards the South Pole, vol. ii, pp. 369396. The letter was published entire in Part 2, vol. lxvi, Philos. Transactions. It was evidently written in the early part of 1776. The Royal Society awarded to Cook, as author of the paper, the Copley gold medal.