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Finding and Obtaining Period Surgical Refs Page Menu:    1      2      3       First<<

Finding and Obtaining 17th/18th Century Surgical References - Page 3

As I said previously, there are quite a large number of books from the 17th/18th century. Like books today, some of these are better and more useful than others. With this in mind, I thought I'd share with you those which I've found to be best for learning about the surgeon's role, the operations they performed and the history of health and welfare during the Golden Age of Piracy. These resources are primarily from 1650 - 1740. The Golden Age of Piracy is usually defined as 1680 - 1725. Based upon my reading, I have found the surgical techniques do no appear to have change that much since the time of Hippocrates, so you're pretty safe reading anything before 1740 IMO. Still, it's probably best to focus upon books that were printed and available during the area of your interest.

The books are listed in the order I would suggest you read them based on 1) Appropriateness 2) Relevance and 3) Readability. I will link to Amazon pages where possible for ease of procurement. For PDF books, I will link to the Michigan eLibrary page where you can at least find all the relevant information about the book. Note that all the period references are available in PDF format, so if you're going to go to a university to get PDFs, I recommend collecting them there rather than or in addition to buying reprints.

A. Sea Surgeon Manuals

  1. Chirurgus marinus: or, the sea-chirurgion (Fourth edition) by John Moyle John Moyle
    Surgeon John Moyle
    - This is probably one of the better manuals for sea surgeon re-enactors IMO. It is short and fairly easy to read. It has been criticized for containing nothing new, but then...everything is new to a first time sea surgeon re-enactor. It does not cover all the operations that other books do, but it covers the important ones. It is also available through Amazon, making it easy to get. I can't comment on the quality of print (which can be an issue in the ECCO reprints) since I got it in PDF before it was published.

  2. The surgeons mate, or, Military & domestique surgery (2nd Edition) by John Woodall - Being the first English sea Surgeon's manual, it needs to be on this list. However, as I have mentioned, it is very challenging to read. The second edition contains the very useful Viaticum which lists more of the instruments than the first volume and contains more drawings. Woodall tends to wander (a lot) but he covers the basics and gives quite an extensive account of instruments and medicines.

  3. The navy-surgeon: or, a practical system of surgery by John Atkins - While a bit past the pirate period (1734), this is probably the most readable of the three books and the best organized. It has many, many procedural examples from period. However, it is a bit long and tends to wander more than the other two. (All instructional period books seem to wander, however, so this may not be the fairest criticism.) It is available on Amazon, although I can't comment on the quality of it since I got it in PDF before it was released in print.

B. General Period Surgical Techniques

Trepanning Tools from Dionis' Book
Trepanning Tools from Dionis' Course, p. 271
  1. A course of chirurgical operations, demonstrated in the royal garden at Paris (2nd Edition) by Monsieur Dionis - This is a splendid book containing dozens of line drawings of instruments with fairly concise procedural steps. This is actually a ten day course put on by Monsieur Dionis in Paris and the teacher seems to have been very informed. Almost every sub-section (there is one for each operation) contains a sketch of instruments, similar to what is seen at left. M. Dionis explains each operation, incidentals concerning it and then goes through each lettered instrument and its use. It is an excellent surgical technique resource. He does wander off topic occasionally, but nowhere near as badly as the other period authors featured on this page. I highly recommend this book, although, again, I have the PDF version, not the reprint, so I can't comment on the quality of the ECCO print version.

  2. Chirurgia curiosa: or, the newest and most curious observations and operations in the whole art of chirurgery by Matthias Gottfried Purmann - a very interesting and extensive book on surgical techniques, containing some curious treatments just as the title promises. I found this text to be very readable and fairly well organized - more so than any of the sea surgeon's manuals listed above. I purchased the ECCO print version, It proved to be fairly good as far as the reprint went, although some of the page pages were faint with certain paragraphs and lines being difficult to read. This would probably also be found in the PDF as well.

C. Modern Antique Medical Instrument Books

  1. The Evolution of Surgical Instruments: An Illustrated History from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century by John Kirkup - An excellent look at the history of surgical instruments with many photos and very good explanations. Kirkup was in the British Royal Navy, a Surgeon and the Honorary Curator of Instruments at Royal College of Surgeons of England. So his commentary can be quite enlightening. This is a very expensive book and is probably best obtained through inter-library loan.

  2. Antique Medical Instruments by Elizabeth Bennion - A nice overview of surgical instruments with lots of photos and several color plates. It also features a chapter on personal health care items that I found most interesting. This book is also quite expensive and best obtained through inter-library loan.

Modern Books on Period Medicine Topics

  1. Medicine Under Sail by Zachary Friedenberg - Probably the best modern book Medicine Under Sail
    Medicine Under Sail by Friedenberg
    on period medicine. It appears to cover eras outside of the Golden Age in addition to those within it. It also has some irrelevant chapter (for my research anyhow), but it is fairly concise and interesting otherwise.

  2. Hubbub: Filth, Noise, and Stench in England, 1600-1770 by Emily Cockayne - This is a wonderfully horrific romp through the environment in England, told in glib prose. It provides all sorts of period examples of the surroundings and will give you a new appreciation for the nicities of the modern world. This is not really medically-focused; it does give you a nice look at the background in which health care took place . It is set primarily on land, although I believe many of the points would apply to sailors as well.

  3. The Age of Agony by Guy Williams - A fun read with lots of examples of the sort of horrible medical stuff you probably expect to have happened during this time period. In fact, I found it tended to over-focus on horrific at times, but it is also instructive for just how challenging it was to be under care. It features many period references, which you may find interesting for further research. It is primarily based on land-surgery, rather than sea.

  4. Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentlemen Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail by Stephen R. Bown - Scurvy is often a topic of great interest to those learning about the difficulties the sea surgeon faced and Bown covers this topic magnificently. Well worth the read if you want to know all about scurvy, what it was, what was tried to cure it and how the problem was finally solved. (it was solved quite a bit after the Golden Age of Pyracy, but it is still interesting to learn about.)

In addition to these books, I am working on my own book (don't hold your breath waiting for it) which means I have a whole bunch of notes. I occasionally post some of the more interesting (by which I usually mean gross) parts of these notes on the Pyracy Pub in the Captain Twill Forum.

Among the better threads to read through if this interests you: Ships surgeons -- Some Period Surgical Procedures -- Some of the Surgeon's Tools -- On Making a Medicine Chest -- Plagues, Viruses and Diseases -- Let's talk dental hygiene -- The "barber" in Barber-Surgeon -- Medicine in General -- Surgical Instruments, Procedures and Whatnot.

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