Une étude comparative de l’adoption d’un nouveau remède antiscorbutique en Angleterre et en France au temps des voyages de découvertes aux Terres Australes
A comparative study of the adoption of a new antiscorbutic remedy in England and France during voyages of discovery to Southern Lands
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. James Tibballs
Thesis in French, with appendix - Abbreviated text in English.
The navies of France and England explored Indo-Pacific regions in the 18th and 19th centuries, seeking new scientific knowledge and territories. Although equal in technical and navigational skills, the health of their crews was very different. When French explorer Nicolas Baudin encountered English explorer Matthew Flinders off the south coast of Nouvelle Hollande in 1802, the English crew was healthy while the French was scorbutic. From 1795, British crews were protected from scurvy by a daily ration of lemon juice preserved in alcohol. While adoption of this innovation was judged late by sociologist Everett Rogers, according to his theory Diffusion of Innovations, its adoption almost a century later by the French was even more so. This work explores reasons for late adoption by both navies, referring to Rogers’ theory. Scurvy was inevitable during prolonged sea journeys, appearing after 2-3 months. Landfall was the only remedy, but for reasons unknown. The real cause, lack of dietary vitamin C (ascorbic acid), causing fatal haemorrhages, was discovered in 1932. However, 17th century British and French explorers had discovered that citrus fruits cured and prevented scurvy, believing erroneously that their acid content was antiscorbutic. Their discoveries were ignored. Putative causes and remedies for scurvy were proposed, in the context of prevailing medical ideologies such as Galenism or iatromechanics. In 1747 James Lind experimented and showed that only oranges and lemons cured scorbutic sailors. Lind also prepared a “rob” (heat-distilled preparation of juice) which was not tested. Half a century passed before Gilbert Blane, knowing that heat destroyed antiscorbutic property, persuaded the British Navy to adopt alcohol-preserved lemon juice. In England, debate over spurious remedies, including malt used by James Cook, delayed adoption of lemon juice. In reality, consumption of fruit and vegetables on frequent landfall during expeditions explains why Cook’s crews remained healthy. Likewise, in France, debate over spurious causes such as consumption of meat, delayed adoption of lemon juice. A vegetarian diet, which did not contain fresh produce, remained in force for over a decade. An important hindrance was, ironically, the invention of a process by Nicolas Appert in 1802 to preserve heat-sterilised food in glass jars which enabled consumption of food, otherwise available only on shore, during long sea journeys. The process prevented putrefaction of food and preserved its taste, but unknown to Appert and French authorities, also destroyed its antiscorbutic property. Not until the Crimean war in the 1850s, did French authorities realise that preserved food did not prevent scurvy in contrast to lime juice which maintained health of their British ally. A Commission was established in 1856 to investigate preparations of citrus fruit but erroneously recommended a heated preparation based on acidity and taste, not on antiscorbutic property. A decree of 1860 ordered consumption of lemon juice but could not be fulfilled. Additional decrees of 1874 and 1894 encouraged delivery and consumption of lemon juice but its need dissipated with the introduction of steamships which shortened sea journeys. Citrus juice was never effectively adopted by the French Navy, compromising voyages of discovery.
KeywordsAustralia; exploration; French; British; navy; scurvy; remedy; citrus
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