Notes from the John Martin Rare Book Room

The Well-Equipped Surgeon’s Chest — Don’t Leave Home Without It 

Woodall, John (1570–1643). The Surgeons mate or military & domestique surgery. 2nd edition, London, 1639.

Woodall, John (1570–1643). The Surgeons mate or military & domestique surgery. 2nd edition, London, 1639.The John Martin Rare Book Room recently acquired a 1639 copy of John Woodall’s, The Surgeon’s Mate, the second and greatly expanded version of the work first published in 1617. Intended as a tutorial for apprentice ship surgeons, the book was extremely popular as an authority in its time and brings to light first-hand medical care as practiced aboard sailing vessels in the early 17th century. The first surgeon-general of the East India Company, Woodall was responsible for supplying each ship with a surgeon’s chest. This accompanying volume details the various ailments, medicines, and surgical techniques for dealing with the myriad of health problems and injuries faced by sailors, including gunshot, gangrene, amputation, ulcers, and fistulas. In the passage, below, Woodall advises the junior surgeon on how to prepare a patient for the ordeal of amputation, a procedure in all too frequent use on ships.

“If you be constrained to use your saw, let first your patient be well informed of the eminent danger of death by the use thereof; prescribe him no certaintie of life, and let the work be done with his owne free will, and request, and not otherwise. Let him prepare his soule as a ready sacrifice to the Lord by earnest prayers, craving mercie and helpe unfainedly: and forget thou not also they dutie in that kinde, to crave mercie and helpe from the Almightie, and that heartily. For it is no small presumption to dismember the image of God.” [spelling from original].

Woodall was one of the first to recommend lemon juice for preventing and treating scurvy, years before James Lind confirmed its efficacy in his Treatise on the Scurvy in 1753. Woodall’s organizational talents were well recognized during his lifetime as was his courage; he remained in London to treat victims of the 1603 and 1638 plague outbreaks during which he contracted and recovered from the disease twice. Our copy of this important work is in excellent condition and includes well preserved leaves illustrating the vast armaments of surgical tools necessary for the well-equipped ship’s surgeon.