Medicine chests of the Ottoman navy: Notes for the early nineteenth century
Long distance navigation through various climates and the debilitating effects of diseases in sea voyages or marine expeditions made the medicine chests compulsory for merchant ships and the navy. The use of medicine chests at sea was already well established in the 17th century Europe. Regulations were issued and pharmacists were authorized in preparing them. At the turn of the 19th century, typhoid fever, cholera, dysentery or other tropical diseases as well as scurvy, tuberculosis and syphilis were among the most troubling diseases for ship captains and owners. Injuries and hemorrhages, and hernia were among the most frequent surgical problems encountered during the expeditions.
Archival documents attest to the presence of surgeons on board of Ottoman vessles as early as 16th century. Although it is not clear when exactly medical chests became part of the Ottoman ship load, on might assume that galley-surgeons (cerrah-i kalyon) had drugs and surgical equipment at their disposition during the expedition. The 16th century surgeons were asked to supply the necessary drugs before embarking on the ship. In the 18th century, this task was given to physicians settled in Istanbul. Finally in the 19th century, apothecaries (eczacı, ispençiyar) were endowed with the job.
The present paper will examine the lists of medicines and material that were introduced into the physicians' chests (hekim sandığı, tabib sandığı) and the surgeons' chests (cerrah sandığı) supplied for the Ottoman vessels sailing off for the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Dated 1830 and 1831, these lists included pharmaceutical forms among them theriacs, ointments, cataplasmes, powders, syrups, essential oils and pills. On board, emetics (Ipecacuanha), purgatives (Epsom salts, jalap), and analgesics (laudanum, theriac, camphor), tonics (cinchona bark and powder), mercury salts and a diversity of other drugs were used as therapeutics and for surgical operations. A comparison of these drugs with those used in late 18th century European vessels shows a striking similarity. Nevertheless the variety of the drugs were less than that of European ships heading for high sea.
Key words: medicine chest, medical chest, surgeon chest; Ottoman navy, naval pharmacy.