Page 179 - Dutch Asiatic Shipping Volume 1
P. 179

 years and then would suddenly lay about it wildly; it could rage on one ship, hardly to be noticed on another. Especially in times of war the 'febris nautica' or 'Hungarian disease' seems to have raged among armies and on the fleets. In such years mortality on VOC ships could be high as well, though delays during the voyage might be co-responsible.42 In any case, in 1673 on the ten outward voyages 458 people died, which was one hundred more than on the twelve ships of the previous year, when typhus in the army camp and on the fleet was not yet severe. During the Nine Y ears W ar (1688-1697) the deathrate for outward bound ships was on average 21%, as against only 9% in subsequent years, and certain epidemics like typhoid or dysentery may have contributed to this.
On board ship all these diseases were aggravated by the climate and shortage of water, especially in tropical heat. Lack of sufficient fluids caused dehydration during high fever, prevented the necessary perspiration and exhalation of the sick body, while the heat itself was exhausting. The greatest number of sick and of deaths on the outward voyage was to be lamented on the route from the Cape Verde Islands to the Cape, where during prolonged calm ships hardly moved for days.43
It is precisely because of the marked difference in the duration of voyages that the deathrate per ship varied so much, quite apart from disasters or epidemics. Every ship stricken by a high deathrate had its own sad story of adversity and sickness. This was by no means the case on the outward voyage only. The MEERLUST (6734) which in 1725 reached the Cape from Batavia within three months, lost en route 36 of the 80 people on board - that some epidemic had played havoc on board seems likely. The HUIS T E MARQUETTE (6895), sailing from Ceylon in 1734, lost nearly half of its 137 voyagers before the Cape, but had taken ten (!) months to get there. The PROOSTWUK (6894), leaving Ceylon eleven days earlier, reached the Cape in two months and suffered not a single loss. It seems likely that the long duration of the HUIS TE MARQUETTE'S voyage, resulting in contaminated food and drink and exhaustion of the crew, was to blame for such a deathrate.
It has already been pointed out that the multiple diseases and high deathrate did not escape the attention of the Heren Zeventien: they made provision for care of the sick in a separate sickbay, gave instructions for order and cleanliness on board and showed interest in variation of the diet. Right from the start they moreover ensured medical assistance. Every ship had to have a barber-surgeon. A s early as 1610 there was mention in the Zeeland chamber of a surgeon's examination and as part of the equipment the barber-surgeon was always provided with a medicine chest with potions and herbs then considered medicinal. University educated doctors were not keen on enlisting, so barber- surgeons were permitted to perform operations at sea independently which at home they were not allowed to do except under the supervision of an academic medical man. Probably barber-surgeons were more eager to enlist on VOC ships because of better remuneration than ashore and their own position being made more attractive: on board they served as junior officers and in Asia they often became independent medical men. For the VOC these surgeons were no bad thing: they had much practical experience and were perhaps less inhibited by purely academic medical theories. For the academics were far from providing all the answers for medical practice. That infection took place for instance and that this was connected with poor hygiene was generally known, but transmission was put down to illvapours rather than to contact with infected spittle, dirt and vermin. To
42 Bruijn, 'Personeelsbehoefte', 221-222. Often diseases were indicated by a vague term like 'fevers'. 43 Mandemakers, 'Sterfte op de schepen', 43-46.

   177   178   179   180   181