Page 180 - Dutch Asiatic Shipping Volume 1
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 counteract these same ill vapours the directors had issued their instructions already men­
tioned: the cleaning of accommodation to drive away human exhalations, the removal o f
excrement t o expel stench and the burning o f fragrances. But less pronounced was their
attention to the washing and changing of clothing, the changing of bedding and the clean­
sing o f the bodies o f the sick and even more o f the healthy. I n the views o f academics
very little change took place in this respect throughout the two centuries. Even in 1736
the famous Leyden professor of medicine Herman Boerhaave, consulted by the directors
on this matter, had nothing to advise but cleansing from ill vapours, without paying any
attention to the empirical observations to be found in the journals o f the ships' surgeons.
For these surgeons had, far more than the academics, accumulated practical experience:
they knew how scurvy could be dealt with without exactly knowing its cause, they looked
to warmth and perspiration for the sick, warned against cold draughts and knew the course
of a fever, and how the crisis might be overcome sometimes by letting the illness take its
course. A n d yet even the surgeons could do little on board: nursing care remained rough,
the sickbay was full in no time, their potions and herbs had little effect and they did not
know the causes o f the various 'fevers' either.
So the unknown and incurable diseases remained the inevitable and often deadly com­
panions on V O C voyages. One o f the voyagers wrote later, throwing it all in the one pit
of misery: 'scurvy, red diarrhoea and dropsy held sway among the men, as also headaches,
burning fevers, madness and frenzy were the commonest plagues...'.
From tables 30 and 31 it is only too clear to what extent the Grim Reaper let flash his
cruel scythe. Time and again the corpses of sailors and soldiers had to be wrapped in
hammocks and those o f prominent persons laid in coffins. While the crew stood on deck
with heads bared, the lifeless body was carried three times round the mast and then put
on a board tied to the rigging. After a scripture reading and a prayer the body slid into
the sea, with a 'one, two, three in God's name' and, for officers, a gunsalute.
But the sad story o f many a voyage did not end here. O n reaching port or halting place
the newly dead were buried ashore, and the sick disembarked, sooner or later yet to meet
death on their sickbed. They too belong t o the victims o f a voyage and a s such deserve
some further attention.
Calling at the Cape
After the long voyage on the Atlantic Ocean the interruption of the journey a t the Cape
was particularly keenly anticipated. When Table Bay came in view it was 'inexpressible
to describe what pleasure and joy was to be seen and heard among the crew: the lame,
the crippled and those hardly able to leave their berths, came on deck to see the land.. Λ
The agreeable climate and fresh food will indeed have worked miracles, and will have
been appreciated o n th e homeward voyage as well. But for th e sick th e hospital was
waiting and it seems not unlikely that the Cape hospital, like those at home or in Asia,
frequently meant a house o f death for those in its care. In chapter 7 it has already been
described that the accommodation and care in the hospital left much to be desired. Con­
tinued research, possibly in the Cape archives as well, will perhaps produce further data
44 De Hullu. 'Ziekten en dokters' in: Bruii η & Lucassen, Op de schepen der Oost-Indische Compag­ nie, 81-97; Schoute, Geneeskunde, 95-102; Van Andel, Chirurgijns, 111-117; Schoute, Occidental therapeutics, 4.
45 Warnsinck, Reizen van Nicolaus de Graaf, 6.
46 Ibidem 7.

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