Surgeon

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Surgeon
Country United Kingdom
Service branchRoyal Navy
Formation1540-1873
Next higher rankPhysician
(1825-1840)
Deputy Medical Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets
(1840-1855)
Staff Surgeon
(1855-1873)
Next lower rankSurgeon's Mate
(1546-1805)
Assistant Surgeon
(1805-1855)


A Surgeon, also called a Naval Surgeon and less commonly Ship's Doctor was a senior Warrant Officer rank of the British Royal Navy. The person responsible for the health of the ship's company aboard a warship. The term appears often in reference to Royal Navy's medical personnel during the Age of Sail. They were part of the Medical Branch of the navy.[1]

History

Historically, naval officers fall into two groups, commissioned and warrant officers. The commissioned officers originally consisted of Admirals, Captains and Lieutenants (higher ranking officers), and after the 17th Century warrant officers who were deemed to be ‘inferior’ and lacked authority. Surgeons come under the category of “Warrant Sea Officers” who held a position between commissioned and warrant officers and were responsible to the Captain directly.[2]

During the 18th century, naval surgeons were warrant-officers and held warrants, rather than commissions as officers. The Order in Council of 1805 permitted medical officers in the navy “to wear a distinguishing uniform and to have a similar rank with the officers of the same class in Your Majesty’s land forces”. Senior naval surgeons thereby became considered as officers of wardroom rank.[3]

Surgeons were warranted to ships by the Navy Board. Their examining boards were conducted by various bodies including the Barber-Surgeons Company, the Sick and Hurt Board, the Transport Board and the Victualling Board up until 1832 when the Board of Admiralty took over responsibility for their qualifications. They were the only medical officers on the ship and were assisted by one or more Surgeon’s Mates (Inferior Warrant Officers) from 1546 to 1805 then Assistant Surgeons from 1805 to 1855.

They had the right to walk the quarterdeck and became a fully commissioned rank in the nineteenth century. They were responsible for the sick and injured, performing surgical operations as necessary and dispensed medicine. They were required to keep a journal of treatment and advised the Captain on health matters.[4] In 1855 the rank became subordinate to the newly created rank of Staff Surgeon until 1873 when it was abolished.[5]

Footnotes

  1. Navy, Royal. (2014). Naval Ranks: Information sheet no 096. Library and Information Services. National Museum of the Royal Navy. Portsmouth, England.
  2. National Museum of the Royal Navy.
  3. National Museum of the Royal Navy.
  4. National Museum of the Royal Navy.
  5. Davis, Paul. "The Organisation of the Medical Department of the Royal Navy". www.pdavis.nl. Zeist, Netherlands: P. Davis. Retrieved 12 August 2019.

Bibliography

  1. Davis, Paul. "The Organisation of the Medical Department of the Royal Navy". www.pdavis.nl. Zeist, Netherlands: P. Davis. Retrieved 12 August 20
  2. Navy, Royal. (2014). Naval Ranks: Information sheet no 096. Library and Information Services. National Museum of the Royal Navy. Portsmouth, England.