Thomas Trotter (physician)

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Thomas Trotter, 1796 engraving by Daniel Orme. Thomas Trotter Orme.jpg
Thomas Trotter, 1796 engraving by Daniel Orme.

Thomas Trotter (1760–1832) was a Scottish naval physician and author who was a leading medical reformer in the Royal Navy and an ardent critic of the slave trade. [1] Trotter was born in Melrose, Roxburghshire, and studied medicine under Alexander Monro (secundus) in Edinburgh. His major work, the Medicina Nautica, was published in 1802 and provides a detailed examination of the state of naval medicine during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

Abolitionism in the United Kingdom Movement to end slavery in the United Kingdom

Abolitionism in the United Kingdom was the movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to end the practice of slavery, whether formal or informal, in the United Kingdom, the British Empire and the world, including ending the Atlantic slave trade. It was part of a wider abolitionism movement in Western Europe and the Americas.

Roxburghshire Historic county in Scotland

Roxburghshire or the County of Roxburgh is a historic county and registration county in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. It borders Dumfriesshire to the west, Selkirkshire to the north-west, and Berwickshire to the north. To the south-west it borders Cumberland and to the south-east Northumberland, both in England.


Trotter was a champion of vaccinations for naval medical staff, and as the Navy's Physician of the Fleet he required that all naval surgeons and assistants be inoculated against smallpox. After an extensive naval career, Trotter retired to private practice in 1802 and died in 1832.

Smallpox infectious disease that has been eradicated

Smallpox was an infectious disease caused by one of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in October 1977 and the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the global eradication of the disease in 1980. The risk of death following contracting the disease was about 30%, with higher rates among babies. Often those who survived had extensive scarring of their skin and some were left blind.


Trotter was born in Roxburghshire in 1760. He enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of nineteen and, despite a lack of medical training, was assigned the rank of surgeon's mate aboard the 74-gun ship of the line HMS Berwick. Britain was then at war against the Dutch, French and Spanish, and Trotter saw active service during the Battle of Dogger Bank in 1781, and in the lifting of the Great Siege of Gibraltar in 1782. He was discharged from the Navy in 1783, at the conclusion of the wars. [2]

A surgeon's mate was a rank in the Royal Navy for a medically trained assistant to the ship's surgeon. The rank was renamed assistant surgeon in 1805, and was considered equivalent to the rank of master's mate/mate. In 1807, first-rate would have three, a third-rate two, and frigates and sloops one.

Ship of the line type of naval warship constructed from the 17th through to the mid-19th century

A ship of the line was a type of naval warship constructed from the 17th through to the mid-19th century to take part in the naval tactic known as the line of battle, in which two columns of opposing warships would manoeuvre to bring the greatest weight of broadside firepower to bear. Since these engagements were almost invariably won by the heaviest ships carrying the most powerful guns, the natural progression was to build sailing vessels that were the largest and most powerful of their time.

HMS Berwick was a 74-gun Elizabeth-class third rate of the Royal Navy, launched at Portsmouth Dockyard on 18 April 1775, to a design by Sir Thomas Slade. She fought the French at the Battle of Ushant (1778) and the Dutch at the Battle of Dogger Bank (1781). The French captured her in the Action of 8 March 1795 during the French Revolutionary Wars and she served with them with some success then and at the start of the Napoleonic Wars until the British recaptured her at the Battle of Trafalgar. Berwick sank shortly thereafter in a storm.

Unemployed and without family or political connections, Trotter elected to sign on as surgeon aboard a Guineaman, or slaving ship, engaged in the transportation of slaves from Africa to the Caribbean. He later considered this to be the lowest point of his life, and his exposure to the misery of the slaves converted him to the anti-slavery cause. An outbreak of scurvy on board also fixed his attention on the disease. [2] [3]

Scurvy human disease

Scurvy is a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C. Early symptoms include weakness, feeling tired, and sore arms and legs. Without treatment, decreased red blood cells, gum disease, changes to hair, and bleeding from the skin may occur. As scurvy worsens there can be poor wound healing, personality changes, and finally death from infection or bleeding.

Trotter pursued medical studies in Edinburgh, and graduated M.D. in 1788. During the Spanish armament of 1790, he was appointed by Vice-admiral Robert Roddam, to be surgeon of his flagship HMS Royal William, and in 1793 was surgeon of HMS Vengeance for a voyage to the West Indies and back. In December he was appointed second physician to the Royal Hospital at Haslar, near Portsmouth, and in April 1794 was nominated by Lord Howe physician to the Channel fleet. In this capacity he served through the campaigns of 1794 and 1795, was present in the battle of 1 June 1794, appears to have been with Cornwallis on 16–17 June 1795, and to have joined the fleet under Lord Bridport very shortly after the action of 23 June. When going on board one of the ships to visit a wounded officer, he was accidentally ruptured, and rendered incapable of further service at sea. [3]

Robert Roddam Royal Navy admiral

Robert Roddam was an officer of the Royal Navy who saw service during the War of the Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, and the American War of Independence. He survived to see the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, but was not actively employed during them.

HMS <i>Prince</i> (1670)

HMS Prince was a 100-gun first rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built by Phineas Pett the Younger at Deptford Dockyard and launched in 1670.

HMS <i>Vengeance</i> (1774) Royal Oak-class ship of the line

HMS Vengeance was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 25 June 1774 at Rotherhithe. By 1780, she was at the island of Martinique, and was driven ashore and damaged at Saint Lucia in the Great Hurricane of 1780 but recovered and made her way to Portsmouth to be repaired. Finished in 1803, the ship was put into reserve before becoming a prison ship in the year 1808.

Trotter was granted a pension; he settled in private practice at Newcastle, which he gave up, but continued to write, mostly on professional subjects. He died at Newcastle on 5 September 1832. He was twice married. [1] [3]


At the age of 16 Trotter wrote verses which were published in Walter Ruddiman's Edinburgh Magazine in 1777 and 1778. His M.D. dissertation was De Ebrietate ejusque effectibus in corpus humanum, published in English as An Essay, medical, philosophical, and chemical, on Drunkenness, and its Effects on the Human Body (1804; 4th edit. 1812). In England, while in private medical practice at Wooler in Northumberland, he wrote up his notes on scurvy to order, and published them as Observations on the Scurvy (1786; 2nd edit., much enlarged, 1792). Treatment for scurvy had been demonstrated by James Lind in his Treatise of 1754; Trotter corroborated Lind's thesis by extensive observations. In 1795, through Sir Gilbert Blane, the Admiralty endorsed the general use of lemon juice. [3]

Other works were:

Trotter contributed also to the European Magazine , Medical Journal and other periodicals. [3]

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  1. 1 2 Wallace. "Trotter, Thomas (bap. 1760, died 1832)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27763.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. 1 2 Lloyd (ed) 1965, pp.214215
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Wikisource-logo.svg  "Trotter, Thomas"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  4. Durham Mining Museum, Robert L. Galloway, A History of Coal Mining in Great Britain, Ch. XIV.



Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  "Trotter, Thomas"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.