HMS NHS: the Nautical Health Service (National Maritime Museum)

HMS NHS: The Nautical Health Service is now live! Join in with volunteers who are transcribing 100 years of seafarers' medical data.

The Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital at Greenwich was the main clinical site of the Seamen's Hospital Society (now Seafarer's Hospital Society), founded with the philanthropic mission of providing relief to sick and injured seafarers of all nations. Throughout the period 1821-1870 it was a floating hospital, based in three successive converted warships. It then moved on land and until 1986 occupied the buildings which are now a student hub for the University of Greenwich.

The details of admissions include name, age and place of birth, rank, employer and last vessel served on. Medical information includes dates of admission and discharge, medical condition and fate. The patients were seafarers from all over the globe, reflecting the international traffic of the port of London. Casualties from local emergencies, among them women and children, were also admitted, so were naval personnel during wartime. As well as helping to trace individuals, the records have possibilities for diverse avenues of academic research, including the history of medicine and diseases, and the history of black and Asian communities within the maritime world. Viewed quantitatively, the records show the variety and prevalence of disease, injuries and common ailments in the merchant navy for over a hundred years.

The National Maritime Museum's HMS NHS: the Nautical Health Service project is the first of three projects together making up the Engaging Crowds citizen research project. Together the projects will each examine issues and solutions of crowd sourcing and wider citizen research and together aim to develop generic transcription software that volunteers around the world will be able to use to transcribe images of collection content, be they excerpts from diaries and journals of voyages to nineteenth century Australian gold fields, the letters of Horatio Nelson or the records of Black and Asian sailors working on British ships during the First World War. HMS NHS uses the records of the Dreadnought Seaman's hospital as its project. When transcribed, the project will allow digital access to the records from around the world. For the first time researchers will be able to analyse trends and patterns evident in the records as a whole. They will be able to study the health of the seafaring community,  document the effects of changes in the history of medicine, and study the frequency, extent and treatment of diseases over time, including venereal diseases, dysentery, dropsy, tropical and infectious diseases, together with all kinds of wounds and injuries sustained on board merchant vessels.

Side view of the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital, a ship lying off Greenwich. Greenwich Hospital is visible in the background. Text on the the ship reads "Seamen's Hospital. Supported by vountary contributions. For seamen of all nations." The image is captioned "The Dreadnought. 104 Guns. Until recently lying off Greenwich."
The Dreadnought, 104 Guns, until recently lying off Greenwich (repro ID pu6061). By Edward William Cooke, circa 1857. © National Maritime Museum Collections.