Master and Commander Glossary of Medical Terms

These definitions are taken from the amazing site Maturin’s Medicine and were compiled by Kerry Webb and many others (see the end of this post for full credits).  In order to make the incredible amount of information somewhat easier to process, the lovely Gwen and I have gone through the original comprehensive list and broken it down by book. All credit belongs to Maturin’s Medicine.

Key: Master and Commander (M&C), Post Captain (PC), HMS Surprise (HMSS), The Mauritius Command (TMC), Desolation Island (DI), The Fortune of War (FOW), The Surgeon’s Mate (SM), The Ionian Mission (IM), Treason’s Harbour (TH), The Far Side of the World (FSW), The Reverse of the Medal (RM), The Letter of Marque (LM), The Thirteen-Gun Salute (TGS), The Nutmeg of Consolation (NC), Clarissa Oakes / The Truelove (C/T), The Wine-Dark Sea (WDS), The Commodore (COM), The Yellow Admiral (YA), The Hundred Days (THD) and Blue at the Mizzen (BATM)

|A| |B| |C| |D| |E| |F| |G| |H| |I| |J| |K| |L| |M| |N| |O| |P| |Q| |R| |S| |T| |U| |V| |W| |X| |Y| |Z|


ablation (M&C 345, FSW 89):

Surgical removal of an organ or of a growth, such as a tumor. Literally, to cut away, surgically.

allowance (M&C 67):

Surgeons were paid an allowance out of which they bought instruments. From 1781, it was 62 pounds. See also Queen Anne’s Gift.

antiphlogistical (M&C 381):


antiscorbutic (M&C 89, DI 290, SM 41, IM 106, NC 200, 205, 207, 209, 211):

A remedy for scurvy.

apoplexy (M&C 219, HMSS 120, 267, 278, IM 121, TH 149, 189, TGS 194):

Sudden impairment of neurological function, especially that resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage; a stroke. A sudden effusion of blood into an organ or tissue. A fit of extreme anger or rage.

Apothecaries’ Hall (M&C 43):

The Hall of the Society of Apothecaries, originally established in 1632, destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt in 1672 with an ‘Elaboratory’ for the first ever large-scale manufacture of drugs.

apothecary (M&C 38, PC 121, SM 321, TH 19, 27, 86, LM 256, 257, 259, 263, 270, 283, TGS 30, NC 23, 227, 271, BATM 79):

A pharmacist.

arterial ligature (M&C 90):

A thread or string for tying an artery to prevent hemorrhage.

asafoetida (M&C 350, DI 317, NC 185, 186, COM 98):

The foetid gum resin or inspissated juice of a large umbelliferous plant (Ferula asafoetida) of Persia and the East India. It was used as a remedy for hysterical disorders, flatulent colics and as a promoter of the menses.

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ball-scoop (M&C 67):

A scoop for extracting balls, ie bullets, from wounds.

beast-leech (M&C 38):

A person skilled in the treatment of animals.

biceps (M&C 138):

A muscle between the elbow and shoulder.

black draught (M&C 254, TMC 242, DI 15, 107, TH 280, FSW 204, NC 230, 233, WDS 137, COM 88):

A liquid purgative consisting of an infusion of senna with sulphate of magnesia and extract of liquorice.

Blane (M&C 67, HMSS 117, 119):

Sir Gilbert Blane published Observations on the Diseases Incident to Seamen in London in 1785.

bloody flux (M&C 26, FOW 16, THD 111):

Dysentery, a disease in which the flux or discharge from the bowels has a mixture of blood.

blue coat (M&C 42):

The uniform coat prescribed for naval surgeons after 1805 had blue lapels. It was similar to a naval physician’s coat but without gold lace on the sleeves.

bone-rasp (M&C 67, DI 308, FOW 34):

A surgical bone file.

brainpan (M&C 155):

The skull.

brimstone and treacle (M&C 272, PC18):

A laxative; also used as a spring tonic for children.

bronchus (M&C 37):

Each of the main two branches of the trachea or windpipe.

buboes (M&C 261):

Painful swellings of the lymph nodes in the groin, armpits, neck, or elsewhere in the body. A symptom of bubonic plague.

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castoreum (M&C 350):

Preputial follicles of the beaver, abbreviated as ‘castor’, and used in perfumery.

catalepsy, cataleptic (M&C 95, PC 299, HMSS 101, TMC 139, SM 156):

A condition characterised by lack of response to external stimuli and by muscular rigidity, so that the limbs remain in whatever position they are placed. It is known to occur in a variety of physical and psychological disorders, such as epilepsy and schizophrenia, and can be induced by hypnosis.

catlin, catling (M&C 259, HMSS 272, DI 308, FOW 228, 248, COM 12):

A double-edged, sharp-pointed dismembering knife.

choler, choleric (M&C 181, IM 292, NC 237, BATM 138):

Irritation of the passions; anger; wrath. According to ancient physiological theory, there are four principal humours or fluids in the body – phlegm, blood, choler or yellow bile, and black bile. Whenever any one of these predominates it determines the temper of the mind and body; hence the expressions sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic humours. Choler was believed to be the source of irascibility.

cholera morbus (M&C 107, RM 180):

A gastrointestinal disturbance characterized by griping, diarrhoea, and sometimes vomiting.

climacteric (M&C 181, IM 80):

A critical period or year in a person’s life when major changes in health or fortune are thought to take place; therefore a crisis in the treatment of a disease or medical condition. The term nowadays refers specifically to the menopause.

Cloaths in Sick Quarters (M&C 91):

Possibly a charge for the supply of clean clothing for a patient when quartered in the sick berth??

cockpit (M&C 121, PC 11, 135, 319, 381, 491, THD 40):

An area on a lower deck where the surgeon operated, especially during battle.

compound fracture (M&C 68, LM 133, 157, 159, TGS 141, NC 54, WDS 127):

A fracture in which the broken bone pierces the skin.

congestion (M&C 219):

Heart disease, possibly leading to heart failure.

contagion (M&C 156):

The transmission of disease by direct or indirect contact.

costive, costiveness (M&C 138, M&C 271, PC 100, PC 338, RM 180):

Constipated or the state of constipation.

counter-irritants (M&C 52):

The application of an action to the skin to relieve an internal symptom.

court plaster (M&C 268, FSW 291, BATM 73):

A sticking plaster made of silk coated with isinglass, used for covering superficial wounds.

creta alba (M&C 229):

Chalk or calcium carbonate, the standard ingredient in antacids; also used in the treatment of diarrhoea.

cunning-man (M&C 38, FSW 112):

A fortune teller.

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depressed cranial fracture, depressed fracture of the skull (M&C 138, PC 335, TMC 288, 296, FSW 313, 325, C/T 112, WDS 21):

A fracture of the skull that results in the bone being forced inward, causing pressure on the brain resulting in unconsciousness and, if unrelieved, in death.

dura mater (M&C 138):

The outermost, toughest and most fibrous of the three membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

dyspepsia, dyspepsy, dyspeptic (M&C 188, PC 99, C/T 87):

A disorder of the digestive system – especially the stomach – involving weakness, loss of appetite and depression of spirits.

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emetic (M&C 215, TGS 281):

A medicine that causes vomiting.

eparterial (M&C 37):

Situated above the pulmonary artery.

external carotid (M&C 90):

A major blood vessel in the neck.

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facies (M&C 275, SM 42):

The general facial expression of a patient.

falling damps (M&C 161, 401, HMSS 88, TMC 93, IM 80, LM 69, NC 193, C/T 17, COM 207):

Possibly falling dew at night??

flap (M&C 137):

A piece of skin or flesh dangling from a wound which must be sewn up. Also, a piece deliberately left in an amputation, to cover the site of the amputation with skin.

fleam-toothed saw (M&C 259):

A saw with teeth shaped like an isosceles triangle, sharpened on both edges.

fluxion of the humours (M&C 161):

The body being affected by the falling damps and other changes in the weather will affect the balance of the humours.

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gaol fever (M&C 107, PC 292, DI 144, FOW 10, IM 47, NC 22, BATM 143):


gleet (M&C 215, IM 137, WDS 74, THD 160):

A morbid discharge of thin liquid from a wound or ulcer. Specifically, it is the discharge from a penis when the patient is suffering from gonorrhoea.


Haslar (M&C 90, PC 436, DI 198, TGS 91):

The Royal Hospital at Gosport in Hampshire, the chief naval hospital in Britain, opened in 1753.

hernia (M&C 90, PC 231, HMSS 113, IM 41, TGS 149, 299, NC 132, COM 185, BATM 216):

A protrusion of an organ through the cavity wall, caused by weakness from debilitating illness, increased interabdominal pressure from lifting heavy loads or excessive coughing. Also called a rupture.

Hippocratic point (M&C 343):

Unknown?? The Achilles tendon is also known as the Hippocratic tendon, and the Hippocratic manoeuvre is used to restore a dislocated shoulder.

hone (M&C 259):

A fine sharpening stone.

Hulme’s Libellus de Natura Scorbuti (M&C 67):

A book written by Nathaniel Hulme, advocating the use of lime juice to prevent scurvy.

hydrophobia (M&C 379, C/T 143):

A symptom of rabies, consisting of an aversion to water and other liquids and a difficulty in swallowing them.

hyponogogue (M&C 90):

Sleep inducing.

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inanition (M&C 197):

The process of emptying.

inguinal hernia (M&C 215):

A lump or bulge in the scrotum or groin which contains bowel or other abdominal structure which has slipped through from the abdominal cavity.

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lancet (M&C 259, TH 189, FSW 108, NC 210, BATM 7):

A surgical instrument, usually with two edges and a point, used for bleeding or opening abscesses.

ligature (M&C 132, TMC 293, SM 214, IM 246, NC 277, COM 12):

A thread, wire, or cord used in surgery to close vessels or tie off ducts.

Lind’s Effectual Means (M&C 67):

A book written by James Lind (1716-1794), who wrote widely on nautical medicine.

lint (M&C 130, HMSS 347, TH 118, FSW 292, 312, TGS 30, NC 134, COM 12):

An absorbent cotton or linen fabric used to dress wounds.

loblolly boy or girl (M&C 38, HMSS 247, TMC 194, DI 89, 178, IM 208, TH 282, 283, 312, FSW 177, 203, 222, 291, LM 78, TGS 30, 142, NC 106, 137, 186, 208, 212, 259, 276, COM 2, THD 39, BATM 40, 106, 182):

A person on board a man-of-war who attends the surgeon and his mates, but is generally unskilled in the healing arts. Lob was Middle English for “to boil”, and lolly and scouse were once used interchangeably. Therefore the loblolly person was the one who boiled the lolly or the scouse for the sickbay.

low diet (M&C 302, DI 15, TH 126, TGS 165, 281, NC 241):

A diet involving no meat.

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mammothrept (M&C 275):

A spoilt child.

mandragora, mandragore, mandrake (M&C 254, 390, HMSS 74, TH 281, LM 242, COM 188, YA 24):

A narcotic medicine.

membrum virile (M&C 345, NC 186):

A penis.

mercurial (M&C 181):

Volatile or lively.

morbid (M&C 109, TMC 340, DI 105, LM 55):

Indicative of disease, or unhealthy.

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nostrum (M&C 26, HMSS 76):

A quack medicine.

Nothcote’s Marine Practice (M&C 67, 130):

William Northcote published the Marine Practice of Physic and Surgery in 1770. It dealt with clinical treatment rather than diagnosis.

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official chest (M&C 67):

See surgeon’s chest

open their veins (M&C 272):

See bleeding.

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peccant (M&C 345, TMC 210, IM 108, 112):

Sinning or offending; morbid, unhealthy or corrupt.

peppered (M&C 181):

Infected with venereal disease.

Peruvian Bark (M&C 138, DI 90):

Cinchona succirubra, a febrifuge, tonic and astringent; valuable for influenza, neuralgia and debility. Also known as Jesuit’s Powder.

phthisis, phthisical (M&C 37, HMSS 86, FOW 43, THD 190):

A disease causing wasting of the body, especially pulmonary tuberculosis.

physic, physical (M&C 42, 187, PC 17, 122, 287, 386, 388, 390, HMSS 136, 360, TMC 66, DI 307, SM 176, 321, IM 112, TH 126, 137, 141, FSW 65, 172, 176, 222, 309, LM 23, 26, 80, 200, 278, TGS 165, 166, 280, 285, NC 230, 289, COM 243, YA 196):

Medicine, relating to medicine, or to treat with medicine.

physical bob (M&C 53, NC 86):

A wig, of a type worn by physicians.

piles (M&C 271, THD 110):

Haemorrhoids – enlarged veins in the lower rectum

plague (M&C 107, 155, HMSS 58, 244, DI 148, RM 180, 227, 239, NC 22, BATM 190):

A highly fatal infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is transmitted primarily by the bite of a rat flea, and occurs in bubonic, pneumonic, and septicaemic forms.

pledget (M&C 130, HMSS 295, 353, IM 246, NC 134, YA 222, BATM 7):

A small wound dressing, especially for use as a pressure bandage.

poppy (M&C 390, TMC 243, FSW 154, LM 242, YA 24, BATM 182, 188, 248):


pox (M&C 42, PC 100, HMSS 113, IM 198, RM 15, LM 146, WDS 74, COM 115, YA 201, BATM 40, 216):

A common term for syphilis.

primary resection (M&C 68):

A resection is the excision of part of a bone or organ. Primary resection is surgery performed at the earliest possible stage, before inflammation supervenes; secondary is surgery performed after suppuration has set in.

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Queen Anne’s Gift (M&C 42):

A sum of money granted to naval surgeons annually in addition to their monthly 2d per man.

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requies Nicholai (M&C 319):

A strong sedative.

rhubarb (M&C 310, HMSS 249, TMC 100, DI 90, C/T 15, TGS 45, 165, NC 189, COM 118, YA 116, 201, BATM 86, 88, 103, 106):

The rhubarb plant (not kitchen rhubarb but Rheum officinale) was used as a purgative.

roborative (M&C 90, HMSS 301, TMC 201):

Strengthened, invigorative.

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saw (M&C 67, PC 386, NC 134, 166, C/T 156, WDS 70, COM 12):

A saw was used in surgery to cut through bone.

sciatica (M&C 26, THD 108):

A syndrome characterised by pain radiating from the back into the buttock and into the lower extremity along its posterior or lateral aspect and most commonly caused by prolapse of the intervertebral disk, the term is also used to refer to pain anywhere along the course of the sciatic nerve.

scurvy (M&C 26, PC 481, HMSS 113, 114, 117, 118, 125, 139, 141, 187, DI 271, IM 106, FSW 93, 203, 208, 210, NC 177, 192, 197, 213, WDS 74, THD 110, BATM 5, 172):

A disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency, exacerbated by the scarcity of fresh fruit and vegetables on long voyages.

senna (M&C 310):

A laxative.

silk stockings (M&C 326):

A patient wearing silk stockings suffering a wound will have less foreign matter driven into the wound than if wearing stockings made of some other fabric.

soporific (M&C 302, LM 187, TGS 180):

Sleep inducing.

specillum (M&C ):

A stiff wire, inserted in catheters or other tubular instruments to maintain their shape and prevent clogging).

squills (M&C 348):

The root of the sea-onion, Scilla maritima. It had been used as an expectorant and diuretic from classical times.

surgeon (M&C 37, PC 168, 322, 404, 410, 434, 468, 490, HMSS 136, 176, 351, TMC 194, 210, 293, SM 211, 214, 329, TH 21, TGS 38, 100, 101, 123, 125, 139, 250, NC 9, 21, 23, 101, 127, 235, 239, 274, 278, BATM 3, 181, 188, 228, 236):

Generally, a medical practitioner who treats patients by surgery rather than by other healing techniques. A surgeon was seen at the time to be less skilled than a physician. A naval surgeon on board ship performed the duties of physician, surgeon and apothecary. Until 1805, he ranked with a Master in pay but lower in status. After the reforms of that year, he was a Warrant Officer of wardroom rank.

Surgeon’s Hall (M&C 26, DI 153):

Surgeon’s Hall was completed in 1752 for the Company of Surgeons and abandoned in 1796 in favour of a house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London – a move that led to the dissolution of the Company and the foundation of the Royal College of Surgeons.

surgeon’s mate (M&C 42, PC 257, 491, FSW 53, 58, LM 23, 25, TGS 8, NC 101):

Assistant to the surgeon. After 1805, he was called an assistant surgeon.

Surgeon-major (M&C 180):

The chief medical officer of a regiment, primarily an administrator.

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tenaculum (M&C 67):

A long-handled, slender, hooked instrument for lifting and holding parts, such as blood vessels, during surgery.

tincture (M&C 90, DI 15, SM 80, 321, FSW 129, 172, 292, LM 109, 159, 187, 257, 265, 282, TGS 30, NC 22, 116, YA 197, BATM 35):

A solution, usually in alcohol, of a substance used in medicine.

tourniquet (M&C 130, PC 133, TMC 266, NC 313, COM 12, 97, YA 122, 222):

A surgical instrument, typically a bandage, used to stop or check the flow of blood through an artery by compression.

trepan, trephine, trepanning, trephining (M&C 138, HMSS 119, 298, TMC 296, 297, FSW 194, 313, 325, THD 16, 64):

A trepan or trephine is a surgical instrument having circular, sawlike edges, used to cut out disks of bone, usually from the skull.

trochar (M&C 67, DI 106):

An instrument for examining wounds and fistulas, usually with a triangular point, used for exploring tissues or for inserting drainage tubes, as in dropsy.

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ulnar nerve (M&C 138):

The nerve on the inner side of the arm, passing close to the surface of the skin near the elbow. Also associated with the funny bone.

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venereals, venereal medicines (M&C 91, DI 178, C/T 26, YA 201):

Drugs used to treat venereal diseases.

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Ward’s Pill, Ward’s Drop (M&C 26, HMSS 76):

Joshua Ward (1685-1761) was famous for his pills which were a mixture of antimony and balsam and were touted as cures for many ailments. His drops were made of the same mixture, with wine added.

water cure (M&C 26):

The water cure was the invention of Vincent Preissnitz of Silesia, who recovered from injuries sustained in an accident by a regimen of applying wet compresses and drinking amounts of water.

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yellow fever, yellow jack (M&C 26, PC 444, HMSS 250, DI 127, FSW 59, RM 46, NC 22, COM 202, 225, BATM 134):

An acute infectious disease of tropical and subtropical climates, characterised by fever, haemorrhages, vomiting of blood and jaundice. It was the first human disease identified as caused by a virus. It was first reported in the Antilles in 1635, and a vaccine was eventually developed by Max Theiler in 1926.

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Full credits as listed on Maturin’s Medicine: “This is a collaborative work and has been achieved with the help of Rowen, Lois, Dick Tartow, Bill Nyden, Chris Moseley, Susan Wenger, Mal Marchant, Mary Lowry, Judith Gates, Gerry Strey, Rowena Evans, Lois Du Toit, Heather Robertson, Janet McDonald, Jefferson Bronfeld and Paul Kowalski. (Further volunteers are very welcome!) Various dictionaries and encyclopedias have been used in compiling the glossary, but one book that has been particularly helpful is Anthony Gary Brown’s Persons, Animals, Ships and Cannon in the Aubrey-Maturin Sea Novels of Patrick O’Brian.”

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