Sick Bay of the HMS San Domingo, 1812

Annotated by Grace White

If you’ve ever wondered exactly what our dear Dr. Maturin’s domain was like, this illustration, drawn to scale and labeled, is an excellent place to start!

The National Maritime Museum describes the image thusly:

This picture is an illustration from a watch bill kept by Captain Pechell 1812–1814, on board the HMS San Domingo. Watch bills were documents kept on board vessels, listing officers and men on board ship and giving their watches and stations allocated whilst at sea. Each man on a warship would have been allotted a station for all normal and anticipated situations. Thus, by consulting the list, the men could establish which watch they were in, and where exactly they were meant to be stationed. As is clear from this example, these documents were often highly decorated and elaborate.

The Museum holds a series of over fifty watch, station and quarter bills in its manuscripts collection. The majority of these date from 1830–1860. Some are working pocket books, whilst others are decorative fair copies.

This page of HMS San Domingo’s watch bill shows the sickbay and dispensary. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century that Lord St Vincent (1735–1832) ordered sickbays to be moved away from the lower deck, to the starboard side of the upper deck under the forecastle. Prior to this date, there was no ruling about the placing of the sickbay, other than that it should be in ‘the most airy part of the ship’ (Admiralty regulations). Frequently, it was simply a line of hammocks on the lower deck, where there was poor ventilation, humidity and cramped conditions. The moving of the sick bay was a marked improvement, allowing the men light and air and direct access to the round-house, whilst keeping them separate from the remainder of the crew.

The Museum holds a number of manuscripts relating to medicine at sea. These include surgeons’ logs, the records of the Sick and Hurt Board (1702–1806) and a number of printed pamphlets on subjects such as scurvy.

The Sick Bay of the HMS San Domingo, illustration by Captain Pechell. Click for full size.
The Sick Bay of the HMS San Domingo (Labeled), illustration by Captain Pechell, labeled by Grace White. Click for full size.

Transcription.  Note – the elipses (..) indicate feet and inches, and the (D”) are ditto marks.  There may be some mistakes because of the handwriting and the small scale, but I’ve copied it out as best I can.  If you see any errors, let me know.

The View and exact Dimensions of HMS SAN DOMINGOs Dispensary & Sick bay, on the scale of Three tenths of an Inch
to a Foot.  Extreme Length 24 Feet, and Breadth 23 Feet.

ABCD.     The Dispensary, the remainder accounted the Sick bay
I.K.    Mean height of the fore part of the bay, 5 ft. 9 ½ in.
A.F.    3 ft. 3 ½     Breadth of the Drawers with their Partitions
A.E.    3..9 ½     Height of D”  D” to the Beams.
F.G. & H.I.    4..0     Breadth of each of those Pillastres
B.O    3..5    Extremities of the Head Door with its Pillastre’s
P.Q.    3..4     Width of the Roundhouses D”  D”
E.J. or c.d.    2..0    Breadth of the Top of the Locker forward & height of Head Locker
J.M    1..11 ½    Depth of D”   D”
K.L.    6..0    Length of Partners round the Bowsprit
K.Y.    14..0    Length from the bottom of the Lockers to the
        after point of the nearest Bulkhead abaft
        the dispensary
M.N.    10..6    Length of the Deck from the foot of the
        Locker to the first turn of the Bulkheads
K.D.    9.. 6 ½    Distance of the Foremost Locker from the
        Fore Topsail Sheet Bitts.
W.D.    0..8    Distance between the After Locker jutting
        out forward of Topsail Sheet Bitts
W.V.    2..10    Height of D” to the Top of the Table
D.T.    5..10    Height of the After Lockers &c
Z.X.    11..6    Distance between the Bulkhead beside
Y.n    1..5    Parts of the Bulkheads
n.Y    1..8
y.z.    3..9 ½    Space between the Bulkheads & Partners
z.I.    4..4 ½     Breadth of the Partners
C.X.    5..2    Distance from the Forepart of the Bitts to
        the Bulkhead
o.w.    12..6    Breadth of the after part of the Bay
N.j.    23..0    Extreme breadth of the Bay
C.D.    5..10 ½     Extremities of the Bitts
s.h.    2..3 ½    Breadth of the Head door or Window.
B.l.    2..5    Height of the Head Window.
O.h.    3..4 ½    Height of the Head Door.
p.q.    3..3    Breadth of the Roundhouse Door
p.r.    4..10 ½    Height of D”  D”
v.t.    2..4    Height of the Open Locker for holding Vinegar & Water, from the Deck
d.t.    2..8    Height of D”
t.r.    3..3 ½    Breadth of D”
R.S.    0..10    Length & heigth of a small locker
Z.V.    8..6
I.i.    3..9 ½    Breadth of the Drawers with their partitions.
i.B.    0..6    Breadth of the Pillastre between the Drawer & head Door.
F.m.    4.. 3 ½    Length of the Top of the Locker
Drawer e.    1..5 Wide & 0..7 ½ Heig 1..1 ¾  & 9 inches each in depth, the remainder as they
ascend decrease in depth, the uppermost bearing the same proportions in every part, depth
accepted which is only 6 ½ inches
a.b.    1..9    Height of the Table to the Bottles.
CDXY    Shot locker round the Foremast, abaft the Bitts.
No. l Door 2 ft 8 in Wide entering the Dispensary No. 2 Door 2 ft. 3 in. Wide, entering
the Sick Bay, No. 3. Surgeon’s Table 2..8 from the Deck, 4..4 Long & 3.. 4 ½ Broad, No. 4 Surgeon Mate’s  Table 1..7 Broad & No. 5 Sick Table 8 ft 2 in long & 2..9 broad & fixed upon the Sill of the foremost port 2 ft. 4 in. from the Deck. No. 6 First gun in the Second port of the Sick Bay.

Courtesy of the NMM and Grace White.

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