Ship's Surgeons of the Dutch East India Company

Commerce and the Progress of Medicine in the Eighteenth Century

Iris Bruijn

Iris Bruijn

Distributed for Leiden University Press

396 pages | 25 color plates | 6 1/4 x 6 1/3 | © 2009
Paper $43.95 ISBN: 9789087280512 Published July 2009 For sale only in the United States, its dependencies, the Philippines, and Canada

During the eighteenth century, the surgeons of ships employed by the Dutch East India Company were responsible not only for the health of sailors on board, but also of those in company hospitals throughout a vast geographical empire that extended from South Africa to Japan. Regarded by their contemporaries as little more than illiterate and opportunistic barbers, these early medical practitioners engaged in a complex working life as varied as the geographical terrain they covered.


This volume offers a fascinating exploration of the reality of their profession, drawing on data and firsthand accounts from over 3,000 of the surgeons in the company’s service, and spanning topics as diverse as the recruitment policy of the company, the career trajectory of the surgeons in its employ, their geographical origins, and their life expectancy. Demonstrating that the image of these surgeons as uneducated apprentices is little more than a myth, Iris Bruijn portrays them more appropriately as fairly well-educated men subject to the risks of life at sea, including incurable diseases otherwise unknown in their European homeland.


List of tables, graphs and maps                                        



Introduction: Coping with a black legend                                    

1. The surgeon's tale: The development of surgery                      

2. The world of the East India Company surgeon                        

3. The medical service of the Dutch East India Company            

4. The geographic origin of the Company's surgeons                 

5. The career of the Company surgeons                                   

6. 'Great expectations'!    


Conclusion: The surgeon's legacy                                             


Appendix 1.     Methods, statistical account, graphs and tables

                        pertaining to chapters 4-6                                

Appendix 2.     Maps                                                              

Appendix 3.     Notaries used by the Company's surgeons in

                        Batavia 1600-1800                                         

Appendix 4.     Ship's surgeons who died on board and whose

                        collection of books is listed                              

Appendix 5.     Ship's surgeons who died on board and were

                        in the possession of instruments            


Archives and Bibliography                                                       




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