The Crimean Doctors – John A Shepherd (1911)

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winter. Apart from Watson little is known of the junior doctors. There are references to a Dr. Temple, "assiduous in cases of sickness".


Menzies was in overall charge of the Scutari Hospitals from June 1854 to 2 January, 1855. Forrest, who succeeded him, resigned two weeks later; thereafter Lawson and Cruikshank, by virtue of their seniority, were in command for short periods, until Cumming took over completely. Menzies had not proved very successful, but had been faced with great difficulties. By 21 December, 1854, he was exhausted. He wrote to Hall - "My health is giving way under recent attacks of renal complaints and having since been affected with bronchitis and now scarcely able to leave my quarters ... I ask for a Board". In his last weeks before he was invalided home Menzies' management must have been increasingly ineffective. His successor, Forrest, proved a broken reed. After only two days he wrote to Hall - "I feel confident I shall break down", and later he wrote - "I am sorry I find I must divert to England for a change of climate as I am quite unfit to carry on duty here. Lawson and others seem to think there is serious disease of the kidney going on and I daresay they are right". He too was invalided. In evidence later to the Roebuck Committee, Smith was rather vague as to who was in charge after Menzies left.

    Dr. Menzies ... ceased to have charge on the 1st or 2nd of January, 1855. Dr. Forrest succeeded him, and performed the duties for probably about ten days or a fortnight, when he was taken ill with inflammation of the liver, and was laid up and Mr. Cruikshank then succeeded Dr. Forrest. The witness did not know whether there was an interim of a day or two during which Dr. Lawson had charge, but it was not more than a day or two, when Dr. Cumnuln ' having concluded the work in which he had been employed, namely, the ge Commission, assumed the duty.

The situation was very confused. It does seem that Lawson exerted authority for a short period until Cumming took over. Cumming wrote to Hall on 3 February indicating that his work on the Commission was completed, and he continued in charge until 1 October, 1855.

These changes during January must have been very unsettling, and hardly conducive to smooth running of the hospitals at this difficult period. As already recorded,



    at Kullalie, in consequence of the great sickness amongst the staff, one officer had fora short period to take charge of four hundred patients. What is the consequence? The mortality rate among the Medical men fearful, and of those who recover many go home with shattered health and enfeebled constitution.

By late March Bakewell was able to give a good report on the hospital food.

    The hospital at Scutari is now profusely supplied with all food and luxuries for the sick. I venture to affirm there is no hospital in London in which so many extras are ordered and given. The number of fowls, eggs, jellies etc. used daily would provide a very strong remonstrance from the governors of any civil hospital if ordered by their medical officers. The bread supplied is far better than that which the officers commonly receive, the wine and poker are excellent, the meat is of the best quality the country can afford.

The regimental medical officers in the Crimea at first heard rumours and then confirmation from eye-witnesses that all was not well with the hospitals in Scutari. They were aware that the mortality in the hospital transports was excessive. George Lawson wrote in January - "Vessels crowded with sick and wounded are being sent away daily to Scutari, many are invalided home, but few return again to the Crimea after they have been sent away"." Many regimental doctors were reluctant to send their patients to Scutari, since officers and men alike began to regard transfer to the base hospitals almost as a death sentence. While the younger doctors at Scutari clamoured to join the regiments at the front there were some regimental doctors who sought to be moved to the base hospitals, either as a relief from the strain of conditions in the Crimea, or in the hope of gaining wider medical experience. George Lawson learned at the end of December that Forrest, the P.M.O. of his Division, was shortly to go to Scutari to take charge. Lawson had a high opinion of Forrest.

    It requires a man of good capabilities to take charge. Had he been there before there would never have been a complaint against the place ... He has kindly promised to have me removed there, but this I am obliged to keep to myself, as it requires some management to be sent down. I shall first get sent down to Scutari with wounded and sick, and he will detain me there and give me, I have asked of him, one of the surgical wards.

But Lawson's hope was not fulfilled. There were no doubt others who tried to get to Scutari, but as the winter progressed few could be spared from regimental duties.