The fictitious Dr. Leander Braden received his medical training at the University of Edinburgh and took to the sea after losing his wife and infant son. Although a physician, he was a rare commodity in the Royal Navy. For the 130,000 men employed in the navy, upon falling ill or being wounded in battle, they were more likely to be ministered to by a surgeon or a surgeon’s assistant who had far less training. In fact, many of the Royal Navy surgeons had no more skill than a “common butcher” and nothing beyond a collection of sharpened tools, a drug called “laudanum,” a few useless tonics and a bottle of rum with which to do their miserable work. Amputations were the order of the day for the treatment of infection which was not fully understood in this period of history. Many of the ships had no surgeon on board at all, and those that did usually had one who was much more interested in drinking up that bottle of “medicinal” rum himself rather than administering it to the poor soul whose arm or leg he was about to lop off. Thus, those sailing with Dr. Braden were indeed the lucky ones.
Historical Backdrop – Dr. Leander Braden