Oxted & District History Society - Talk
Oxted & District History Society

Michael Compton’s great-great-great grandfather, John Roberts would have been at sea at the same time as Lord Cochrane whose life is vividly described by Chris Hasler

John Roberts, and his son were surgeons in the Royal Navy. John Roberts enlisted as a surgeon’s mate in 1805, visiting El Salvador, Cape Town and Buenos Aires.

He continued his training at home and became a surgeon in 1810. On board, the surgeon combined the roles of physician, surgeon, apothecary and nurse. Sailors were difficult to replace, so needed to be kept well. During the 18th Century, citrus juice was found to be effective in preventing scurvy and quinine for treating malaria. Music, dancing and rough sports were encouraged to counteract depression. Most surgeons, like naval officers, spent a lot of time onshore on half-pay when there was no war. John Roberts served as surgeon on a convict ship going to Tasmania.

John Robert’s son became assistant surgeon in 1835. He worked on HMS Buzzard, preventing the slave trade off Africa. In the 1840s he worked on underwater projects at Portsmouth in newly invented diving suits. His last job as a surgeon was on HMS Champion in the South Pacific, visiting Valparaiso, the Galapagos Islands and Mexico, where he died of cholera.


Surgeons at Sea a talk by Michael Compton