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McNeill/Tulloch Commission of Enquiry

This presentation is based on transcripts by Megan Stevens, and includes the page numbers of the original publication in order to maintain the validity of page references. It is arranged in the following sections:-

Evidence, page 21

SEVENTH DAY, - Friday, 23th [sic] March.

SURGEON ROBERT COOPER, 4th Dragoon Guards, examined.

Joined his regiment on the 31st October, having previously been upon the Staff. The regiment was at that time on the north-west of the plateau in front of Balaklava. The regimental hospital was at one time almost exclusively supplied with salt meat. During part of November, the sick received fresh meat occasionally: but in December, they had nothing but salt meat till the 25th. In January the sick had fresh meat twenty days, in February, twelve days; one some of the days on which fresh meat was issued the quantity was not sufficient for the requirements of the hospital. Is of opinion, that the quantity of salt meat issued has undoubtedly been detrimental to their health. It repeatedly happened, that he could get none other than salt meat for men in hospital to whose proper treatment he considered fresh meat necessary. There has been a good deal of scurvy in the regiment, and many of the sick who were classed in the returns under the head of other diseases, had also scorbutic symptoms more or less prominent. Attributes the tendency to scurvy to various causes which debilitated the system, especially exposure to inclement weather with insufficient clothing, hard labour, and defective diet, particularly the want of fresh meat and vegetables. During the latter end of November no vegetables were issued to the troops, and a supply could only be secured on one occasion, which lasted for only one day; but on the same occasion a supply sufficient for several days was obtained for the hospital. The prevailing diseases have been diarrhoea and dysentery, scurvy, and some chest complaints. Is of opinion, that many of the cases classed as diarrhoea and dysentery were connected with scorbutic tendency in the system. Is decidedly of opinion, that if the men had been supplied more abundantly with fresh meat and vegetables while they were undergoing the hard labour and exposure to weather with insufficient clothing and inadequate shelter, the amount of disease among them would have been considerably less. Is of opinion, that if the men had been properly housed, fed, clothed, and provided with thick strong English boots in the autumn, and not subjected to any excessive amount of work or deprivation of sleep, with the proper means of cooking and drying their clothes, and not called upon to perform the office of baggage animals over almost impassable roads, the sickness and mortality in this army would not have been greater than in the lower provinces of the North American Colonies at a corresponding period of the year. In short, he attributes the diseases not to the climate, but to other causes over which human prudence would have conquered if exercised in time.

The success of his treatment of the sick in hospital was, to him, most unsatisfactory during the months of November, December, and January. The sick were then in bell-tents, lying without mattresses on blankets, empty bags, and matting, on the bare ground, which was continually damp; and no hay or straw could be obtained, as there was not sufficient for the horses. During the months of November and December received on requisition a limited supply of preserved meats for the sick; will, if possible, furnish a note of the amount of such supply. Has frequently been unable to procure the medicines for which he sent in requisitions. Produces the answer which he gave on this subject to the Medical Commission of Inquiry on the 24th December last:-

December 24th, 1854.

It is enough for me to state, that ever since I joined the regiment I have experienced the utmost difficulty in procuring sufficient medicines for the treatment of the cases in hospital. I have, over and over again, applied for some of

Evidence, page 22

the most useful, commonest, and most familiar drugs, without being able to procure them. My requisitions have never been responded to in full, and the quantities applied for (when the drugs were in store) have invariably been sadly curtailed. I have been under the necessity at times of modifying and rewriting requisitions in accordance with the medicines in the dÍpot, and the quantity issuable at the period. I have felt humiliated when obliged to make it a personal favour to procure even a small amount of a medicine to enable me to treat patients under my charge. It is a false position for a medical officer to be placed in, when obliged to supplicate in place of receiving without any difficulty being raised. We all feel aggrieved on the subject, - are surprised it should be allowed to continue - and look in anticipation to speedy improvement. We do not desire, that our demands should be acceded to if extravagant and unreasonable; but simply claim for the soldiers under our professional care a sufficiency of medicines at all times to enable us to do them justice, in accordance with the nation's wish, and in unison with the dictates of our conscience.

Surgeon 4th Dragoon Guards.

p. 130.

Within the last five or six weeks has been well supplied. For about three months the hospital has been as well supplied with medical comforts as any officer, with an army in the field, could reasonably desire. Has never found a single pot of bad preserved meat. Is of opinion, that this description of meat might be advantageously substituted for salt meat when live stock cannot be obtained. Lime-juice was first issued to the hospital, on his requisition, in November; but it was not supplied to the men generally as an article of issue till February; but in December and January obtained, on his own requisition, lime-juice for the men sufficient to give 5 pints per day to about 160 or 170 men. During the time there was a scarcity of fresh vegetables, preserved potatoes were occasionally issued; but does not approve of them when other vegetables can be had. Where, however, no other vegetables can be procured, thinks they might be advantageously issued. Prefers the mixed compressed French vegetables. They would form an excellent addition to the soldier's daily rations. They ought to be regularly issued as a prophylactic. Since the arrival of the troops before Sebastopol no soft bread has been issued to the sick. Is of opinion, that it was quite possible by proper arrangements to have obtained a supply not for the hospital only, but for the army generally. From the insufficiency of the issue of fresh meat and vegetables the purveyor was, in a great measure, called upon to feed the sick of the regiment. About the 20th December, represented officially to the commanding officer of the regiment that neither the men in hospital nor in the lines had received rations of fresh meat for about three weeks. On the 25th, an issue of fresh meat was made. No subsequent official representation was made in writing; but previous to the 20th December, frequent representations were made verbally to the Commanding Officer and the Senior Medical officer of the Division, both of whom interested themselves in the question with the view to secure fresh meat regularly. Handed in a statement of the requisitions on the purveyor.

Has nothing further to state in regard to the subject of inquiry.

In addition to the foregoing evidence, Dr. Cooper subsequently submitted the following letter:-

Cavalry Camp, Crimea, April 29th, 1855.


When called upon to give evidence on the 23rd of last month, I did not answer your inquiries so fully as I could have desired, from not being forewarned as to the topics upon which I was to be questioned. Having within the last two days been allowed to read the answers given by me on that occasion, and perceiving that they do not enter sufficiently into the subjects bearing upon the late suffering in this army, I cannot do otherwise than take the liberty of adding to the evidence already given, that it may prove more satisfactory to myself, and probably more in keeping with the intention for which the commission was instituted. Our Government most natural [?] [?] anxious to arrive at the causes by which such a prodigal waste of men and life was brought

Evidence, page 23

about; and therefore, I cannot but consider every medical officer called upon to perform a duty to the State by honestly expressing his opinions on matters connected with his professional position in the army, inasmuch, that the medical department can better form an opinion in reference to the predisposing and exciting causes of disease than any other class of men, from the circumstance of their intercourse with the sufferers. It will be for me to enlarge upon subjects already adverted to in my evidence, and to tough upon others I omitted to refer to on that occasion. I shall endeavour to condense my remarks as much as possible.

Having resided for nearly five years on the sea-board of British North America, I am enabled to state, that the climate of the southern extremity of the Crimea somewhat resembles that of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton during the autumnal and winter months, with this difference, that in the lower provinces of America, the cold is more intense and the transitions of temperature somewhat greater at times than I have experienced before Sebastopol. Such being the case, how are we to account for the lamentable amount of disease in the Crimea beyond that experienced in a climate known to be severer and more trying to the constitution? The answer may be given in a simple sentence, and it will require but the manifestation of a very small amount of common sense to understand its truthfulness. In the one position, men live in accordance with the dictates of reason, and the plain rules required for human existence; but, in the other, they have been called upon to struggle against the elements without the common necessaries of life to sustain and protect them against well known agencies of destruction. It is a fallacy to lay the sufferings of this army to the characteristics of the climate, which I consider in no degree prejudicial to the European constitution under proper modes of living. The extent of disease was foretold by the thoughtful, long before the bad weather set in; a little reflection predicted its occurrence; the certainty was inevitable; the want of preparation for a campaign during an inclement season being known. Disease and death followed as natural consequences upon the state of things ordained for the army. Officers and men were alike powerless so far as being able to make any provision to protect themselves against the causes of disease. We had no other alternative than to submit to our fate. Was it to be expected we should remain in health and survive trials, exposure, and hardships, too great for our natures to surmount? Be it remembered, that the sick returns do not furnish the full extent of suffering in the army during the period of our endurance. Many men preferred concealing their complaints rather than be taken into the wretched field hospitals; others attended daily at the surgery to receive medicine who never appeared on the reports. Officers in many instances nobly held to their duty in preference to being placed on the sick list, their services at the time were much required, and they generously yielded them, although, in a condition calling upon them to be confined to their tents. Everybody conformed willingly to a necessity. I have no hesitation in stating, that the army was submitted to unfair usage, medically speaking. No effort appeared to be made to economise the health of the force. The unfair usage of the troops consumed their strength, depressed their vital powers, and diminished their numbers faster than the ranks could be reinforced from horse; the natural consequence being, that decreasing numbers were called upon to do the duty of the sick and dead, until at last, the army all but resembled a body of invalids. Men were expected to struggle on in defiance of exhaustion and the laws of existence, as if, forsooth, they were endowed with imperishable vitality and possessed of never failing constitutions. A little forethought, prudent consideration, and timely preparation, would have obviated the loss of thousands of valuable men during November, December, and January. In the months specified, soldiers were removed wholesale from the scene of usefulness by diseases which may be well called under the designation - preventible - because they would not have occurred to so fearful an extent under favourable modes of living. Residence in the Crimea having been decided upon, it was the duty of parties in authority to attend to certain essential points prior to placing men in a position to encounter weather incidental to autumnal and winter months. Provision should have been made to feed the soldiers on wholesome food and in adequate proportion to their wants - to provide them with two suits of warm clothing and boots in the fall of the year, that they might be enabled to shift their garments so as occasions required - to obviate residence under canvas

Evidence, page 24

during inclement seasons - to work the men in proportion to their physical and numerical strength - to allow of a necessary amount of repose and sleep - to issue fuel abundantly, alike, for cooking, personal warmth, and especially for drying clothes and boots - to furnish the means of personal ablution and for washing of linen - to grant the opportunity of converting raw materials into nutritive articles - and to supply the force with adequate land transport. The converting of soldiers into baggage animals added enormously to the sickness and mortality, the men being required to wade through miles of deep tenacious mud with heavy loads upon their shoulders, their constitutions being more or less undermined at the time by influences already animadverted upon. Such was the state of the roads, that the defective land transport was soon all but annihilated by the excessive exertion required of the animals to enable them to struggle through the awful condition into which the highways were reduced by incessant traffic during the bad weather. The brute creation having perished under the circumstances, how was it to be expected that soldiers could undergo the same without suffering to a greater amount?

It is beyond the power of anybody to conceive the misery by which the sick of the army was surrounded so long as they remained under bell tents. It required to be witnessed to appreciate the full extent of the wretchedness. To the medical officers it was a painful and heartrending duty to visit them under such circumstances. We felt for the unhappy sufferers, and did our utmost to relieve them, so far as circumstances would admit. Great was our inclination, but trifling the amendment. The patients reclined for the greater part of the time in clothes saturated with rain and mud. Fuel at one period could not be obtained in sufficient quantity for the purposes of cooking, which had to be done in the open air with incessant rain falling. Under such a state of things, how was it possible to relieve the sick of wet and muddy raiment? The men had but one suit with them. The valises of the cavalry had been ordered by Lord Lucan, the general commanding the division, to remain on board ship when the regiment disembarked. The infantry soldiers' kits had, in many instances, been mislaid from a similar cause. Whilst on the topic of field hospitals, I may be permitted to record my opinion of the relative merits of marquees and tents as coverings for the sick.

Bell tents are extremely hot in summer - wet, miserable, and muddy in autumn - cold and wretched in winter - unpleasant in stormy and boisterous weather - unbearable during intense cold - incapable of being properly warmed with safety - too confined for the performance of professional duties - ill adapted for the nursing of sick men - far too limited on the floor and confined in space, to enable medical officers to approach their patients, or, make them in any degree comfortable, whenever it is necessary to place beyond two bedsteads in one tent - are defective in the means of ventilation in bad weather - and permit of the rain oozing through the canvas on to the men.

Marquees on the other hand can be made very comfortable in standing camp in fine weather, by boarding over the ground, and by placing seven bedsteads on each side, leaving a passage down the middle. They are temperate in hot weather - admit of extensive ventilation by the removal of the walls - are impervious to rain - are moderately comfortable during high winds - afford better shelter than bell tents against cold - enable medical officers to approach the patients with comfort to all parties - permit the orderlies to attend better to the wants of the sick - and obviate the necessity of patients exposing themselves to the air in bad weather whenever they require to evacuate.

The contrast between the two is so striking and obvious as not to admit of two opinions on their respective merits. The one should be for ever condemned as a covering for the sick in standing camp, although serviceable for trivial cases on the march. Justice to the soldier and consideration for the medical officer, alike pronounce in favour of the largest body of space being granted in all instances for the purposes of the sick. Too much attention cannot be given to the wants of the invalided or wounded, and to the requirements of the attendants.

In reference to the amount of scurvy, it must not be forgotten that the men, so long as they were in Bulgaria, were not provided with any kind of vegetable, and that rice was issued only a part of the time. The disease did not develop itself in Turkey, owing to the daily issue of fresh meat, and the favourable circumstances under which the men were living; nevertheless the

Evidence, page 25

partial absence of anti-scorbutics during our residence in that country ought not to be lost sight of as an element in the question.

I cannot overlook a topic of considerable importance in a military and national point of view, inasmuch that it has had a good deal to do with the amount of sickness and mortality in the army. The soldiers sent as reinforcements during the trying weather consisted in a great measure of drafts composed of lads scarcely beyond the age of boyhood. An army on active service needs other support than that derived from undeveloped youth. A force engaged in the laborious pursuits of a campaign even in fine weather, should be composed of men in the vigour of manhood. Uncompleted organization cannot contend with difficulties, support itself under privations, or be maintained in health similar to matured mental and bodily development. It is contrary to the order of nature to expect such a result. In the tranquil periods of peace it may be advisable to enlist advancing age under the designation of growing lads; but, in the time of war, it is a serious error to swell the ranks nominally with individuals unable to contend with the trials incidental to active service. To act in accordance with such fatal policy, is tantamount to voluntarily offering to an army in need of support candidates for the hospital, destined only to impede the movements of the force, and to render duties more harrassing to the strong. Whilst in the field the force should be strengthened, at any cost to the country, by seasoned men obtained from the various channels of labour incidental to the commercial, agricultural, and mechanical nation; men whose constitutions are formed, whose frames have been muscularly developed, and whose functional arrangements are not so likely to be disturbed by influences inimical to the less maturely organized class from whence recruits of late have been derived. Past experience should be accepted as a warning to forbid the acceptance of the service of lads, when the sinew of the country, in the shape of manhood, alone should be looked upon as equal to the duties required of soldiers in the time of war.

The omission in providing a substantial road from Balaklava to the front whilst the weather permitted of its formation, must be viewed by a medical man as one of the main reasons for so much sickness and mortality. Had there been established an easy communication between the supplies and the consumers, the sacrifice of strength and health would not have taken place to the same extent. Intercourse between the shipping and the divisions was all but cut off, and everybody suffered in a variety of ways in consequence. No sooner had we arrived before Sebastopol than the nature of the soil to the most superficial observer indicated the difficulties we would have to contend with, unless measures were immediately adopted to obviate the dreadful state into which the roads would be reduced by a few showers of rain, and the immense traffic necessary to sustain the army in its position, leaving out of the question all considerations as to the material for the siege being conveyed over the same line. Too much stress cannot be laid on the oversight in a medical point of view.

To perfect our regimental hospital system, two particulars require especial attention: - 1st. The appointment of qualified dispensers to act in the position of the hospital sergeant. 2ndly. Trained orderlies. The dispenser ought to write a good hand, and be able to make out returns. The orderlies should be independent of the regiment, and obtained from a source over which the commanding officer could have no control. The latter suggestion deserves the utmost consideration, the welfare of the sick being interwoven in its meshes.

I have, &c,


Surgeon, 4th Dragoon Guards.

Sir John McNeill.

P.S. - May 1st. Information has been circulated in camp to the effect that arrangements had been made with an individual at Samsoun, on the Asiatic coast, to furnish live stock to the English army during the winter months. A great number of animals were collected there in consequence to await the arrival of vessels. A very large proportion of them perished during the bad weather. Transport was never sent to remove them, notwithstanding the great number of vessels which remained unemployed in Balaklava during the winter. If such be true, no comment is needed from an officer who

Evidence, page 26

witnessed the distress which arose out of the failure in the supply of fresh meat. The information is said to have been derived from an officer lately from Samsoun. I have mentioned the subject, being aware of your desire to enter upon every topic relating to the deficiency in the supplies to the army during the months of November, December, and January.


I have to request that this communication may be attached to my evidence.


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