Conditions of Service of Medical Officers (Surgeons in the RN) - Army Vs. Navy - 1831
MR EDITOR -I beg through the medium of your widely extended and useful Journal, to state a few facts, not generally known, respecting the class of officers above named; whose attainments and merits appear to me nearly equal, in their respective services, but whose pay, allowances, choice of quarters, and respectability of uniform, differ widely.
The Army Surgeon, besides his personal pay, has an allowance for a horse ; he happens to be the senior in the rank of Captains (to which he belongs,) he is, entitled to the first quarters after the Major; and with his uniform he is allowed to wear two epaulettes. The Army has a numerous class of Physicians, Inspectors, and Deputy Inspectors, and to which nearly the whole of our Naval Hospitals abroad have been given, thereby keeping a number of appointments and allowances of which the Naval Medical Officers have been deprived. And added to all this, I believe I may assert without fear of contradiction, that the period of service for the Army Medical Officers has lately been much abridged, with both the full as well as half-pay, and retirement much increased. If they are detached, or sent abroad, they have increased allowances, and often the means of making a moderate independence; and a considerable portion of their surgical instruments are provided at the expense of Government.
The Army Assistant-Surgeon messes with his Colonel and the officers of his regiment; and his whole period of service is, allowed for his retirement, if only promoted the last year of his service.
The Army-Surgeon, when appointed to a regiment, is never on half-pay, unless by his own request, or the regiment is disbanded.
The Naval Surgeon has the same rank as the Army Surgeon; and till lately, his pay and retirement were nearly equal. He is compelled to purchase, and keep in repair, a set of surgical instruments, altogether costing from forty to fifty guineas, of which he is supplied with a scale, and whenever appointed to a ship, they undergo a strict scrutiny, and if deficient either in number or quality, he cannot even receive the medical stores for the ship (supplied by Government) till such deficiencies are made good. He has not any allowances whatever.
When he obtains an appointment to a ship he can only hold it for three years, and after remaining a long while on half-pay, losing his service and full pay thinks himself fortunate in obtaining another.
Of Staff appointments, there are but few, and the number much lessened, from nearly the whole being done away on foreign stations, and given to the army.
Uniform - this is at the lowest grade for any one in the character of an officer, merely a coat with anchor buttons; his badge on the collar is not half so respectable as that which the Boatswain's mate wears on his arm, for the latter has in addition to the entwined anchor, a crown surmounting it.
Quarters - In a line-of-battle-ship these are the worst in her, being situated in the cockpit, deprived of light, and nearly of fresh air ; where in hot climates the heat is insupportable, and added to the effluvia arising from the holds, is enough to destroy the health of most men ; but more particularly the man (who is) supposed not to be young when he is Surgeon of a ship-of-the-line and probably having served much of his time in tropical climates. And it is not an unusual thing, for three or four of his messmates, enjoying excellent cabins on the main or upper-deck, to be so young, as not to have been born when the Surgeon was promoted. The Assistant Surgeon does not mess in the wardroom, but with the Midshipmen. These and many more incontrovertible facts, which may be brought forward, I am of opinion only require to be generally known, to effect a change, and place the Naval Medical Officers on the same footing as those of the Army. It seems not only just but politic.
I am, Sir, your very obedient servant,
" Throw physic to the dogs."
MR. EDITOR,-Allow me, through the medium of your valuable Journal, to address a few observations to the new Board of Admiralty, respecting the situation of Assistant-Surgeons in His Majesty's Navy; a class of officers whose claims to consideration have, I believe, been never denied, and who have long borne the uncomfortable situation in which they are placed without a murmur, trusting that a time would at length arrive, when in the absence of more important matters, their case might be taken into consideration, and their present situation in some measure ameliorated. It is said, that " Hope deferred maketh the heart sick;" and when in addition to this protracted state of anxiety, they find their brother officers in the Army materially benefited by late regulations, whilst they themselves remain totally unheeded, I trust I may be excused for endeavouring to bring their case before the notice of their Lordships.
If it be necessary that the service should possess medical officers of talent and ability, (and that such is the case appears from the number and importance of the examinations they undergo,) it appears equally necessary that their situation on ship-board should be also respectable, in order that they may bear some analogy to their brother officers of the Army. Let us now see how far this is the case. The Military Assistant-Surgeon ranks with, and has every comfort allowed him similar to a Lieutenant of the Army, or a First Lieutenant of Marines; whilst the Naval Assistant-Surgeon is allowed only the same comforts as the boy of thirteen years old, who comes to sea as a volunteer of the 1st or 2nd Class; but the Second Lieutenant of Marines, who is really his junior officer, and may possibly be a youth of sixteen years of age, having just left school, becomes a wardroom officer, and has all the comforts of cabin, &c. allowed to officers belonging to that mess. It has been said, that the Second Lieutenant of Marines is a commissioned officer, and therefore must have his dignity supported; if so, it appears somewhat anomalous that a man who is of an equal grade with the First Lieutenant of Marines, his superior, should be placed in an inferior mess.
Again, should the Assistant-Surgeon of the Army be unfortunate, and remain for some years without obtaining his promotion, when he is at length successful, he is allowed the whole of his time which he has served, and receives pay and retirement from a scale, dependant solely on the number of years he has been employed in the service, without reference to the rank he has held during that time. Whereas, let an Assistant-Surgeon remain ever so long a time in the Navy before he is promoted, he is not allowed a single day of that time. I am aware that it is said he is allowed three years of service as Assistant-Surgeon ; but this is not really the fact, since he is not considered eligible for promotion until he has served these three years; and if an allowance of any of his time were made to him, it ought of course to be deducted from that time which elapsed between the period of his being considered eligible for promotion and the date of his promotion; otherwise it might be said, with as much propriety, that the Lieutenant is allowed the six years he served as Midshipman.
Again, by a late regulation, Assistant-Surgeons of the Army of ten years' standing, have had their pay increased to ten shillings per them: the full-pay of Junior Assistants being seven shillings and sixpence, and the half-pay of all being four shillings per diem; whilst all those of the Navy, of whatever service, receive only six shillings and sixpence per them whilst on full-pay, and only three shillings on half-pay.
I believe that the Medical Commissioners of the Victualling Board have every inclination to do all that is in their power to increase the respectability of the Assistant-Surgeons in the Navy, and that they anxiously desire to see them classed as ward-room officers: and it has been said that the great obstacle to this arrangement is, that in small ships it is impossible to find a cabin for them. But since, by the present regulation, the warrant officers of small ships are ordered a common mess-place, in lieu of three distinct cabins, and since this mess-place is never larger than two of their former cabins, one cabin of course remains unoccupied, which might be given to the Assistant-Surgeon, and the difficulty in that way disposed of.
I say nothing of the hardship of medical officers being the only class in the Navy who have supernumeraries sent on foreign stations, to prevent the juniors getting those chances of promotion, which service in a sickly climate is considered to give other officers a claim for ; nor do I wish to enter into a discussion of the reasons why medical officers should be cut off from the chances of general promotions, as they were at that on His Majesty's accession to the throne ; but I trust, should a promotion take place at the coronation of their Majesties, that the Medical Department will on that occasion receive equal encouragement with the executive officers of the Navy.
I am, Sir, Yours obediently, X.
Source Part I of U.S.J. for 1831
^ back to top ^