James Lind (171 6—94) discovered the cure for scurvy—a disease caused by a deficiency in diet— through his experiences as a British naval surgeon and his studies while a physician at the Haslar Hospital for men of the Royal Navy at Gosport, Hampshire.
Lind, who was born at Gosport, observed thousands of cases of scurvy and the conditions on board ship, particularly the sailors’ restricted diet, that cause it. In 1753 he published A Treatise of the Scurvy, in which he advocated the use of lemon and lime juice and fresh vegetables. At that time more British sailors were dying of scurvy than were killed in battle.
The book was read by William Monkhouse and William Perry, the surgeons on board the Endeavour, which was under the command of the famous British explorer Captain James Cook and was about to sail for New Zealand. They followed Lind’s principles and throughout the voyage, which lasted nearly three years, only one man died from scurvy.
About 150 years earlier, Dutch sailors had benefited from taking the juice of oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits. But it was not until Lind’s book was published that the relationship between scurvy, dietary deficiencies and treatment was scientifically established.
The introduction of citrus fruit in sailors’ diet brought about the swift eradication of scurvy, which is a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C, resulting in weakness, spongy gums, bleeding and profound exhaustion. The practice of prescribing lime juice in British ships led Americans to coin the word “limey” to mean a British sailor. Later the word came to be applied to British people generally.