" 'I once heard of a sailor who showed the touch of leprosy a week out of Macao on the long haul back to Lisbon,' recalled Henry, 'and the whole company prodded the wretch overboard without a hearing.'"


Slaves thrown overboard circa 1830
Public DomainSlaves thrown overboard circa 1830

The types of sea diseases to which sailors were most subject at this time were scurvy, typhus fever, pulmonary tuberculosis, as well as tropical diseases like yellow fever, malaria and dysentery. Despite this horrible role call there was a huge reduction in the incidence of sea disease in the nineteenth- century. In the Royal Navy, for example, the death rate between 1856 and 1860 was less than 1.5%.  Rarely would European sailors be thrown overboard, although the manner in which slaves were treated was of an altogether different order.