"Raging at the scurvy trick that had been played upon them"
Scorbutic Gums Caused by Vitamin C Deficiency
Public DomainScorbutic Gums Caused by Vitamin C Deficiency - Credit: Cdc.gov

Scurvy was known as the sailor's nightmare. J.H. Baron of The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) describes it as "a thousand-year-old stereotypical disease characterized by apathy, weakness, easy bruising with tiny or large skin hemorrhages, friable bleeding gums, and swollen legs." Used here as a metaphor, the word implies something of the most contemptible or cowardly nature. 

Scurvy is caused by a deficiency in ascorbic acid. It is preventable and treatable with natural or synthesized vitamin C.

Jason Allen Mayberry, in his "Timeline of Scurvy," describes the different phases of the disease. In the first stage, sufferers endure flu-like symptoms and feel fatigued, with muscle and joint aches. Stage two scurvy produces hot, bleeding, itchy gums, loose teeth and actual joint pain. The third stage sees putrid gums, ulcers and consequently gangrene in the lower limbs and excrutiating pain. The fourth and final stage is one of high fevers, black-spotted flesh and hemorrhaging in the brain, causing death.

In November 2009, Britain's Daily Mail newspaper reported that scurvy was making a comeback in British children. According to the article, "newly released statistics show that the number of children admitted to hospital with scurvy soared by over 50 per cent in the past three years."