Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trotter, Thomas

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TROTTER, THOMAS (1760–1832), physician to the fleet and author, born in Roxburghshire in or about 1760, studied medicine in Edinburgh, and at the age of sixteen wrote some verses which were published in Ruddiman's ‘Edinburgh Magazine’ in 1777 and 1778 (Seaweeds, p. viii). He was, he says, ‘early introduced to the medical department of the navy’ (ib. p. xiii), and, as surgeon's mate, served in the Berwick in the Channel fleet in 1779 (Observations on the Scurvy, p. 76), and in the battle of the Doggerbank in 1781 (Medica Nautica, i. 312), and apparently, at the relief of Gibraltar in 1782. He was then promoted to be surgeon; but as the reduction of the navy after the peace held out little prospect of employment, he engaged himself as surgeon on board a Liverpool Guineaman, that is a slaver, and had medical charge of a cargo of slaves across to the West Indies. A violent outbreak of scurvy among the negroes on board fixed his attention specially on this disease, with which his service in the Channel fleet had already made him familiar, and when, on his return to England, he settled down in private practice at Wooler in Northumberland, he reduced his notes to order, and published them as ‘Observations on the Scurvy’ (8vo, 1786; 2nd edit., much enlarged, 1792). The proper treatment of scurvy had already been fully demonstrated by James Lind [q. v.] in his celebrated ‘Treatise’ of 1754. Trotter corroborated Lind's thesis by extensive observations; but it was not until 1795, and through the instrumentality of Sir Gilbert Blane [q. v.], that the admiralty enjoined the general use of lemon juice as a specific (cf. Spencer, Study of Sociology, 1880, p. 159).

While on shore Trotter pursued his studies in Edinburgh, and graduated M.D. in 1788, presenting a thesis ‘De Ebrietate ejusque effectibus in corpus humanum’ (4to), a translation of which he afterwards published as ‘An Essay, medical, philosophical, and chemical, on Drunkenness, and its Effects on the Human Body’ (8vo, 1804; 4th edit. 1812).

During the Spanish armament of 1790 he was appointed, at the request of Vice-admiral Robert Roddam [q. v.], to be surgeon of his flagship, the Royal William, and in 1793 was surgeon of the Vengeance for a voyage to the West Indies and back. In December he was appointed second physician to the Royal Hospital at Haslar, near Portsmouth, and in April 1794 was nominated by Lord Howe physician to the Channel fleet. In this capacity he served through the campaigns of 1794 and 1795, was present in the battle of 1 June 1794, appears to have been with Cornwallis on 16–17 June 1795, and to have joined the fleet under Lord Bridport very shortly after the action of 23 June. At this time, when going on board one of the ships to visit a wounded officer, he was accidentally ruptured, and rendered incapable of further service at sea (Memorial). He was granted a pension which, with his half-pay and clear of deductions, amounted to 156l. a year. In 1805 a considerable addition was made to the half-pay of medical officers, and Trotter memorialised the crown, praying that he might either have the benefit of this increase, or an equivalent addition to his pension. Other physicians of the fleet, he urged, had a half-pay of 382l.; he, the only M.D. in the navy, the only one who had ever served under the union flag—the flag of Lord Howe, as admiral of the fleet—had 156l. The memorial was referred to the admiralty, who replied that they ‘saw no grounds for recommending a compliance with the prayer of the memorialist’ (Admiralty, Orders in Council, 7 Nov. 1805).

On retiring from the sea service Trotter settled in private practice at Newcastle, to which, however, after some years, the state of his health, or rather the effects of his injury, rendered him unequal. He continued his literary work, mostly on professional subjects, to the last, and died at Newcastle on 5 Sept. 1832. He does not seem to have been married. His portrait was painted and engraved by Orme in 1796.

His published works are: 1. ‘Observations on the Scurvy’ (supra). 2. ‘De Ebrietate’ (ib.) 3. ‘A Review of the Medical Department in the British Navy, with a Method of Reform proposed,’ 1790, 8vo. 4. ‘Medical and Chemical Essays, containing additional Observations on Scurvy’ … 1795, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1796. 5. ‘Medica Nautica: an Essay on the Diseases of Seamen,’ vol. i. 1797, 8vo; vol. ii. 1799; vol. iii. 1803. 6. ‘Suspiria Oceani: a Monody on the death of Richard, Earl Howe,’ 1800, 4to. 7. ‘An Essay … on Drunkenness’ (already mentioned). 8. ‘A Proposal for destroying the Fire and Choak Damps of Coal Mines’ … 1805, 8vo. 9. ‘A Second Address to the Owners and Agents of Coal Mines on destroying the Fire and Choak Damp,’ 1806, 8vo. 10. ‘A View of the Nervous Temperament …’ 1807, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1808. 11. ‘The Noble Foundling, or the Hermit of the Tweed: a Tragedy,’ 1812, 8vo. 12. ‘A practicable Plan for Manning the Royal Navy … without Impressment. Addressed to Admiral Lord Viscount Exmouth,’ 1819, 8vo. 13. ‘Sea Weeds: Poems written on various occasions, chiefly during a naval life,’ 1829, crown 8vo, with portrait, an. æt. 37, presumably after Orme. He contributed also several papers to the ‘European Magazine,’ ‘Medical Journal,’ and other periodicals.

[His own works, particularly the preface to Sea Weeds; his Memorial, referred to in the text; Gent. Mag. 1832, ii. 476; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Allibone's Dict. of English Literature; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

J. K. L.