10/11/2017
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Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital records added to Ancestry genealogy website

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More than 200,000 records covering over a century of admissions to the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital have been made available online thanks to an e-volunteer project.

The project, which involved over 100 volunteers from all around the world, was run in partnership with the National Maritime Museum and Ancestry.

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The admission registers, covering the period 1826-1930, have been transcribed to create 220,000 new digital records featuring information on seafarers from across the world, including a large number of Indian and Asian seamen, as well as patients from other walks of life. Conditions recorded vary from injuries sustained in combat, to disease outbreaks such as beri-beri, scurvy and cholera.

The Seamen’s Hospital Society

The Seamen’s Hospital Society (later Seafarer’s Hospital Society) was founded in 1821 in response to the increasing number of homeless and impoverished seafarers living on the streets of London after the Napoleonic Wars. Initially, the hospital was based on a number of ships moored on the Thames off Greenwich, including HMS Dreadnought, a name which was retained when the hospital relocated to the vacant infirmary building of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich as the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital in 1870.

The digital records, now available to access on Ancestry, provide medical information on the patients, such as:

  •  the dates they were admitted and discharged
  •  the vessel they were last employed
  • the floor they stayed on.

The ‘nature of complaint’ are also recorded, as well as where they discharged to, or the condition they were discharged in, and the duration of their stay at the Dreadnought.

In researching the documents, the volunteers and staff working on the project digitised a number of recognisable names that appeared in the admissions registers, which are featured below.

Stories from the records

Joseph Conrad

The writer Joseph Conrad (Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) was admitted to the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital suffering from measles on 2 August 1881. He appears in the admissions register as Conrad Korzenwinke, aged 24, born in Poland, mate of the Loch Etive (1877) of Glasgow, on a voyage from Sydney.  He was discharged on 11 August 1881, and returned to the London Sailor’s Home for further recovery.  

Martial Bourdin

In the Joseph Conrad novel The Secret Agent, first published in 1907, the character Stevie is induced to plant a bomb at the Royal Observatory by his anarchist bother-in-law Adolf Verloc, but stumbles on his way through Greenwich Park and prematurely triggers the device. The novel was inspired by real events when Greenwich Park was the unlikely location of an anarchist bomb attack in 1894. The perpetrator, Martial Bourdin, aged 26, born in France, died of fatal abdominal injuries at the Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital following the explosion of his device on 15 February 1894. The register shows that Bourdin spent half an hour in the hospital and the abbreviation s.c., meaning ‘single consultation’ appears on the record, indicating that he was a patient from a local emergency who wasn’t a seafarer or employed in the docks. 

Albert Edward McKenzie 

The register features the names of some of the hundreds of wounded Royal Navy personnel who returned from raids on Belgian ports during April and May of 1918. They include Able Seaman Albert Edward McKenzie, aged 19 and born in Bermondsey, who served on HMS Vindictive and received the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Zeebrugge Raid. The Dreadnought records show that he was admitted to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds on 9 May and was discharged to fever hospital on 13 September. He died of influenza at Chatham Naval Hospital on 3 November in the same year, days before the war officially ended. A memorial to McKenzie was erected in Bermondsey in 2015.

How to access the records

The Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital records are available to access via membership to Ancestry. The resource is free to access for visitors to the Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum which holds the most extensive maritime reference resource in the world.

Image © National Maritime Museum, London

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