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The Dreadnought Seamen's hospital

Housing the hospital
Caring for the sick
Funding the good works
Sickness and disease
The patients admissions register
Last days of the Dreadnought
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Caring for the sick

Original staff of the 'Dreadnought'

The 'Dreadnought', 104 Guns. At present lying off Greenwich for the Seamen's Hospital.
View full size imageThe Dreadnought, 104 guns. At present lying off Greenwich for the Seamen's Hospital. © NMM
Caring for the first patients of the Dreadnought Hospital was undertaken by a small group of workers - almost all men.

The hospital’s original staff included:

  • Superintendent - Lt Somerville
  • Surgeon - Mr Arnott
  • Steward and Clerk - W. Roberts
  • Boatswain and Carpenter - D. Peterson
  • Boatswain’s Mates - Crump & Nightingale
  • Nurses - Mr Best, Mr Farr & Mr Cook
  • Cook - J. Jones
  • Washerwoman - Mrs J. Jones

You can see from this list that the activities carried out by the workforce had more in common with a ship's crew than with any land-based hospital.

Treatment for all

Christmas with poor Jack at the Seamen's Hospital.
View full size imageChristmas with poor Jack at the Seamen's Hospital, Greenwich. © NMM
From its beginnings the Seamen’s Hospital had a simple policy with regard to who could be admitted: it would provide help and care for ‘all distressed seamen’.

This resulted in a great mixing of nationalities within its wards. Though most of the patients were from the British Isles, other nationalities that often passed through the hospital included:

  • Indians
  • Swedes and Norwegians
  • Africans
  • Chinese
  • Americans

While the words painted onto the side of the Dreadnought were easy enough to understand - ‘For Seamen of All Nations’ - making sense of the variety of languages spoken by the patients was not so straightforward.

Over time the medical staff came to rely upon a variety of individuals to provide translation services. Some worked as translators for those maritime businesses who employed such sailors. Others were simply those present in the local community, such as the Greek waiters of a Greenwich restaurant.

The 'Dreadnought', 104 Guns, until recently lying off Greenwich.
View full size imageThe Dreadnought, 104 Guns, until recently lying off Greenwich. © NMM

Religion was also an issue that had to be addressed. In 1857, for example, the Society allowed a ‘Scripture Reader of Hindoostanee’ to visit Lascar (or Indian) seamen on board the ship.

Female staff at the Dreadnought

Once the hospital had moved ashore it began to employ both a matron and female nurses.

In 1877, just seven years after the move ashore, the hospital opened one of the country’s first training schools for nurses: the Dreadnought School for Nurses.

The nurses of the Dreadnought left their mark more permanently on Greenwich through the construction in 1929 of the imposing Devonport Nurse's Home, just across the road from the old hospital building.

Despite the increasing number of women employed by the hospital a large number of jobs there were still carried out by men. This is shown by the testimonial for Charge Nurse Frederick Stevenson, who left the hospital in 1901.  


Find out more
StoriesHospitals in the port
Caring for the sick
GalleriesPoplar Hospital - the first hospital for dockers
The port was a dangerous place
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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