The treatment of sick and wounded before the
establishment of Naval Hospitals
Long before hospitals were founded by the state for the treatment of its
sick and wounded, a scheme was devised by Sir Francis Drake and Sir John
Hawkins whereby they endeavoured to procure funds, not only for the
treatment of the sick and wounded, but more especially to maintain those
who had been maimed in their country's fights.
For this purpose an act was passed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, after
the defeat of the Spanish Armada, by which every parish was assessed at a
weekly sum for the maintenance of disabled seamen, born and resident
within the county. This was the origin of the "Chatham Chest Fund", the
resources of which were increased by the seamen voluntarily agreeing to
leave certain sums "defaulked" out of their wages to form a fund for their
relief. This fund was subsequently further augmented by the compulsory
stoppage of sixpence per month from the seamens' wages; this was
instituted by Sir Robert Mansell, then Treasurer of the Navy, about 1604.
It will be seen that this fund was a sort of "Benefit Society", the moneys
of which were controlled by the Commissioners for the sick and hurt. Any
surplus money was deposited in a strong iron chest, with five locks, which
was kept in the south porch of Chatham Parish Church.
In the reign of Charles II the chest was presented by the crown with
twelve acres of land; and in 1688, it was granted the fines imposed by
In 1803 the chest was removed to Greenwich, and in 1814 the funds were
amalgamated with those of Greenwich Hospital.
The stoppage of 6d per month, however, from the wages of every seaman of
the Royal Navy, did not cease until 1829. The fund at the time of the
amalgamation amounted to £1,355,400, together with its estates.
The pensions awarded from the funds varied £12 a year for the loss of both
eyes, to £4 a year for the loss of one eye, or for fracture of the skull.
Reference to the Chatham Chest Fund occurs in the celebrated diary of
Samuel Pepys, who remarks chiefly on the way corrupt officials helped
themselves out of it. The chest is now in the Royal Naval College where it
was deposited by the Admiralty, in 1845.
In the time of the early Stuarts, the sick and wounded from the fleets
were landed for treatment in the civil hospitals of the country, and when
these were not available, they were put into private lodgings, and even
into public houses for treatment.
The first Hospital near Gosport
The first record of a hospital near Gosport is dated 1713.
It appears that one Nathaniel Jackson owned a hospital called Fortune
Hospital, which was furnished with 700 beds for the treatment of the
seamen of the Royal Navy. This hospital was probably situated near where
Forton Marine Barracks are now built, and would be conveniently placed for
the landing of sick and wounded men from the ships in Portsmouth Harbour.
Hospitals for the treatment of service men existed at both Fareham and
Forton until 1763, when on the reduction of all Naval Establishments to a
peace footing at that date, they were abolished.
Mr Jackson contracted with the Commissioners for the sick and hurt, for
the treatment of the patients at so much per head, which, as we have seen,
was the custom at that time. In fact, the system still survives at the
present day in the treatment of the Coast Guard by Civil Practitioners,
who are called "Surgeons and Agents".
Reasons for building Royal Naval Hospitals
On 15th September 1744, the Navy Board presented a memorial to His
Majesty, in Council, proposing to build Royal Naval Hospitals at
Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Chatham, for the reception and cure of sick and
wounded seamen sent on shore from His Majesty's ships. The reasons set
forth were that "the want of such hospitals is so sensibly felt, and Your
Majesty's service suffers so greatly from the loss of seamen, either by
death or desertion, who are sent on shore for the cure of their
distempers, that we think it our duty, humbly to renew our former
application made to Your Majesty, on that subject (26th October 1741),
upon the frequent complaints that we had received of the great disorders
and irregularities committed at the place where the sick men are lodged,
near Gosport. We ordered Sir John Belchan to send one of his chief
Officers to visit the sick men there. He found such a scene of
drunkenness, as is expressed in the report he made to the Admiral.
The Want of Royal Hospitals is the cause of the lodgings, diet and nursing
of sick men being performed by contract; a method liable to such abuses as
are often fatal to the health of the seamen, notwithstanding all the care
taken to prevent it. But when the folly of the poor men is considered,
intoxicating themselves with strong liquors in the height of their
distempers, the great numbers that are swept away by such intemperance,
and the desertion of great numbers that recover, both compassion to them
and the interest of Your Majesty's service, requires the putting a speedy
stop to an evil of such pernicious consequences, which can in no way be
effectually done, but by building hospitals.
If it is thought too great an undertaking to erect hospitals at once at
all the three above mentioned ports, we do humbly propose that one may be
built at the port of Portsmouth, capable of receiving 1,500 patients,
which may be completely done for £38,000, as appears by an estimate and
plans annexed to the former memorial".
At last it was decided, through the earnest solicitations of John, Fourth
Earl of Sandwich, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, to construct a
Royal Naval Hospital at Portsmouth. A vote was obtained, and the land
purchased in 1745.
The site of the present hospital was said to be that of a farm, owned by
one Hazelwood, however, that may be, it is not the origin of the name
Haslar, which is of much more ancient date than is generally supposed.
In an old charter of the town of Portsmouth, dated 1270, jurisdiction is
given to the town authorities over the water from the east of Hambroke to
Hasil-Horde, and inward as far as it ebbeth and floweth into Byrg or lake
of Fareham, and to Palsgrove. Hambroke and Palsgrove, as well as Fareham,
are still local names.
A round tower is shown on maps of the date of 1540, which occupied the
position of Fort Monckton, and was called Haselworth (worth being A.s. for
farm) Castle. An ancient description of the limits of the jurisdiction of
the Mayor of Portsmouth, date 1566, refers to Haslar as Haselord Poynte.
It will thus be seen that Haslar is derived from an old place name and
from an individual, and place names are generally of great antiquity.
The Hospital is situated on a peninsular piece of land overlooking
Portsmouth Harbour and Spithead, having at its south-west extremity Fort
Monckton, and on its north-east point stands Fort Blockhouse, guarding the
entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.
Boats can approach within about 300 yards of the hospital, and patients
are conveyed from the jetty in large four wheeled ambulances which run on
rails. The rails follow the course of the old hospital sewer, which ran
in a straight line from its inception near the church to its outfall in
Haslar Creek, near to where the jetty is now erected.
In old times, as may be seen in several prints of the hospital, published
at the end of the eighteenth century; the water approached much nearer to
the buildings than at the present day, but the land which is now used as a
recreation ground by the hospital staff, and formerly by the St Vincent
Boys, was reclaimed from the mud in Haslar Creek, in 1872-76, and has much
improved the general appearance and surroundings of the hospital, as well
as having greatly increased its salubrity.
Construction of the Hospital
The three naval hospitals which were built in England about the same time
were constructed on three different plans.
Plymouth hospital was built on the
block system, and was the earliest specimen of a hospital in this country,
with a limited number of patients in each block building. It was built by
an architect named Rovehead, between the years 1756 and 1764, and was far
in advance of its time.
Chatham Hospital was built on the
Pavilion system. Each block or pavilion being in communication with the
other, through a corridor.
Haslar Hospital was constructed on the
Palatial style of architecture without ornamentation.
It was built by Mr John Turner, as architect, after the model of Greenwich
Palace, which was designed for Charles II by Inigo Jones.
The foundations were laid in 1746, and the building completed 16 years
later, in 1762. The hospital was opened, however, for the reception of
patients in 1754, the front line of buildings being then completed. The
wings were afterwards added.
Before the wing buildings were completed, patients were accommodated in
wooden sheds, which occupied the spaces afterwards utilised by the more
substantial buildings. The sheds were not provided with beds and bedding,
but hammocks were slung for the patients, who were chiefly the
The building fronts the north-east: the front being 567 feet long, and the
receding wings 553 feet. The space occupied by the hospital buildings is
about 7 acres.
It is very substantially built of red brick, made from the local clay, and
has white stone facings. For many years Haslar hospital was the largest
brick building in the kingdom, and for that reason was much noted.
The hospital, which occupies three sides of a quadrangle consists of a
double row of buildings, one within the other. The double rows are
constructed on a modified block-system, communicating with each other at
intervals as may be seen from the plan. The outside block is separated
from the inside blocks by an interval of about 34 feet.
According to the original intention of the Architect, the hospital was to
have been quadrangular in form, one side, however, the South-west has been
omitted, and with much advantage, as it allows free access of both sun and
This vacant side of the square was afterwards filled up with lofty iron
railings (twelve feet in height), having in the centre a gateway leading
to the unpretentious little church of St Luke's built in 1762.
One was frequently asked the reason for these huge iron railings and
gate. They were put up in 1796, by request of the Governor, in order to
check the too frequent desertions which took place, at the same time the
lower windows of the hospital were secured by heavy iron gratings, and the
doors kept locked at night. This was the time when the press gang was in
full force, when the Navy recruited by force and by emptying the jails.
To obtain a clear picture of the expressment and its atrocities, with the
consequent desertions, one must study naval history and the newspapers of
that date, such as the old volumes of the "Times".
The iron railings were demolished in November 1905, and as a consequence
the hospital has assumed an appearance less like that of a prison.
The walls of the hospital are of great thickness, and the foundations are
of immense depth. In the lower story the walls are four feet thick, and
decrease as they go up, to 1½ feet in the attics. The cellars under the
buildings are vast, and the groined arches over the cellars support a
floor of brick and concrete.
There is no damp-proof course in the old walls, such as is now put into
all modern buildings, it had not been introduced when Haslar was erected.
The hospital buildings, as I have said, occupy about 7 acres. The airing
grounds - so called because the convalescent patients are allowed to walk
and "take the air" there - comprise 33 acres, and are surrounded by a high
brick wall, altogether, the enclosed land amounts to 46 acres. The
Haslar-land proper is far more extensive, and extends over 95 acres,
including the large field, now used as a recreation ground for the
Hospital staff and submarines, and formerly by the St Vincent boys.
The allegorical piece of sculpture over the main entrance was highly
esteemed in the early days of the hospital. It was executed by a Mr
Pierce, in Portland stone. In the centre are the Royal Arms of George
II. On the left a female figure represents navigation; she leans on a
rudder and pours oil on the wounds of a sailor. The north star above her
head, and the compass at her feet. At the angle the stem of a ship, with
shells, pearls, and zephyrs. On the right hand side, commerce is
represented as sitting among bales and chests, distributing money, fruit,
and flowers. At the angle a sailor in distress, and a bird bringing what
appears to be, the serpent of Esculapius in its beak. At the extreme
angle Boreas, shells and ornaments.
The hospital was originally constructed to take 1800 patients, with an air
space of 600 cubic feet per head, but during the Crimean War there were as
many as 2,000 patients under treatment in the hospital at one time. At
the present day it is arranged to
The Water Supply
The water supply for the hospital is derived from two deep wells in the
Gunboat Yard, close to the hospital, and within a few feet of Haslar
Road. The south well is the old well, and was sunk at the time the
hospital was built. The south well is on a smaller scale in every way
than the north wall, it goes down to a depth of 146 feet to the first
water bearing stratum of sand. The well is lined with a cast iron
cylinder 6ft 10in in diameter. It still yields a fair supply of water.
We have a complaint at a very early date, 1759 from the plumber that he
had great difficulty in procuring enough water from the well to supply the
hospital. The pumping was done by contract, and the power was a four
horse machine. the circle worn by the tread of the horses was only
obliterated in 1905, when the electric light plant was erected in the
building. The sides of the well were not lined with iron at first, as we
find an account of the side caving in from the tramping of the horses.
Horses continued to do the work until 1855 when a new steam engine was
The north well was sunk in 1859 to a depth of 340 feet. It goes through
the Bracklesham beds and other strata to the chalk. The shaft of the well
is lined with a cylindrical shell of cast iron of 8ft in diameter, for a
distance of 51ft 6ins from the surface. The bore pipe rises up the centre
of the well to a height of 16 ft, through which the water overflows into
the well itself.
The bore pipe, or what is called the old bore, has a diameter of 16
inches, and at a distance of 138 feet from the surface meets the first
water. Apparently the old bore pipe stopped here, but in 1859 the new
bore pipe of 12 inches diameter was sunk to a depth of 330 feet, and the
boring to a further 10 feet, making a total of 340. Water was found at
various depths, first at 138 feet; then a spring was encountered at 212
feet; water strata at 316 and 340 feet.
The lower 29 feet of the bore tube is perforated every 3 or 4 inches.
The tube was tested in 1885 and found to be clear for 300 feet, the lower
part was reported to be silted up.
This well from the surface passes through 2 feet 6 inches of mould and 2
feet of clay, then 18 feet of rock, the only rock met within its whole
depth, layers of sand and clay, some of them water bearing of varying
thicknesses and formation, extend to the end of the boring.
The advantage of having two wells is obvious, when one well or pump is
under repair, the other can supply the hospital.
From the wells the water is pumped by the engine, which also drives the
laundry machinery, into two large iron tanks at the top of the water
Each tank holds 125 tons of water or 50,000 gallons. The water tower
itself is 120 feet high, and forms a conspicuous land mark for many miles
around. It was built in 1885.
The tanks in the water tower are 75 feet above the level of the ground,
and as they are ten feet deep, a full head of water of 85 feet can be
obtained, so that the hydrant can force water over any building in
Haslar. The tops of these tanks are open to the air, and therefore have
the advantage of aeration. From these two tanks the water is carried all
over the hospital.
The mains also supply a large tank above the laundry, for use of that
establishment; it contains 230 tons, and is 23 feet above the ground
level; and would be available in the case of fire.
Besides this reserve of water in case of fire, there are the old water
tanks which are supplied by the storm water from the roofs of the hospital
and residential houses. There are ten tanks underground in the quadrangle
and airing grounds made of brick, each having a capacity of 43 tons, four
tanks underground in the Terrace, with a capacity of 150 tons, and two
near the main gates.
These underground tanks hold a reserve of about 630 tons of water. The
water in these tanks is supposed to have been used for various domestic
purposes, but it was a water liable to contamination from vegetable and
other refuse washed from the roof of the houses, and the overflow from
these tanks being into the main tower, not only could sewer air gain
access, but rats also from the main drain.
Then there is also a large reservoir in the Gunboat Yard, which was at one
time supplied from Haslar Mains, but is now in connection with the Gosport
water supply. This reservoir which is really a small artificial lake,
used as an experimental pond in which the models of newly designed ships
are tested to ascertain their stability and sea-worthiness, contains 3,375
tons of water. This water could be pumped through the mains into the
water tower and so become available for fire, but as it is more or less
impure and would contaminate the Haslar water by being pumped into the
mains the stationary fire engine can pump the Gosport water direct into
the mains without going through the experimental tank.
The storage of water at Haslar exceeds 1000 tons, besides being now in
direct connection with the Gosport water supply.
The Haslar water is a good water for drinking and other domestic purposes,
although it is very hard, and contains much sodium chloride and ammonia.
In the early days of the hospital the deep well water was supplemented by
numerous shallow wells. The water from the shallow wells was very hard
and brackish, and interfered with the laundry work. It was therefore
suggested to the Governor by a
The New Zymotic Hospital
The zymotic hospital is built to the south of the general hospital, close
to the sea-wall, and overlooking Spithead. Erected in 1899, it was
occupied 3 years later, in February 1902.
It is built on the separate block or pavilion system, each block being
separate and independent. There are four blocks of two stories each, with
the administration buildings in the entre, two blocks being on each side.
There is a covered way running the whole length of the hospital, but open
at the sides, by which one can reach the wards of the different blocks or
the administrative buildings without being exposed to the wet in bad
Each block consists of two floors, a lower and an upper, and each is an
exact counterpart of the other, being separate and quite independent. The
stair, which goes from the covered way to the upper floor, is not at all
in connection with the lower floor, but ascends in a separate building
open to the air on all sides, and leading to the ward by a passage, open
at the sides.
The keeping of cows in the hospital. Before the houses in the terrace
were occupied, the four principal resident Officers, with the Chaplain and
Dispenser, had, by direction of the sick and wounded Board, been permitted
to feed cattle in the following proportion, viz. two to each of the
principal, and one to each of the other gentlemen, on the hospital airing
and burying grounds.
As eight other officers became resident, by occupying the Terrace houses,
the Governor requested their "Lordship's direction how that indulgence
should now be appointed. It is supposed the land, which is bout 23 acres,
will maintain one cow to each and any proportion for myself their
Lordships may do me the honour to think my situation may entitle me to
Their Lordships decided that each of the principal officers should have
the privilege of keeping one cow in the grounds belonging to the hospital,
and the Governor two. This privilege of keeping cows was enjoyed by the
residents in Haslar till quite recent years. When the keeping of cows was
abolished the residents received a yearly payment in lieu, but even this
was stopped about 5 years ago, and any money that is derived from grazing,
or from hay grown on the paddock and airing grounds, is devoted to the
keeping up of the grounds, flowers, shrubs, etc.
In 1800, the Governor seems to have reached the lowest depth of despair as
regards his house, "the house is constantly wet, and the servants' rooms
streaming with rain". He plaintively requests that the Admiralty would
stop Mr Bunce, the Architect, from making "experiments which have been
constantly tried, and as constantly failed to make my house habitable".
We are indebted to the exertions made by Sir William Burnett while
Commissioner of the Victualling Board in 1822, for the establishment of
the museum as well as the library. The keys of the museum and library
were handed over to Dr Scott, on 18th June 1827.
The museum at first consisted of two rooms, one on the ground floor, and
one above. The museum is situated on the inner wing of the south side of
the hospital square, near the centre.
On 26th June, Dr Scott began to remove the specimens from the cupboards in
the hospital wards, in which they had been deposited, to the museum, which
smelt so strongly of turpentine, that it would have been improper to have
sooner commenced the work.
In the earlier years of the museum, large quantities of skins of mammals
and birds, as well as geological, botanical, and other specimens, were
received through the victualling office.
In 1828 a number of pathological and other specimens were received from
Malta, also in 1835, some came from Melville hospital, Chatham: and from
Greenwich hospital in 1846.
Another room was added in 1840, and in 1850, Mr Barron was appointed
Curator, which appointment he held until 1884. From this date until the
appointment of Fleet Surgeon Bassett-Smith, in 1900, very little was done
in the museum.
The Museum as may be readily surmised from its intimate connection with
the Navy, contains a large and varied collection of specimens from all
parts of the world, zoological, botanical, geological, and a miscellaneous
collection of weapons and objects of curiosity. There is also a good and
rapidly increasing collection of pathological specimens.
The total number of specimens catalogued in the museum, amounts to 11,585,
but this by no means accounts for all the objects in the museum, as
neither the pathological nor the entomological specimens are yet
In 1903, a much needed additional room was added for the anatomical and
It is difficult to select any one group of objects as being specially
representative or specially interesting, but there is a very good
representative collection of human skulls from widely divided parts of the
globe, also some fine tattooed heads from New Zealand.
The Hon Court of Directors of the East India Company presented a fine
collection of coloured casts of fossil remains of vertebrata, from the
Sewalik Hills, India.
There is a fine collection of marine fossils, presented by P C Sutherland,
The Burial Grounds of the Hospital
The whole land to the south-west of the hospital, including the enclosed
ground now known as the paddock and the old cemetery, as well as the
ground on which the Terrace stands, was used indiscriminately as a burial
ground in the early days of the hospital. As I have already mentioned,
any excavation in the neighbourhood of the Terrace, even now, disclose
skeletons, only a few feet from the surface: although the skulls and the
long bones are fairly well preserved, there are no traces of coffins, and
it is doubtful if any ever existed.
No record was ever kept of the numbers of bodies interred here, but no
doubt they were very great. We know that in the eighteenth century, the
men died literally by hundreds. Dr Lind, who was Physician to the
hospital states that in 1780, which was not an exceptional year, 909 died
in the hospital, while in 1779, there were 807 deaths. Then there were in
addition, the bodies of all those men who died in the ships at Spithead
and in the harbour, and we know that the crews of these ships were
frequently decimated by disease. Although there was no registration of
interments, yet, it is stated that, in three years towards the end of the
eighteenth century, 3,600 bodies were buried in the paddock.
There is a curious complaint, "that corpses landed from the ships for
burial, are often left lying the whole day at the landing place, owing to
the neglect of the hospital labourers."
The sick and wounded of Sir John Moore's army which occupied Haslar,
perished in large numbers, and were interred in the paddock.
The army continued to use the naval burial grounds for many years. A part
of the ground was set apart as a Turkish cemetery, but on the building of
the zymotic hospital, the Turkish tombstones and remains were removed to
the new cemetery. Many of the men who perished in the wreck of the Royal
George are buried in the paddock, and it is possible, that the remains of
Admiral Kempenfelt himself lie here.
In 1826 the north corner of the paddock was enclosed by a wall, and the
ground consecrated and used as a cemetery.
The tombstones scattered over the paddock were ordered to be removed, and
carried inside, and placed against the wall of the newly enclosed ground.
Among these stones, is that to the first Governor of the Hospital, as well
as one to a Russian Noble. Only one horizontal stone was left, this is
quite near the south end of the terrace, and although now illegible, it
was deciphered a few years ago, as erected to the memory of two brothers
called Marshall, one a Chaplain in the Navy, and the other a Colonel of a
regiment in Gosport.
The old cemetery was discontinued as a burial ground in 1859, and is now
used for the production of flowers and plants for the hospital, as it is
well wooded and carefully kept, it forms one of the most charming spots in
The new cemetery situated about a quarter of a mile beyond the old burial
ground, was opened in April 1859, and so rapidly has it filled that more
ground had to be enclosed in 1904. One of the largest and most imposing
monuments in the new cemetery is that erected to the memory of the 311
officers and men who perished in HMS Eurydice, which foundered off the
Isle of Wight on 24th March, 1878.
Here also are interred the bodies of two officers and nine men of the
submarine A.1. disaster, which occurred on 18th March 1904.
The mortality in Haslar hospital shows remarkable uniformity, during the
last six years, the highest death rate per annum has been 69 and the
lowest 63, a difference of 6 only, an average of 65.
The new cemetery has not only to provide space for those who die at
Haslar, but for the whole port, as well as for the marines in barracks.
A history of Haslar hospital would be incomplete without a reference to
Haslar Bridge, which connects the establishment with Gosport.
We find in the old records, frequent reference to the "Ferryman, who was
borne on the books of the hospital as part complement. His duties were to
convey the Officials of the hospital from one side to the other of the
Creek. This ferryman, as we will see, was in constant danger of being
seized by the press-gang: and we read, how in fear and trembling he sought
the protection of the Physician and Council.
Previous to 1762, there was no bridge across the "lake" or creek, but in
that year the Physician and Council pointed out to the Commissioners for
the sick and hurt, the advantages of having a bridge erected. One of
their chief arguments in favour of the construction of a bridge, was, that
in the case of fire, they would be so much nearer to Gosport, and thus
obtain assistance so much quicker, and as justifying their demand, they
refer to the unfortunate accident that had befallen Plymouth hospital,
They also state that it would be of great service in procuring provisions
cheaper from the contractor. The Brewer alone, "says he would supply
beer, £30 a year under the present contract, and the other contractors
would make abatements in proportion".
In 1795 we find the bridge built, and as we may presume, Lewis, the
ferryman, finding his appointment threatened with extinction, commenced to
build a house at the foot of the bridge, on the Gosport side, wherein he
proposed to sell beer, having obtained a licence from the Gosport
This conduct of the late ferryman irritated the Governor of Haslar, who
promptly tried to prevent him selling intoxicating liquors. In this the
Governor failed; and the ferryman not only sold beer, but obtained a
licence also to sell spirits, which aggravated the case still more.
As the Magistrates would not take away the licence from the public at the
foot of the bridge, and as the people of Haslar went over the bridge to
get liquor, and much drunkenness followed, the Governor recommended the
Admiralty to remove the bridge altogether, but this they refused to do; he
then suggested that the road leading from the bridge to Haslar, which is a
private road, should be stopped, and the land let to a farmer as a field
This bridge, it appears, was not a Government bridge, but was owned by a
Mr Forbes. The bridge did not exist very long, being destroyed about
We find in 1810, the Admiralty agreed to pay Mr Forbes, late proprietor
£20 per annum, for the time the people of Haslar passed over the bridge
In 1811, the people of Haslar petitioned the Admiralty to build a bridge
over the creek. An order was accordingly given to the Officer Commanding
the Royal Engineers, to erect a timber bridge over the water. This seems
to have been only a temporary bridge, or probably only a foot bridge.
In 1813, we find Mr Forbes or his executors had not yet been paid the £20
per annum for the time people passed over his bridge free.
In 1814, the residents in Haslar again petitioned the Government to build
a bridge, and in 1815, the Admiralty refused to entertain the question of
building a bridge, owing to the great expense, and the small convenience
it would be to Haslar hospital.
Nothing further was done for twenty years, when the present proprietary
bridge was constructed, and opened for traffic on 1st April 1835.
The Admiralty agreed to an annual payment of £50 to the bridge company, in
consideration that the Officers and persons belonging to the hospital,
their families and servants should be exempt from toll. The residents of
Haslar hospital still continue to be exempt from toll, and the annual
payment remains the same.
Those who invested their money in this bridge, did wisely, as I believe,
the shareholders of the company receive handsome dividends.
Haslar & it's surroundings
In 1761, Mr Trotman, the Steward, suggested laying out the quadrangle, and
the Physician and Council thought something of the kind ought to be done.
The quadrangle was eventually laid out, and wooden posts and rails put up
to keep the patients from walking on the grass and flowers, but these
posts were so frequently broken, that an estimate was obtained of £50, to
erect stone posts and chains. The stone posts and chains still remain.
The airing grounds have a long stretch of sea front overlooking Spithead,
with beautiful views of the Isle of Wight on the right, and Portsmouth and
Southsea on the left. This sea-wall was not finished until 1797, it ends
in Fort Monckton, the Fort in which the Military guard of the hospital
formerly were lodged, on the south-west; and on the north-east in a narrow
spit, on the extreme end of which stands Fort Blockhouse, which guards the
western entrance to Portsmouth harbour, and from which in by gone times
great chains were stretched to the opposite end of the harbour. These
chains were tightened in time of danger by means of capstans, and thus
served to protect the harbour from hostile fleets. They were last used in
1778, but were still present at the beginning of the 19th Century. On
this point, also, stood a gibbet on which the bodies of local criminals
were hung as a warning to evil doers. The last time it was used was in
1780, when Jack the Painter, a notorious criminal, who attempted to burn
down Portsmouth Dockyard, was hung in chains, here.
A seaman fell from the top of a ship fitting at Plymouth, and was
dreadfully injured. "He was immediately conveyed on shore, but nobody
could be found to open the gate of the Hospital. At last access was
obtained; but the surgeon could not be found; he was attending a gentleman
of great fortune in Cornwall". It is added that the man died from the
haemorrhage from his wounds.
The same writer also relates "how a Post Captain was so ill as to be
carried on shore in his bed to sick quarters. He was visited on the third
day by a private Physician, who came at the desire of the Surgeon of the
Royal Hospital, as the latter was attending the accouchement of Lady M. at
sixty miles distance".
Trotter recommended that the Surgeons of Royal Naval Hospitals should be
lodged within the walls, also, that all the Assistants of the hospital
should reside within the hospital and have suitable apartments and house
provisions allowed. "At present they live at a distance, and many of them
keep shop". He also advised the total abolition of the private exercise
of the profession by Officers of the hospital.
The hospital at Haslar was opened for the reception of patients in 1754,
but at that time, and for many years after its inauguration, Haslar
hospital consisted of little besides the building of the front block. The
Medical Officers had no official residences, and the senior officers
appear to have lived away from the hospital altogether, but the junior
Medical Officers and minor Officials had accommodation within the walls;
even many of the labourers with their wives and children were lodged in
the hospital, which thus curtailed the space available for the few
patients who could be admitted.
The majority of the sick were still distributed to the hospitals at
Fareham and Forton, and scattered about the town of Gosport, not excepting
even the public houses.
The organisation and administration of a large institution like Haslar
Hospital have been the slow growth of years. In its early days, the
hospital was administered by what was officially designated the "Physician
and Council", this comprised the Senior Medical Officer and the Principal
Officers of the hospital, seven in number, who were responsible to the
Commissioners for the sick and hurt.
The hospital records date from the 24th February 1756, and although the
Physicians and Council were responsible for the good government of the
hospital, yet they could not engage a nurse or dismiss a labourer without
the sanction of the Commissioners for the sick and wounded. Letters were
constantly passing between the Commissioners in London and the
Administrative body in Haslar, which thus gives us a clear insight into
the working of the hospital in its infancy.
The staff consisted of the Medical Officers, Dispensers, Steward, Matron,
Nurses, and 4 or 5 labourers; and to this nucleus others were gradually
added as time went on. Thus the Physician and Council had great
difficulty in finding a fit person to act as barber, while it took many
weeks to procure a suitable man as plumber.
On 14th September 1763. Orders were received to reduce the Royal Hospital
at Haslar, during the time of peace to the following establishment.
at £200 per annum
at £150 per annum
1 Assistant to him at
5/- per day
at £100 per annum
1 Clerk to him at
£50 per annum
at £100 per annum
1 Clerk to him at
£50 per annum
at £50 per annum
at £100 per annum
1 Assistant to him at
£50 per annum
at £25 per annum
at £20 per annum
at £30 per annum
at £20 per annum
£12 per annum
at £20 per annum
at 2/- per day
With only such a number of labourers as the service may really
require to keep such a large building in proper order, at the rate of 5/-
a week, each, and the provisions of the hospital.
The Guard at the Hospital
In the early days of the hospital and until well into the nineteenth
century the hospital grounds were patrolled by a guard of soldiers, drawn
from the regiment stationed at Fort Monckton.
In 1795 the guard was only a subaltern's guard, which allowed an
inadequate number of men to be on duty at a time.
The Governor pointed out, that the wall enclosing the hospital and grounds
was about a mile in circumference, and had to be guarded day and night.
The number of men then allowed was 9 sentinels by day and 12 by night.
The Governor requested that this number should be doubled and that
sentinels should be posted outside the wall as well as inside the wall to
prevent the too frequent desertions. The Governor was granted 15
additional men. The sentry boxes were on wheels, so as to be continually
moved, in order that the patients should not determine the exact position
of the sentry.
After the soldiers' guard came the old Dockyard Police force. This was a
force of special police, who were employed for the protection of the
Dockyards and other naval establishments.
The force patrolled the hospital until 1860, when the Dockyard and
hospitals were taken over by the Metropolitan Police. The men of the old
Dockyard Police were absorbed into the new force, which have continued
ever since to guard the interests of the Naval Hospital.
Although there is not the inducement for the men to desert as formerly,
yet the prevention of desertion is but a minor part of the Policeman's
duties at the present day. It is due to the vigilance of the Police that
the precincts of the hospital are kept clear of undesirable characters,
and that the smuggling of articles either into or out of the hospital is
The present police force consists of a station sergeant, at the head, two
sergeants and eleven constables; one constable is detailed to look after
the fire arrangements and engines, which takes up the whole of his time.
Haslar in its infancy, as we have seen, only admitted a small proportion
of the crowd of sick and wounded that were sent on shore. Some were sent
to a hospital at Fareham, some to a hospital at Forton, while others were
scattered over the town of Gosport in private houses as well as the public
houses. We can imagine what care and treatment would be bestowed upon
poor suffering humanity in a public house, with the sign of the "Dog and
Bull", if it were not proved by the complaints of the Physician and
Council, who ordered that the patients, quartered there should be moved,
and nor more sent.
Frequent complaints are made of the crowded state of the houses in
Gosport, where the sick were quartered; of the dirty condition of the
beds, etc., Officers seem always to have been quartered in the town of
Gosport or Portsmouth. One Officer was brought on shore, from the Surgeon
of his ship, by fraudulent means.
The patients were often received into Haslar in a wretched condition.
In those days there were no uniform nor dress regulations laid down for
the seamen, as a consequence we have frequent reports from the Physician
and Council that "many patients are sent here sometimes with a single
jacket, and at other times with no clothes in their hammocks, we are also
in danger of being overrun with vermin from the men having no shift of
linen". Again "many patients relapse into fevers and rheumatism for want
of clothing". It is reported that Officers' servants are sometimes sent
on shore nearly naked, one man had only a pair of trousers and a shirt
quite worn out. We have the Physician and Council reporting that men were
kept in hospital because they had "no clothes to go out in", while others
"were entirely destitute of clothing".
We have frequent reference to the vermin in the men's clothing and to
"lousy bedding". All the men's clothing and bedding were put into the "smoake
house" on the admission of the patients, to be smoked. In 1756 the Board
enquired of the Physician and Council if the shed used for smoking the
clothes answered the purpose for which it was designed, viz. killing the
The Physician and Council were reluctantly compelled to answer that it did
The patients received into Haslar were not exclusively confined to men of
the Royal Navy. Soldiers were several times received. In 1757, orders
were received at Haslar to admit "all soldiers and women who may be sent
on shore with small pox, from the transports of St. Hellen's" and again in
1760 the Physician and Council were to receive "such infirm provincials
from America, made prisoners of war, as shall be brought to Portsmouth".
While in 1808 the hospital was lent to the Army for a time.
The staff at the hospital must have been kept fully employed if we are to
judge from the number of patients entering the hospital and under
treatment. The Physician and Council state that "between 17th December
1757 and 14th January 1758 we received into this hospital 693 patients,
notwithstanding there were upwards of 900 in the house at the beginning of
this period" and they were taken in "near a 100 at a time".
We have seen that patients on admission to Haslar, frequently required
clothing, they no less urgently required the application of soap and
water. Orders were therefore given that all patients that were considered
fit to undergo the process by the Physician and Surgeon were to be washed,
and labourers were employed to bathe them in tubs.
The furnishing and equipment of the hospital were of the most primitive
description, there were no baths, nor were any baths installed during the
first fifty years of the hospital existence. We have the Physician and
Council complaining that they could not give effect to the order to wash
the patients, as they were in want of a "copper for warming water fixed
with a fire place".
Even at the beginning of the 19th century there were no baths, but
patients were still bathed in tubs. Trotter says it was impracticable to
get patients to bathe in these tubs, because they reminded them of
scrubbing, by way of punishment, on board. Trotter considered that a
"sailor under disease ought to be bathed like a gentleman".
We have frequent complaints from the Physician and Council pointing out
the dire distress they were in for want of lint to dress their patients.
Old linen was apparently supplied to the hospital instead of lint (1756)
and the labourers on the surgical side of the hospital were constantly
employed "scraping lint", from the old sheets and nightshirts supplied to
them by the Matron. The Matron also cut up the old sheets to make caps
for the patients.
Liquor and Smuggling
One of the most frequent causes of trouble and insubordination in the
hospital was the introduction of intoxicating liquors.
The patients were allowed to have a drink of beer to quench their thirst
between breakfast and dinner, and also between dinner and supper, should
their thirst demand it. The wines and porter prescribed by the Medical
Officers, were also on a very liberal scale, but if any patient was
receiving more than one bottle of wine a day, it had to be specially
It was no uncommon event to receive patients in a state of intoxication.
Alcoholic liquors appear to have been easily procured in those days, with
the result that the patient often had a drinking bout with his mess-mates
before taking his departure for the hospital.
Liquor was smuggled into the hospital by the patients, by their friends
outside, by traders in the way of business, and in various other ways.
Soldiers were in the habit of throwing bottles of gin over the wall to the
sailors inside, and we find the Physician and Council taking measures "to
prevent patients getting liquors through the bars".
The Physician and Council report to the Commissioners "that the hospital
swarms with publicans every day, and provisions and liquor are introduced
more frequently than ever". They further relate the punishment that was
awarded to the offenders caught dealing in liquor within the hospital.
"We found four retailing spirits in the house, two escaped, but the two
others we got impressed, and believing this last severity will put an
entire stop to it".
They were shipped off to Spithead to serve their King and Country. It is
astonishing to find that the patients were able to smuggle such large
quantities of liquor into the hospital. In June, 1779, a patient smuggled
at least five gallons of liquor into the hospital, from his ship, in
bladders. The nurses and even the guard were not always above suspicion
of smuggling liquor for the patients.
Smuggling was also carried out on a large scale, as we read of "a large
seizure of brandy made on the beach at the back of the hospital in which
one of the labourers was concerned".
It is stated that in 1755, Haslar was a common "take off" for deserters
and it is not surprising that the poor fellows used every means in their
power to regain their freedom. The Navy in those days could not be
recruited by voluntary enlistment, recourse was therefore had to force by
what was called "the press-gang". The press-gang captured the
able-bodied seafaring man when possible, but on failing to secure seamen
they pressed landsmen; and on the numbers proving insufficient, the
authorities took the scum of the population, prisoners from the jails, and
patients from the hospitals.
The hospital boundary wall was patrolled by a guard of soldiers, who had
their quarters in Fort Monckton, but they could not stop the desertion.
We therefore find the Physician and Council submitting a proposal to lock
the patients in the wards at night.
It was the custom to offer a £1 reward for the recovery of a deserter, the
money being deducted from his wages. This regulation seems to have been
in abeyance for a short time, with the following result as related by the
Physician and Council.
"Since the patients have been informed that the reward of 20/- is no
longer to be given for taking up seamen who desert from hospital, they
have become extremely riotous, insomuch that forty or fifty men have gone
over the hospital walls in the middle of the day, some of whom return
often drunk, and in a worse state of health than when they went out".
Desertions continued all the time the hospital was in charge of the
Physician and Council, nor were they checked by the appointment of
Governor and Lieutenants.
Soon after the appointment of a Governor, he petitioned the Lords
Commissioners to enclose the South-west side of the quadrangle with high
iron railings, (1796) also to have the windows barred with heavy cast-iron
gratings; the doors were also locked at sunset; but notwithstanding all
these precautions the desertions went on as before.
To shew the devices by which men effected their escape from the hospital,
we read on Sunday night, (1796) four men escaped by lowering themselves
down through the bogs, into the main drain of the hospital, and out into
A sentry was placed at the mouth of the drain, and caught one man the
first night. The Governor found on examination that it was perfectly
accessible at low water day or night, either to go fro or come to the
hospital, and he was confident that quantities of liquor have been
smuggled in by that means, and many men have escaped. The old sewer is a
brick culvert 6ft 3ins in height by 3ft 4ins in width, and ran in a
straight line from Haslar Creek up the centre of the quadrangle to near
St. Luke's Church. It had also full sized side branches.
It was also suspected that the patients bribed the nurses and sentries
with liquor in order to be allowed to escape, as much as three full
bottles of wine having been found on one patient, saved up from the
allowance, daily prescribed by the doctor.
The Governor sent in a return showing the number of men who had made good
their escape from the hospital; the numbers were more or less incomplete,
except for the year 1797, when 180 men are reported to have run.
When the seamen of the eighteenth century failed to get out of the navy by
desertion, or if his nerve was not equal to the attempt, he frequently
made use of another method of escape from the service, namely, by
endeavouring to outwit the doctors, by feigning sickness, or as it is
Dr Trotter who was Physician to the hospital towards the end of the
eighteenth century, says, that the patient was frequently detected
malingering, "He employs caustics to produce ulcers, and drinks a
decoction of tobacco to bring on emaciation, sickness at stomach and quick
Trotter also considered that impressment brought on a kind of mental
affliction, peculiar to men who had been impressed, and that numbers
perished from this alone, without any other apparent disorder.