Wickenden JVS (2011). The strange disappearances of James Lind.

© Jane Wickenden, Historic Collections Library, Institute of Naval Medicine, Crescent Road, Alverstoke, Hampshire. PO12 2DL, UK. email: navyinm-cs@mod.gov.uk

Cite as: Wickenden JVS (2011). The strange disappearances of James Lind. JLL Bulletin: Commentaries on the history of treatment evaluation (https://www.jameslindlibrary.org/articles/the-strange-disappearances-of-james-lind/)

It is customary, when discussing Lind’s Treatise on the scurvy (Lind 1753)and the Admiralty order for the issue of lemon juice, to remark on the 42-year gap between the publication of the book and that of the order. Many reasons have been put forward: Lind’s own inconclusiveness about the nature of the effect of lemon juice on scurvy; the fact that he dedicated the book to Lord Anson, who by that time had little influence as a patron; or simply the slow grinding of the mills of Admiralty bureaucracy.

As remarkable, perhaps, is the disappearance from the written record of Lind’s influence. After the second edition of Thomas Trotter’s Observations on the scurvy in 1792 (Trotter 1792), there appears to be a gap in citations until Sir John Simon published English sanitary institutions in 1890 (Simon 1890), and then the first issue of the Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service (1915), which included HD Rolleston’s James Lind, pioneer of medical hygiene (Rolleston 1915). The James Lind Library’s bibliography of commentaries on Lind cites four further articles before the bicentenary of the treatise, three of them published in the Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service. The other is the first biography of Lind, published by LH Roddis in 1950 (Roddis 1950).

However, Lind’s work did make a brief appearance in fiction in the 1920s. Dorothy L Sayers, in ‘The vindictive story of the footsteps that ran’ (Sayers 1928), makes (rarely for her) a straightforward error of fact when she has Dr Hartmann, in the story, assign Lind’s research to 1757, actually the date of the Treatise’s second edition. Another error, perhaps more excusable in someone with no medical training, is that Dr Hartmann appears to be inducing scurvy in rats. As rats can synthesise their own vitamin C, this is unlikely to have been possible by normal dietary means: the doctor would have done better to use guinea-pigs.

Sayers’ story is set in 1921, but was published in 1928, a year after the appearance in the Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service of Stockman’s article, James Lind and scurvy (Stockman 1927), and the award of a PhD to Albert Szent-Györgyi for his work at Cambridge University in isolating vitamin C: perhaps a coincidence, although it is not unlikely that Sayers would have heard of the latter, given the circles in which she moved.

The bicentenary year of the Treatise produced, not unnaturally, a new edition (Stewart and Guthrie 1953), two bicentennial dinners, and seven further citations, including another from the Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service (Anonymous 1953). Since then there has been a steady flow of papers on Lind or aspects of his work, including one by AP Meiklejohn entitled The curious obscurity of Dr James Lind (Meiklejohn 1954), which part-inspired this paper. There was another surge in interest for the Treatise‘s 250th anniversary: 2002-2003 produced six citations, and two books intended for a less-scientific audience: David Harvie’s Limeys (Harvie 2002) and Stephen Bown’s Scurvy (Bown 2003). Work still continues, not least through the James Lind Library.

Thus far for Lind’s work; but 1953 generated, retrospectively as it were, another disappearance: that of Lind himself. He died in Gosport on 18 July 1794, and LH Roddis states that he ‘was buried in St Mary’s Parish Church, Gosport, Hampshire’ (Roddis 1951, p 148). As Gosport’s Parish Church is Holy Trinity, one might suspect that St Mary’s, Alverstoke, was intended; but Surgeon Lt Cdr Glass, in his article of 1949, says with certainty that ‘His remains are in a vault under an old Norman Fount [i.e. font] at St. Mary’s Parish Church in the grounds of Portchester Castle’ (Glass 1949, p 19), and quotes a record of the burial from the Parish Register. There is indeed a memorial to James Lind and to his wife Isabel Dickie inside the church: but the vault, when opened – whether in 1830 or 1900 or both is uncertain – revealed no trace of the coffins. A single letter from the Commander-in-Chief at the Royal Hospital Haslar, who began the search for Lind’s final resting place early in 1953, says ‘churchyard’ rather than church (Hamilton 1953), but the vault seems on all other occasions to have been assumed as the original burial place.

From contemporary correspondence still on file we know that ‘the Vicar of Portchester had it by hearsay from his predecessor that an old lady organist told him that Lind’s body had been disinterred from the Portchester vault about 20 years after the burial, and removed to the Isle of Wight’ (Summary 1953). James Lind’s son John had moved to Ryde, and is buried in Holy Trinity Church there: but there are no other Lind coffins in the church except for those of John’s wife and two of his daughters. The Commander-in-Chief then advertised in the local papers, the Evening News (Evening News 1953a; 1953b) and the Hampshire Telegraph. No definite result emerged from this that did not contradict the story already known: but by 10 May 1953, the Sunday Dispatch carried the headline ‘Body vanished fifty years ago – hospital advertises for it’ (Sunday Dispatch 1953). The article continues ‘Search is going on all over the country for the body of the great naval surgeon, James Lind, which was buried in St Mary’s Church, Portchester, Hampshire, in 1794 but had disappeared – with its coffin – when the vault was opened 50 years ago.’ After some discussion of Lind and his work the article concludes on a dramatic note: ‘Some old inhabitants of Portchester say ‘It is possible body-snatchers took it. Those were queer days. Strange things happened.’’

There are no contemporary reports of any such theft, and in 1953 neither the Home Office, the Public Record Office or the Diocesan Records had any record of the disinterment or removal of the body (Institute of Naval Medicine JL/f6). On 18 September 1966 (near the 250th anniversary of Lind’s birth on 4 October), there was a service of commemoration of his life and work at St Luke’s Chapel, Haslar, which included the unveiling of a memorial plaque. Report of this reached the Daily Telegraph, which, referencing Meiklejohn’s article (Meiklejohn 1954), commented: ‘Lind kept his ‘obscurity’ even after his death. A memorial tablet in Portchester Parish Church says he is buried there. The tomb is empty’ (Daily Telegraph 1966).

After the commemorative service the matter rested for forty years or so, until Mr Iain Mackenzie, of the Admiralty Library at the Naval Historical Branch, visiting Portchester castle one day, felt the need for a cigarette. To light up he sheltered in the west bastion of the Roman fort’s south gate, and, looking down, saw the words James Lind MD engraved on the slab where he stood. Later in the year I found the grave with my husband’s help, and some while ago took Linda Peters – a descendant of Lind (Peters 2006) – to see it. To my deep embarrassment I couldn’t find it.

That particular year must have been a particularly good one for shrub growth, and when Linda Peters went again on her own, she not only succeeded in finding the gravestone but was able to cut back the undergrowth and clean it. Although it is possible that the stone was moved from elsewhere, I like to think that James Lind is buried there, as close to the sea as he could get. One further mystery, however, remains: why, when he died at Gosport, was he taken all the way to Portchester for burial? Perhaps he made the request in his will.


I am grateful to Ms Linda Peters for her participation in the search for James Lind’s grave, and to Dr Anne Manuel, Librarian and Archivist of Somerville College, Oxford, for checking the college library’s first edition of Lord Peter views the body.

This James Lind Library commentary has been republished in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2012;105:535-537. Print PDF

Historic Collections Library, Institute of Naval Medicine


Anonymous (1953). James Lind: bicentenary of the publication of the first edition of his treatise on scurvy.Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service 39:195-203.

Bown S (2003). Scurvy: how a surgeon, a mariner, and a gentleman solved the greatest medical mystery of the age of sail. Toronto: Thomas Allen.

Daily Telegraph, after 18 September 1966 [undated].

Evening News (1953a).Dr. James Lind. 4 May [page not known].

Evening News (1953b).Can you help historian?11 May, p 6.

Glass J (1949). James Lind, M.D. Eighteenth century naval medical hygienist : biographical notes with an appreciation of the naval background.Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service 35:1-20 + 68-86.

Hamilton J (1953). Letter to Rev. CH Spinney, 29 April. INM JL/f6. item 2

Harvie DI (2002). Limeys: the true story of one man’s war against ignorance, the establishment and the deadly scurvy. Stroud, Glos: Sutton.

Lind J (1753). A treatise of the scurvy : In three parts. Containing an inquiry into the nature, causes, and cure, of that disease. Together with a critical and chronological view of what has been published on the subject. Edinburgh : Printed by Sands, Murray and Cochran, for A. Millar. 

Meiklejohn AP (1954). The curious obscurity of Dr James Lind. Journal of the History of Medicine 9:304-310.

Peters L (2006). James Lind’s descendants. JLL Bulletin: Commentaries on the history of treatment evaluation (https://www.jameslindlibrary.org/articles/james-linds-descendants/).

Roddis LH (1950). James Lind: founder of nautical medicine.New York: Schumann [reprinted 1951. London: Heinemann].

Rolleston HD (1915). James Lind, pioneer of medical hygiene. Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service 1:181-190.

Sayers DL (1928). ‘The vindictive affair of the footsteps that ran’ In: Lord Peter views the body. London: Gollancz, p 107-120.

Simon J (1890). English sanitary institutions. London: Cassell.

Stewart CP, Guthrie D, eds (1953). Lind’s treatise on scurvy: a bicentenary volume. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Stockman R (1927). James Lind and scurvy. Journal of the Royal Naval Medical Service 13:81-98.

Summary (1953). INM JL/f6. item 1.

Sunday Despatch (1953).The mystery of a great naval surgeon. 10 May [page not known].

Trotter T (1792). Observations on the scurvy; with a review of the opinions lately advanced on that disease, and a new theory defended. 2nd ed. London: printed for T. Longman, Paternoster Row ; and J. Watts, Gosport.