In the early years of the nineteenth century, Zachary MacAulay and William Wilberforce established a fund for the relief of distressed seamen. The committee appointed to manage the fund met for the first time on 8 March 1821 and from this meeting was formed the Seamen's Hospital Society. The purpose of the new society was the establishment of a hospital solely for seamen. The 48 gun Grampus was loaned by the Admiralty for conversion as a hospital ship and she was moored at Greenwich in October 1821. Within the next ten years it became clear that the accommodation in the Grampus could not meet the demand and in 1831 the Admiralty agreed to replace her with a larger hulk, the Dreadnought, previously used by the Royal Navy as a hospital ship at Milford Haven.
In 1833 the hospital was incorporated by Act of Parliament as 'The Seamen's Hospital Society'. In 1832 the high incidence of cholera prompted the Central Board of Health to convert the Dover as an isolation hospital and she joined the Dreadnought at Greenwich. The Society took over the maintenance of this ship in 1835, also taking responsibility for other ships as time went on to combat outbreaks of disease. The Dreadnought in turn proved inadequate to cope with the numbers, principally merchant seamen, requiring medical treatment and in 1857 she was replaced by the 120 gun Caledonia, renamed Dreadnought by special permission of the Admiralty.
The Dreadnought hulk remained in use at Greenwich until 1872 as isolation accommodation. The Society continued to expand, opening branch hospitals and other establishments including, in 1877, the Dreadnought School for Nurses. With the advent of the National Health Service in 1948 the hospital and its branches were handed over to the Minister for Health, the Dreadnought Hospital itself surviving as a hospital for seamen, administered by the Seamen's Hospital Management Committee until 1974.
Parts of this description have been taken from the Royal Museums Greenwich website. You can find out more about their collections on this page.
Within this collection, you will be able to find the following details for each record (where available):
- Birth Place
- Birth Date
- Date of Treatment
- Physical Details
- Service Details
- Discharge Date
- Death Date