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Monday, September 17, 2007

Physicians, economists and pirates. Oh my!

In a short article on the New York Times Freakonomics blog about , Stephen J Dubner quotes from a book by Stephen Talty called , which details the remuneration and recruitment models common among pirate physicians:

Skilled tradesmen were well compensated: The carpenter who’d be responsible for fixing any breaches of the hull from cannonballs or storm damage was often paid 150 pieces of eight; the surgeon and his “chest of medicaments” got 250. Men of both professions were so sought after that pirates would sometimes attack merchant ships just to steal away their shipwright or doctor, who was then forced into piracy.
The most famous pirate physician is undoubtedly Dr James Ferguson, a Scot in Samuel Bellamy's employ who sailed on the Whydah, which sank in 1717 near Massachusetts. :

As a man of science, Dr. Ferguson would have wanted us to stick to the facts. But they're pretty sparse in his case. We know he was Scottish; we know he tended the sick and wounded in Samuel Bellamy's pirate crew.

At least he tried to. A ship's surgeon had few supplies and none of the antibiotics we count on today. So when something got infected, the answer was often just to cut it off. The surgeon grasped the limb tightly, since the wide-awake patient wasn't likely to sit still. Then he cut as quickly as he could and cauterized the stump with a red-hot ax.

But there may have been more to Dr. Ferguson. Many of Scotland's citizens were unenthusiastic about King George I, who'd been imported from Germany. Some even launched a rebellion in 1715, and the good doctor may have been part of it. If so, turning pirate might have been his way of escaping punishment when the revolt failed.

A Google search for pirate doctors unearths a handful of truly strange items:
  • US journalist Paul Davidson's imaginary job as : "... in pirate psychology school, they teach you to be honest, generous and that if someone crosses you that you must push them into shark-infested waters before they can do it again."
  • A rather crude and not very funny joke that begins ""
  • An Oklahoma City mother recalls her two boys' game of : "the Pirate Doctor says things like, ‘Arrr, ye be having a broken arm there, lassie! I’ll be puttin’ a bandage on that there! Arr!’"
  • A frightening story about a November 2005 incident in which Rossland, BC surgeon Steve McVicar and another BC doctor and his wife were (you can also hear a , in a Real Audio file):

Five pirates boarded the sailboat and held Dr. Steve McVicar and his friends – a Vancouver Island doctor and his wife – at gunpoint while they looted the 13-metre vessel.

McVicar says the trio had been watching a DVD in the cockpit when the pirates attacked, with the sound of the movie covering their approach.

Speaking with Rick Cluff on CBC Radio's The Early Edition, he said the three B.C. sailors were tied up and threatened with guns.

McVicar says they tried not to resist or look their captors in the eyes.

"I knew that any second I could be gone from this life. I think my family would have a hard time with that," he said.

"We were fairly calm, but we knew we were in an extremely dangerous situation, you know, I just think that for those 20 minutes of hell."


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5 comments:

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    Reply
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