On Feb 28th
1854 David Dumbreck
were dispatch from England together with two other medical officers to report
on the medical service needs in the Crimea area.
They reported in late April of the same
David Dumbreck was allocated the
Turco-Danubian Provinces of Servia Bulgaria etc a considerable commitment. He
not only surveyed the climatic conditions and diseases in this area but also
gave detailed accounts of the inhabitants, the communications and the food
resources. Such an investigation does not seem to have been undertaken with
equal care by the military staff. David
reported on the treacherous changes in climate which were to prove so
detrimental to the health of the army, and recommended alternative uniforms
for cold or hot climates. He
recognised the risk of malarial fevers in the swampy low-lying areas and the
incidence of dysenteric diseases (which he attributed largely to the filthy
conditions in which most of the inhabitants lived).
For the treatment of the intermittent fevers he recommended the lavish
use of quinine. For the
prevention of fevers in general, he advocated flannel jackets and drawers for
the soldiers and prophylactic quinine in the spirit ration.
He advanced strong opinions concerning the necessity for the strictest
hygiene in camps and for the filtration of water supplies.
He drew attention to the lack of tables in the furnishing of Turkish
dwellings and advised that each regiment should carry a portable operating
Of the three reports David’s was the
most practical. Summaries were
sent to every medical officer in the expeditionary force.
The War office rejected the proposals when put to them by Andrew Smith
the chief medical officer of the army.
David Dumbreck did not come back to
England, but remained in Turkey and was asked to approach Raglan with the same
views. The only effect of this was that more blankets were dispatched.
David was on April 24th the
senior medical officer at Scutari reporting to the Director General –
“Everything is at present in confusion, but the medical officers work well
and are bearing much discomfort with very great humour” Most of the supplies
required for this hospital were dispatched to Gallipoli in error as a result
Page 69 notes 13
David Dumbreck (1805 –1876); joined as
hospital assistant in 1825; LRCS Edinburgh 1825; assistant surgeon 1826; MD
Edinburgh 1830; DIG March 1854; served in the East March - November 1854; I G
1859; retired 1860; KGB 1871. Obituary
misquoted that he had earned the VC.
David was sent into Burgaria to assess the
army camp arrangements but arrived too late with the vanguard and returned to
David had at once opened a general
hospital in Varna in a long-disused Turkish barracks which was shared with the
French. The building was scarcely
habitable, with rotting floorboards and leaking roofs.
The French with a well-organised Hospital Corps, succeeded in repairing
and cleaning their half of the hospital.
It was with great difficulty that David recruited even the most meagre
help for this task. When Hall
arrived on the scene he wrote; “The building is one square of an old
Barrack, (only) part of which David Dumbreck has only been able to get clean
and made in some way fit for the reception of sick, owing to the small number
of sappers out here, and the lukewarmness of the authorities on the subject.
The place is literally alive with fleas, and quite uninhabitable until
white washed. Spoke to Lord
Raglan on the Subject”.
As predicted by David Dumbreck the numbers
of cholera and other fevers continued to rise between June and August 1854. No
quinine was used as a matter of course.
General Hall arrived in the Crimea on 17th
September 1854. Accompanying him
was David Dumbreck, who had returned from Scutari shortly before embarkation.
David Dumbreck had reported that the
operating tables would be needed was rejected by Hall who said that the
surgeons should improvise such luxuries. This was at the time of the battle of
Alma (first in the campaign).
October – December 1854
Hall reported the chaotic state of the
transport system to Smith in London, he made appeals to Raglan for help, and
he assigned David Dumbreck, now Principal Medical Officer at Balaclava, the
difficult task of improving the ships. David
could do little about the deficient medical staffing as the regimental
officers could not be spared and reinforcements of new doctors were at first
slow to arrive. He did not have
the authority to demand from the Navy, which was responsible for the
allocation of merchant ships, the supply of transports and their more adequate
On 11th October 1854 by General
Order, David Dumbreck was reprimanded as follows:
The Commander of the Forces is sorry to
have to animadvert strongly upon the conduct of the medical department, in an
instance which came under his observation yesterday.
The sick were sent down from the camp to Balaclava, under charge of a
medical officer of the division of which they respectively belonged; but upon
their arrival there, it was found that no preparations had been made for their
The Commander of the forces is aware that
Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, Dr Dumbreck, gave the necessary order
verbally to the staff medical officer of Balaclava; but that officer neglected
to inform his superior, and the consequence was that the sick, many of them in
a very suffering state, remained in the streets for several hours exposed to
very inclement weather. The name
of the officer who was guilty of this gross neglect is known to the Commander
of the Forces. He will not now
publish it, but her warns him to be careful in the future, and to be cautious
how he again exposes himself to censure.
Dr. Dumbreck will, on future occasions of importance give his orders in
writing addressed to the responsible officer.
When a convoy of sick is sent from the camp, either to the hospital, or
to be placed on board ship, it is henceforward to be accompanied not only by a
medical officer, but likewise by the Deputy-Assistant Quartermaster-General of
the Division, who will precede it to the place of deposit, and take such steps
as may ensure the due reception and care of the men confided to his charge.
The Staff officer concerned was Staff
Surgeon John Tice, who through no fault of his own had not received the order.
David Dumbreck was affronted by the
charges and argued with some justice that is was customary to give verbal
orders in the army, even at the highest level.
On the 13th December the same
year yet more criticism was heaped on the medical service and Hall thought he
would be relieved of his post.
The Medical Times and Gazzette defended
the medical services in the Crimea as follows:
‘We have to protest against the public
insult of the most unwarrantable and unjust character that is possible to
conceive. The utter absurdity of this order is evident at the very first
glance. A Medical officer at Balaclava receives a verbal order from Dr.
Dumbreck to prepare for the reception of sick from the camp.
The Medical officer ‘neglected to inform his superior’ – The sick
necessarily suffer; and Lord Raglan, instead of reprimanding the one offender
for neglect of duty, issues a general order, in which he ‘animadverts
strongly upon the conduct of the Medical Department’ Dr. Dumbreck is blamed
for not giving a written instead of a verbal order.
As the baggage was left behind, it might have occurred to the General
that it was just possible the Doctor might not be very abundantly supplied
with pens, ink & paper, or that, under the unusual press of duty, he
thought a written order might be dispensed with.
It is no part of a Medical Officer’s duty to procure transport or
quarters for wounded. His sole
duty is to attend to them in a Medical capacity. We are not to make excuses
for any neglect of duty; but that neglect must be proved before it can be
admitted; and if proved, the punishment must be borne by the single offender,
not by a whole department which is guiltless.’
December 30th 1854
There was much more criticism of the
Generals in the London papers of the organisation of the army in the Crimea.
The Enquiries during 1855
David Dumbreck was called to give
He was questioned about the hospital in
Varna. He had not chosen the site
and he agreed the building was unsuitable for its purpose.
When asked about conditions in the Crimea in October he said that “he
saw no wants that were not supplied” Surprisingly,
“he never had had any direct evidence that green coffee was used”, a
subject about which the committee felt strongly.
The Roebuck committee note the evidence of
two senior officers, one of which is David Dumbreck, who was invalided home in
David Dumbreck visited the Scutari in
October 1854. His opinion was
“the kind of utter confusion said to have existed in the hospitals at
Scutari was certainly not creditable to our system”
David Dumbreck was awarded campaign medals
for all four of the battles of the Crimea, and was later rewarded by Queen
Victoria for his efforts. He had
one son Sutherland who in later years after his father had died fought in the
Boer and Zulu wars in South Africa.
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