Home > Summer School > Summer School 2022 > PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS > The history of scurvy and the Cape


Dr Roger Stewart, business director and author

Prior to its prevention, scurvy caused the death of more English sailors on long voyages than all the other causes combined. Between 1600 and 1800 approximately one million sailors died unnecessarily of scurvy: about one in three sailors on long voyages. This lecture reviews the history of scurvy and its connections with the Cape of Good Hope; an exemplary lesson in the repeated cycle of learning and forgetting how to manage a devastating disease.

In the fifteenth century the Portuguese learned of the cure and prevention of scurvy. In 1601 an English captain reported to the authorities his success in preventing scurvy on a trip from India to the Cape of Good Hope. It took until the late 1800s for sea scurvy to be (almost totally) eradicated. Was it mandatory citrus juice, refrigeration or the development of the steam ship that brought the scourge of sea scurvy to an end?


Recommended reading

Stewart, R. 2021. A Cape Odyssey: essays inspired by historical maps of the Cape. Hermanus: Footprint Press.

You might be interested in the release of the second updated and redesigned edition of the above book, which is described at, and available in hard and soft cover at Participants receive a 20% discount if the book is ordered from the author: complete the request at or email





DATE: Friday 14 January
TIME: 11.15 am
COURSE FEES: R75 (online)/R110 (in person)