The National Archives have release naval doctor’s records dating from 1793 to 1880. Among them are described 7ft parasitic worms and the first documented case of a hermaphrodite.
One passenger was 12-year-old Ellen McCarthy, who was on board the Elizabeth sailing from Cork, Ireland, to Quebec, Canada, in June 1825 when she fell ill and coughed up three intestinal worms which her mother took to the ship’s surgeon.
The doctor, identified only as one P Power, wrote: “Complained yesterday evening of pain in the bottom of the belly increased on pressure, abdomen hard and swollen, picks her nose, starts in her sleep, bowels constipated, pyrexia [fever], tongue foul, pulse quick, skin hot, great thirst.
“Her mother brought me a lumbricus [worm] this morning 87 inches long which the patient vomited. The medicine operated well.”
The naval surgeon treated the girl with a range of syrups and injections including barley water, calomel [mercury chloride – a laxative now known to be toxic], jalap [a tuber with laxative effects] and brandy punch to ease the symptoms and restore her digestive system to normality.”
However, he said the most effective treatment was “oil of terebouth” – or turpentine.