History of the Seafarers Hospital Society

1818 ‐ 1820

The Committee for the Relief of Destitute Seamen (CRDS) is established.

1818: Following the Napoleonic Wars hundreds of merchant seamen are discharged from service. A group of philanthropists, including William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay, establish the CRDS to address the problem of sick and destitute sailors begging on the streets of London. The aim of the CRDS is to make free clinical facilities available to seamen of all nations in the Port of London regardless of race, religion or nationality.

January 1820: The Admiralty agrees to lease HMS Grampus to the Society to be used as their floating hospital ship.

Key figures in our history

William Wilberforce

(1759 ‐ 1833 )

Prominent abolitionist MP who helped establish the Committee for the Relief of Destitute Seamen and later became a Vice-President of the Seamen’s Hospital Society.

Zachary Macaulay

(1768 ‐ 1838)

Philanthropist, abolitionist and friend of Wilberforce who was a member of the original Committee of the Seamen’s Hospital Society.

Dr Bob Blake

(1783 ‐ 1857)

Surgeon who worked for the Committee for the Relief of Destitute Seamen and proposed a floating hospital ship on the Thames.

1821 ‐ 1831

The Seamen’s Hospital Society is formed to establish a permanent floating hospital for seamen on the river Thames.

8th March 1821: The first General Meeting of the Seamen’s Hospital Society takes place at the City of London Tavern in Bishopsgate.

1821: King George IV agrees to act as Patron of the new Society.

22nd October 1821: The first patients are admitted to the Grampus.

1831: The Grampus is replaced with HMS Dreadnought.

Key figures in our history

John Lydekker

(1778 ‐ 1832)

Successful ship owner and whale oil merchant who bequeathed the majority of his substantial estate to the Seamen’s Hospital Society on his death in 1832.

1832 ‐ 1839

A generous bequest from John Lydekker enables the Seamen’s Hospital Society to obtain an Act of Incorporation.

23rd July 1832: : Whaling merchant and ship owner John Lydekker dies suddenly of Asiatic cholera. In a hastily written will he leaves most of his considerable fortune to the Seamen’s Hospital Society.

6th May 1833: : An Act of Incorporation for the Seamen’s Hospital Society is passed during the reign of its second patron King William IV.

1837: Queen Victoria becomes the Society’s third Patron.

Key figures in our history

Charles Dickens

(1812 ‐ 1870)

Dickens visited the Dreadnought in 1851 and recorded his impressions in Household Words. He also mentioned the Seamen’s Hospital in his 1848 novel Dombey and Sons.

Dr Harry Leach

(1836 ‐ 1879)

Dreadnought physician who carried out important work on the prevention of scurvy and wrote the Ship Captain’s Medical Guide which is still in use today.

1840 ‐ 1869

Life on the hospital ships. A period of consolidation and expansion.

1851: Charles Dickens visits the Dreadnought and records his impressions

1857: The Dreadnought is replaced with HMS Caledonia (renamed Dreadnought).

1866: The Seamen’s Hospital Society run a cholera ship on the Thames and inspect over 30,000 boats on the river to detect early cases of the disease.

1867: Under the amended Merchant Shipping Act, Dreadnought doctor Harry Leach is appointed Inspector of Lime Juice following his work on the prevention of scurvy.

Key figures in our history

Dr George Busk

(1807 ‐ 1886)

Distinguished surgeon who served the Seamen’s Hospital for 56 years and wrote on the prevention and treatment of cholera, scurvy, smallpox and typhus.

Dr George Budd

(1808 ‐ 1882)

Distinguished physician who served on the Dreadnought hospital ship and contributed valuable work on the prevention and treatment of scurvy and cholera.

Dr H T L Rooke

(1824 ‐ 1870)

Surgeon on the last Dreadnought hospital ship who set up a scheme to inspect ships on the Thames for early cases of cholera during the outbreak of 1866.

1864 ‐ 1870

Attitudes towards hospital ships change and the Seamen’s Hospital searches for a new home ashore.

1864: Dreadnought surgeons and physicians begin to express serious dissatisfaction with conditions on board the hospital ship.

May 1865: The Society purchase plots of land in Greenwich in order to build a new hospital.

1867: The government agrees in principle to loan the Society a portion of Greenwich Hospital to house a new Seamen’s Hospital.

1869: The Admiralty agrees to loan the Society the Infirmary of Greenwich Hospital on lease at a nominal rent.

13th April 1870: The last 120 patients on board the Dreadnought are removed to the new Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich.

Key figures in our history

Sir Henry Burdett

(1847 ‐ 1920)

One of the Society’s greatest Secretaries who significantly improved the administration of the Seamen’s Hospital and who established the Royal National Pension Fund for Nurses.

Alice Hall MBE

(1885 ‐ 1925)

Served as Matron of the Dreadnought Hospital for 40 years. She improved living conditions for the nurses under her care and corresponded with Florence Nightingale.

1871 ‐ 1889

Life ashore and fundraising for expanding facilities.

1874: The Society embarks on a series of fundraising campaigns to finance the building of a new branch hospital.

1877: A School of Nursing is established at the Dreadnought Hospital.

1880: The Society opens a Dispensary with outpatient facilities in East India Dock Road.

1887: A Dispensary with outpatient facilities is opened in Gravesend and the Royal Pension Fund for Nurses is established.

1889: Prince George of Wales (later King George V) lays the foundation stone for the Albert Dock Hospital.

Key figures in our history

Dr William Johnson Smith

(1840 ‐ 1912)

The Society’s Principal Medical Officer who collected and published in successive medical reports valuable data on the diseases being treated at the Dreadnought.

Joseph Chamberlain MP

(1836 ‐ 1914)

Secretary of State for the Colonies and prominent imperialist who proposed a scheme to establish a London School of Tropical Medicine at the Society’s Albert Dock Hospital.

Sir Patrick Manson

(1844 ‐ 1922)

Distinguished physician & medical advisor to the Colonial Office who pioneered the discipline of Tropical Medicine & who founded & directed the London School of Tropical Medicine.

1890 ‐ 1899

Imperial concerns. The establishment of the London School of Tropical Medicine at the Albert Dock Hospital.

1890: The Albert Dock Hospital is opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra).

1897: As part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee the Society launches a new fundraising campaign.

1898: Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain proposes a scheme to establish a London School of Tropical Medicine at the Albert Dock Hospital.

1899: Beds at the Albert Dock Hospital are allocated for soldiers injured in the Boer War.

1899: The London School of Tropical Medicine opens and courses in tropical nursing are established.

Key figures in our history

Sir Perceval Nairne

(1841 ‐ 1921)

Perhaps the greatest of the Society’s Chairmen who served on the Committee of Management for 52 years and was also the first Chairman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical.

Sir James Cantlie

(1851 ‐ 1926)

Surgeon at the Albert Dock Hospital and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases who inaugurated and was first (joint) editor of the Journal of Tropical Medicine.

1900 ‐ 1913

The London School of Clinical Medicine (LSCM) – a new postgraduate training school at the Dreadnought.

1902: The Society uses the coronation of King Edward VII to launch a fundraising appeal.

May 1906: The Society’s new London School of Clinical Medicine enrols its first postgraduate students.

February 1907: To accommodate the LSCM and growing numbers of outpatients the Admiralty approves structural alterations to the Dreadnought hospital.

1910: The Colonial Office arranges for Medical Officers in the West African Medical Service to study at the LSCM.

Key figures in our history

Mrs L G Angas

(1862 ‐ 1959)

The Society’s first woman Vice-President who gifted her empty house in Kent to be used as a convalescent home for seamen. The Angas Home was opened in 1918.

1914 ‐ 1918

The role of the Seamen’s Hospital Society during the First World War. Treating seamen from the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine.

1915: VAD nurses and Officers of the West African Medical Service and Colonial Service help run SHS hospitals.

1915: Medal ceremonies take place at the Dreadnought hospital.

1915: King George V and Queen Mary visit the Dreadnought hospital where 320 veterans of the Dardanelles Campaign are being treated.

1916: Lord Devonport establishes a fund to extend and improve the Dreadnought hospital.

1918: The Society’s Angas Home is opened.

Key figures in our history

Sir James Michelli

(1853 ‐ 1935)

Charismatic Secretary who served the Society for 57 years and oversaw the period of its greatest expansion. He was also Secretary of the LSTM until 1924.

The First Earl of Inchcape

(1852 ‐ 1932)

Leading figure in the shipping industry and Vice-President of the Society. He established a Fund to finance the King George’s Sanatorium for Sailors which opened in 1920.

Queen Alexandra

(1844 ‐ 1925)

Joint Patron of the Society until 1910. She carried out extensive charity work for the Seamen‚Äôs Hospital and in 1919 opened the ‚ÄėSilver Thimble‚Äô Ward at the Dreadnought.

1919 ‐ 1925

Post war expansion of the Seamen’s Hospital Society. Great fundraising campaigns and the opening of new hospitals.

1919: Queen Alexandra opens the ‚ÄėSilver Thimble‚Äô Ward in the Dreadnought hospital and a fund is established to endow a ‚ÄėCeylon bed‚Äô.

11th November 1920: The Duke of York opens the new site of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Endsleigh Gardens.

12th July 1920: The King George’s Sanatorium for Sick Sailors is opened by the Duke of York.

1924: The Society takes over stewardship of Tilbury Hospital.

1925: Extensions at Tilbury Hospital, including the Singhanee Ward, are opened by Lady Inchcape.

Key figures in our history

Viscount Devonport

(1856 ‐ 1934)

One of the Society’s greatest benefactors who established the Devonport Fund in 1916 which financed the building of the Devonport Nurses’ Home in Greenwich.

Captain Sir Arthur Clarke

(1857 ‐ 1932)

Distinguished Elder Brother of Trinity House who served as Chairman of the Society for 10 years during its period of greatest expansion.

1926 ‐ 1929

The Seamen’s Hospital Society continues to expand its services. Old hospitals are modernized and new facilities opened.

1926: Lord Devonport lays the foundation stone for the Devonport Nurses’ Home and Pathological Laboratory in Greenwich.

1928: The Society takes over stewardship of the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Marseilles.

15th July 1929: The Devonport Nurses’ Home is opened by the Duke and Duchess of York.

1929: The Hospital for Tropical Disease in Endsleigh Gardens is refurbished when the renamed London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine moves to its new home.

1929: 33,034 patients are treated by the Society’s hospitals Рthe greatest number in its history.

Key figures in our history

Sir Philip Henry Manson-Bahr

(1881 ‐ 1966)

Distinguished physician who cared for patients at the Society’s hospitals and lectured at the LSTM. He was also Director of Clinical Tropical Medicine at the LSHTM.

Sir Malcom Campbell

(1885 ‐ 1948)

Motor racing driver who set world land and water speed records. At a ceremony at the Dreadnought in 1932 he named the Society’s new fleet of motor ambulances.

Sir Noel Coward

(1899 ‐ 1973)

Famous playwright, actor and composer who supported and publicised the Society’s appeal for the rebuilding of the Albert Dock Hospital in the 1930s.

1930 ‐ 1935

A modern Society. A major fund raising campaign is launched to rebuild the Albert Dock Hospital.

1930: The refurbished Hospital for Tropical Diseases is reopened by the Under Secretary of State for the Dominions.

1931: The Society is the only organisation at this time to run its own fleet of motor ambulances.

8th June 1932: The Duke of York formally opens new extensions at the Dreadnought hospital.

1934: The Dreadnought Nurses’ Training School is recognised as a self-contained training school by the General Council of Nurses.

1934: An appeal is launched by the Duke of York to fund the rebuilding of the Albert Dock Hospital.

Key figures in our history

Queen Mary

(1867 ‐ 1953)

The Society’s Patron, both jointly with King George V and alone following his death. She visited the Society’s hospitals frequently and opened the new Albert Dock Hospital in 1938.

F.A. Lyon OBE

(1935 ‐ 1961)

Secretary of the Society from 1935 until 1961. He oversaw the transfer of its hospitals to the new National Health Service and archived many of its historical records.

1936 ‐ 1938

A Society for all nations. The opening of the new Albert Dock Hospital after a successful fundraising campaign.

1934-1938: 75% of all seamen treated by the Society’s hospitals are from British colonies, especially India, or are foreign sailors.

1937: The foundation stone for the new Albert Dock Hospital is laid.

1937: ‚ÄĘ The Dreadnought hospital is improved with larger wards for patients, refurbished accommodation for male staff, the installation of a lift and improved kitchen facilities.

1937: The Society acquires the site of the demolished St Mary’s church in Greenwich.

21st October 1938: The new Albert Dock Hospital is opened by Queen Mary on Trafalgar Day.


The role of the Seamen’s Hospital Society during the Second World War. The requisitioning of the Society’s hospitals.

1939: The Dreadnought, Albert Dock and Tilbury Hospitals are used as Casualty Clearing Hospitals under the Ministry of Health’s Emergency Hospital Service (EMS).

1939: The Angas Home is used as a Recovery Hospital.

1939: The King George’s Sanatorium for Sick Sailors begins receiving Royal Navy Ratings suffering with tuberculosis.

1939: The Hospital for Tropical Diseases is closed as it is deemed an unsafe location for patients in the event of air raids.

1940 ‐ 1941

Under attack. The Society’s hospitals suffer badly from bomb damage but carry on treating patients throughout The Blitz.

October 1940: The War Department takes possession of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

August 1940: Tilbury Hospital suffers bomb damage.

September 1940: The north west wing of the Dreadnought Hospital, including the chapel, is completely destroyed by a bomb. PM Winston Churchill and the Duke of Kent visit soon afterwards to inspect the damage. The Dreadnought is reduced to 1/5 of its normal capacity and a ‚ÄėDreadnought Restoration Fund‚Äô is set up immediately.

March 1941: The Albert Dock Hospital is bombed.

April 1941: The Dreadnought suffers water damage after German incendiaries fall.


Pioneering wartime work by the Seamen’s Hospital Society.

1942: Active honorary medical staff from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases take charge of tropical patients at the Society’s other hospitals.

1942: The Society purchases a Miniature Radio Photography (MRP) unit to carry out a large scale survey of Merchant Navy seafarers to detect tuberculosis in its earliest stages.

1942: The Society and the Medical Officer to the Port of London set up a Scabies Unit at the Dreadnought to try and eliminate this parasitic infection from the Merchant Marine.

Key figures in our history

Dr Alexander Wingfield

(1907 ‐ 1969)

Dreadnought chest and cardiovascular surgeon who was involved with a proposed scheme to use MRP to screen seamen for tuberculosis during WWII.

Sir Hugh Griffiths

(1891 ‐ 1961)

Director of the Albert Dock Hospital Accident and Rehabilitation Centre who was knighted for his contribution to improving the rehabilitation of injured seamen and dockworkers.

1943 ‐ 1945

Bomb damage continues in the latter stages of the war. The future of the Society’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases is considered by the Colonial Office.

1944: The Dreadnought Hospital and The Devonport Nurses’ Home suffer bomb damage from V1 and V2 rockets.

May 1944: The former Hospital for Tropical Diseases building is seriously damaged by a land mine.

1945: The Hospital for Tropical Diseases is temporarily rehoused with financial help from the Colonial Office.

1945: The Society’s plans to build a new Tropical Diseases Hospital in Greenwich after the war are approved by the Colonial office who are concerned about large numbers of Prisoners of War returning from the Far East.

1946 ‐ 1953

Winds of change. The role of the Seamen’s Hospital Society under the new National Health Service.

1946: The National Health Service Act is passed.

1948: Regional Health Authorities take over stewardship of all the Society’s hospitals. A Seamen’s Hospital Management Committee is set up to work with the new Authorities.

1949: A new chapel is dedicated at the Albert Dock Hospital.

1951: The Society opens a hostel in Greenwich for relatives of patients in the Dreadnought Hospital. It is named Nairne House after the great Society Chairman Sir Perceval Nairne.

1953: The Bishop of Southwark dedicates a new chapel in the Dreadnought Hospital.

1954 ‐ 1959

A new role in a changing world. The Seamen’s Hospital Society amends its Act of Incorporation and extends its remit.

1956: As cases of tuberculosis decline the King George’s Sanatorium for Sick Sailors begins treating patients with other diseases.

1958: The Society’s Act of Incorporation is amended. Provisions are extended to include merchant seamen and their dependants in all ports in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The amended Act recognises that not all seafarers needing support will be able to return to employment in the Merchant Marine.

1959: The number of patients admitted to the Dreadnought Hospital declines sharply but the Albert Dock Hospital Fracture Clinic and rehabilitation programmes continue to be successful.

1960 ‐ 1986

The Seamen‚Äôs Hospital Society celebrates its 150th anniversary and opens a ‚ÄėDreadnought Wing‚Äô at the Trinity House Homes for Merchant Navy Officers.

1960: The Devonport Nurses’ Home continues to provide good quality nurse training.

1960: Princess Alexandra visits the Dreadnought Hospital.

1962: The Society opens a new ‚ÄėDreadnought Wing‚Äô for the elderly and infirm at the Trinity House Homes for Merchant Navy Officers.

1971: The Society celebrates its 150th anniversary with a service in the Royal Naval Chapel and a dinner in the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

1986: The Dreadnought Hospital closes and services are transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital.

1987 ‐ 1999

A change of location and a new direction. A new Dreadnought Unit is opened at St Thomas’ Hospital. The Society continues to be a major grant giving organisation and establishes a new advice line for seafarers.

20th July 1989: The Duke of Edinburgh opens the dedicated ‚ÄėDreadnought Wing‚Äô at St Thomas‚Äô Hospital.

1994: The Society sets up the Seafarer’s Benefits and Advice Line (now called SAIL) in partnership with the CAB.

1996: SBAL is formally launched by John Prescott MP.

1998: The Society continues to be a major grant giving organisation and contributes funding to the Springbok rehabilitation centre and the Sir Gabriel Woods Mariners Home.

1999: The Society’s Act of Incorporation is modified by Parliament.

1999: The ‚ÄėDreadnought Wing‚Äô closes and seafarers are now treated through a priority service run by Guy‚Äôs and St Thomas‚Äô Hospitals.

2000 ‐ 2015

A change of name and a new focus for the Seamen’s Hospital Society in the new millennium.

2007: The Society begins working with Harbourside Physiotherapy in Newlyn to provide free physiotherapy to seafarers in West Cornwall.

2011: The Society begins funding a free, fast track physiotherapy service for fishermen and merchant seafarers across the UK provided by Connect Physiotherapy.

2012: In conjunction with the Maritime Charities Group the Society publishes the first ever Haynes health manual for fishermen.

2015: The Society’s name changes to the Seafarers Hospital Society.

2016 ‐ 2021

The Seafarers Hospital Society today. Pioneering major health development initiatives in the 21st century.

2016: The Society begins funding Big White Wall (now Togetherall) an online mental health support service for seafarers.

July 2018: The SeaFit program is launched by the Society in conjunction with Fishermen’s Mission and with core funding from Seafarers UK. It delivers free dental, well-being and mental health checks for fishermen and their families across the UK.

November 2018: Princess Anne visits SAIL in Greenwich.

2019: The Society funds ‚ÄėBrighter Smiles‚Äô a 5 year oral health education program in Newlyn School for children aged 5-9.

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Our people

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Current projects

Seafarers Hospital Society runs exciting health projects and innovative pilot programmes. Read about some of our current projects.

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