I. Physician, FULL DRESS, 1805-1825:
The situation of a surgeon in the Royal Navy, prior to 1805, was, in the words of one of them, ‘neither profitable, comfortable, nor respectable’. Craftsmen rather than gentlemen, they were warrant officers who ranked somewhere between the master and the purser. Physicians on the other hand, who were members of a respected profession, were seldom found in the Navy, except in the very highest medical posts; and these were usually naval surgeons who had obtained a medical degree. The reforms of the Sick and Hurt Office in 1805 brought the Navy’s medical service into line with that of the Army. The details of the physicians’ coat have been taken from the portrait of Sir William Beatty in the National Maritime Museum. In Devis’ famous painting of the death of Nelson, Beatty appears as a surgeon dressed in a full-dress coat, grey pantaloons, and Hessian boots.
II. Midshipman, UNDRESS UNIFORM, 1795-1825:
There were no official changes in the uniforms of midshipmen in either 1795 or 1812, the only alterations being those dictated by fashion or convenience. This plate is based on a drawing of Midshipman the Hon. G. P. Campbell by Edridge, dated 1806. With his jacket, Midshipman Campbell wears a single-breasted white waistcoat, trousers of a slightly darker tint, probably grey, and shoes with bows on them, rather like children’s dancing pumps. In his hand he holds a black leather waist belt with lion’s head mounts, behind which the hilt of a dirk or hanger is just visible. It is not clear when these top-hats became normal wear for midshipmen, but both Benjamin West and Denis Dighton show them being worn in their respective versions of the death of Nelson. In the former, they are plain, while in the latter, they have a gold lace loop on the left side.