Reading Philp Larkin’s poem Toads, from 1955, I wondered at the term ‘loblolly men’ in one verse:
Lots of folk live on their wits: Lecturers, lispers, Losels, loblolly-men, louts- They don't end as paupers; Lots of folk live up lanes With fires in a bucket, Eat windfalls and tinned sardines- they seem to like it.
In the 18th century, crews of British Royal Navy ships usually included ‘loblolly men’—surgeon’s mates, young men who helped the surgeons by collecting amputated limbs, hauling the buckets of tar used to cauterise stumps, and spreading sand to soak up blood. They were also responsible for feeding sick and wounded sailors a thick meat and vegetable porridge known as ‘loblolly’— hence their name. All this Rosemary Sutcliff’s beloved father, a Commodore in the Royal Navy, could have told me, as she could have. Today, I just have Google for the picture and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).
The OED defines ‘loblolly’ as
Thick gruel or spoon-meat, freq. referred to as a rustic or nautical dish or simple medicinal remedy … Hence, a ship-doctor’s medicines.
3 thoughts on “A loblolly man was a surgeon’s mate on navy ships | Loblolly was a thick porridge.”
This reminds me of a passage in Boswell’s Life of Johnson (or perhaps the Travels in Scotland) which always makes me smile. The pair are onboard a boat with another passenger whose relentless questions are incredibly irritating. A cupboard is referred to as “the loplolly hole”, and he asks what it is for. “The loplolly hole is where the loplolly man keeps his loplolly!” Is Johnson’e enraged reply. I’ve been enjoying this for several decades, but only now know the true meaning. I’ve just returned to Sword at Sunset after 45 years, and am marvelling at Sutcliff’s deep understanding of dialect and forgotten terms. Not many people mention Sutcliff and Joyce in the same breath, but the feeling for the buried history in words reminds me of Finnegans Wake.
Yes, it is a fascinating book, and Charlotte Higgins is a great fan of Rosemary’s writing. I agree, others who visit here might enjoy it.
I’ve been reading “Under Another Sky:Journeys in Roman Britain” by Charlotte HIggins (Vintage Books, 2014.) Lots of appreciative notes about Rosemary Sutcliff and The Eagle of the Ninth. I’ll bet Mr. Lawton and many readers of the site would enjoy it. .