The Ottoman Medical Service in the Crimea

In recent medal sales, DNW has auctioned the fine collection relating to medical services formed by the late Tony Sabell. My attention was drawn to a few — and there were only a few — examples of Crimean medals awarded to British personnel attached to the Ottoman Medical Service. British medical failures during the Crimean war are all too well-known, as is the novel role of volunteer nurses like Florence Nightingale and various other groups. British involvement with the «Turkish Contingent” in the Crimea is well enough recorded, but I for one had never heard of British work with the Ottoman army’s medical service.

A cursory glance at the sources showed that there was little information to be found on this contribution to the Turkish war effort. There appears to be no surviving British medal roll for the Ottoman Medical Service and even specific works like the detailed two-volume study The Crimean Doctors by Dr. John Shepherd shed little light on the personnel, locations or activities of this group.

We perhaps forget that the Russo-Turkish land war was much bigger than the war waged in the Crimea. The Turks fought major campaigns, now largely forgotten, in the Balkans in 1854 (in «the Danubian Provinces” of modern Romania) and far to the east of the Black Sea, in Asia Minor. Some large-scale set battles were fought between Russian and Ottoman forces with little or no involvement by Britain and France; in their day, the sieges of Silistria in 1854 and of Kars in 1855 were world-famous events, whose progress was eagerly followed in western newspapers. The Turks, rather to the surprise of western commentators, achieved some significant victories and in the Balkans managed not only to halt the Russian invasion but to drive the Russians back to their own frontier.

Naturally, an army as large as that of the Ottoman Empire established or adapted its own military hospitals all around the theatre of war. There were of course some in Constantinople (though the British and French took over most of these), others in and around the Bosphorous (the most famous being in the Turkish barracks at Scutari [Uskudar], at Varna, at Smyrna, at Sinope and elsewhere, like Balaklava -obviously wherever the Turkish army was based. They were generally regarded as badly run, ill-equipped, lacking in basic medicines and facilities and places riddled with disease, where death was more likely than recovery; they must have been bad indeed if they were worse than some of the early British ones.

It is recorded that several groups of British volunteer medical staff — drawn from the surgeons and dressers of the British Army and the Indian Army, as well as civilians — went to the Crimea; in the Spring of 1855, for example, over 60 are known to have gone out, followed by another contingent later in the year. These higher-ranking volunteers are fairly easy to trace in the Army Lists and in the London Gazette. The London Gazette of 5,h June 1855, for example, printed a long list of qualified men, army and civilian, who had been appointed to medical positions with the «Turkish Contingent”, mainly as Surgeons, but with no reference to the (presumably) more lowly volunteers like «Dispensers of Medicines”. Some of the British volunteers for the Turkish army were based at Varna, others ended up at the Balaklava hospitals and others at Eupatoria. At least some of these left accounts of their work -men like Surgeon Laurence Ormerod, who died of disease, like so many of his colleagues, in the Crimea.

Apart from the 55,000 men of the Turkish army based at Balaklava and «before Sebastopol”, their largest base in the Crimea was at the port of Eupatoria [Yevpatoria], 40 miles north of Sebastopol. This is where the British and French armies landed in 1854 and it could have been a useful base blocking Russian routes into and out of the Crimean peninsula. But, apart from maintaining a light garrison, the allies initially failed to establish a major base there, preferring to concentrate on Sebastopol. It was eventually left to the Turks to garrison and defend the port — which turned out to be quite an active occupation. 2,000 Turks were stationed there by November 1854 and once the war in the Balkans had subsided (to Turkey’s advantage) a powerful Turkish army under their commander in chief,

Omar Pasha, «the hero of Silistria”, was sent to hold Eupatoria. Eventually over 25,000 Turkish troops were based in the port and we know for a fact that British medical personnel were sent to help in their hospital, though it is not even known if this was actually a requisitioned building or a temporary tented site. Or both.

The medal illustrated here was awarded to a civilian medical volunteer with the Ottoman Medical Service at Eupatoria. It was once in the Matthew Taylor collection, bought by Tony Sabell in 1983 and is the only (so far) known example to a Dispenser of Medicines in the OMS. It is intriguing in what it does and does not imply. Engraved to Dispenser Edwin Walkinshaw, it carries clasps for Inhrmann and Sebastopol and although the medal roll does not survive for the OMS, there is no reason to believe the medal is anything other than correct. Tony Sabell could find literally nothing about Walkinshaw but with the aid of the internet and some luck, it has been possible to piece together something of his career — though much remains to find and understand.

Walkinshaw’s basic biography can be easily assembled. He was born in 1819 in Gloucestershire and married Sophie Hounsfield in 1840; they had one daughter, Clementina. He had an interesting family — one brother was a successful iron master and another, David, was a founder and editor of the influential Sheffield Free Press; he worked for 20 years in Sheffield before becoming a printer and newspaper proprietor in the Pontypool area.

By 1841, Edwin Walkinshaw and his wife were running a chemist and druggist’s shop in The Shambles, Chesterfield, but how he came into this profession and what qualifications he had are unknown. He was presumably what one would call an «apothecary” but as formal registration as a pharmacist was not required at that date there is nothing on him in the archives of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. By 1851, Walkinshaw had a «chemist’s shop” in Charles Street in Sheffield. They were well enough off to have a servant.

Walkinshaw’s medal indicates a fairly early presence in the Crimea — he has the clasp for Inkermann, fought on November 5,h 1854. What he would have been doing at Inkermann is unknown — presumably dispensing alongside army surgeons

— but because of his presence there, one is tempted to assume that he volunteered to serve overseas with the British army and was paid a professional wage, only ending with the Turkish army at a later stage. How he became involved with Turkish forces at Eupatoria is equally unknown, but that is where he ended up.

The Turkish army’s medical facilities were deemed to be primitive even by the notorious standards of the Crimean War — which is why British medical assistance was offered — and cholera in particular ravaged the large army and navy bases in the Black Sea and the Crimea. We have just one brief glimpse which fits Walkinshaw to his trade and location. Having survived Inkermann and (presumably) duties at Balaklava and near Sebastopol, Walkinshaw ended up working with Turkish casualties in their hospital at Eupatoria. Here he was to meet his death through the very cholera he was no doubt treating, on 15,h August 1855.

Two local newspapers reported the sad end to this Sheffield chemisfs «military” career, with The Sheffield Daily Telegraph (7,h Sept. 1855) and The Sheffield Independent carrying the same news item:

Mr. E. Wa/Jdnshaw. — A letter has been received font the Crimea, announcing the death, bv cholera, of Mr Edwin Walkinshaw, of the British Medical Staff at Eupatoria, on the 15th ultimo. Mr. Walkinshawformerly resided in Sheffield.

H. Edsall, Esq., Surgeon in Charge it rites:

«I assure you that his loss is much felt by the remaining membeis of the staff who felt a find regardfor him for his uniform willingness to oblige on every occasion that lay in his power. His remains wete followed to their last resting place by all the membeis of the staff at present in Eupatoria and the Chaplain of [HMS] Leopard officiated. It is our intention to eiect a suitable tablet over his grave at the earliest opportunity.»

[Edsall, along with a significant number of the medical volunteers, also died of disease in the Crimea. Many are buried and commemorated in the Haidar Pasha Cemetery at Uskudar]

Unsurprisingly, there is no sign of Walkinshaw’s grave in Eupatoria or any memorial to him. Whatever it was that inspired a Sheffield chemist to head for the Crimea, his death there spelled min for his immediate family. Only a little later, his wife was out of the shop in Charles Street, recorded as living as a boarder, taking in laundry to make a living and on one occasion imprisoned for stealing food. Their daughter was farmed out to live with her uncle in South Wales and recorded as an orphan, even though her mother was still alive.

The real questions are: how did people like Walkinshaw get involved in the Crimean War in the first place, let alone with the Turkish Army? He is nowhere listed with the British Army’s own Dispensers (who appear often enough in the London Gazette — 20 were announced as recruited for service «in the East” in November 1854), so must have counted purely as a civilian.

But what induced a man like him, who seems to have had an established business, to leave his family and a comfortable life and head for such a remote «theatre of war”? Was he influenced by professional friends or medical contacts who were already involved? Was it merely a sense of adventure and a search for excitement, albeit at the age of 35, in the midst of a mundane life — the sort of thing that drew some men into the Imperial Yeomanry during the Boer War? We will probably never know, but more likely, if business in Sheffield was poor, is that he was tempted by the financial inducements offered to professionally qualified men. I do not know what his shop-based income was but The Times reported in September 1854 that the pay of a Dispenser of Medicines «to the Army in the East” would be 7 sh and 6d per day, with the allowances of an Assistant Surgeon, bringing daily pay up to 13 shillings; compared to the 1 sh. a day for a Private, this was a very considerable sum. But the fact remains that his service, well-paid or not, was a disaster for Walkinshaw and his family.

Known Crimean medals to Ottoman Medical Service.

Only a handful of medals are known to survive from the OMS — the Sabell sale had most of those which have turned up for sale in the last twenty years and a few are held elsewhere. Most are to Surgeons and Doctors — i.e. the higher-ranking volunteers, with a couple known to Dressers (who tended to be men on their way to full medical qualifications) and only one to a Dispenser, the medal to Walkinshaw shown here..

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