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A University of Plymouth graduate has won an award from the British Commission for Maritime History for her work to highlight the injuries sustained by naval personnel at the end of the 18th century.
Laura Jones, a BA (Hons) History graduate, titled her dissertation Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: A Study of the Injuries Sustained by the Pensioners of the Chatham Chest, 1793-4.
It was one of six pieces of work acknowledged this year, with the award recognising the country’s best undergraduate dissertations and aiming to encourage students to investigate historical maritime subjects in their final year research.
Laura’s dissertation delved into the nature and types of injuries suffered by seamen on Royal Navy ships between 1793 and 1794, which coincided with the start of the French Revolutionary Wars.
Using the Chatham Chest of Records – which deals with the compensation of wounded naval sailors – she conducted an in-depth examination of pensioned seamen and analysed the data within its historical context. 
This involved finding out how the seamen were injured, either in battle or in everyday accidents on ships, with Laura focusing her research on amputees and how they lost their limbs as well as the compensation they received.
She said: 
“I decided to focus on this period of history because the outbreak of war in 1793 meant I could compare the impact of wartime on the injuries sustained by sailors with those suffered in peacetime. Furthermore, I focused on amputees because there are often misconceptions about naval surgeons, as they are often painted to be butchers who performed amputations unnecessarily. This also brought up questions about amputees and honour, and how these sailors were treated once they lost limbs.”
This is the seventh time that a University student has won this award since 2016, with the previous topics covered showing the range and breadth of maritime history research being undertaken at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Previous winners have researched topics as diverse as North African pirates, insanity and sailors in the 19th century, cadets at Britannia Royal Navy College, and discipline and mutiny within the Marine Corps.
Dr Elaine Murphy, Associate Professor of Maritime History, says: 
I am delighted to see Laura Jones winning a British Commission for Maritime History undergraduate dissertation prize in 2022. Her dissertation is a fascinating and engaging piece of research into the injuries sustained by sailors during the 1790s that makes great use of the Chatham Chest papers to examine how the Royal Navy treated injured sailors in the wars against France. Laura’s research shows a really strong engagement with the primary sources and broader questions of naval historiography.

Maritime history

Plymouth with its historic links to the voyages of discovery, the founding of the new world, and the development of the Royal Navy, provides a unique perspective from which to connect with this global marine history. Maritime and naval history offers a means to explore these connections on both a global and a regional basis. The Maritime History Research Group provides a focus for work in this area at the University and beyond. Contact Dr Harry Bennett or Dr Elaine Murphy
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So, what comes next? It’s often said that the best way to see the future is to understand the past. History with the University of Plymouth helps you do just that, while gaining the professional skills you’ll need throughout your career.

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