A debilitating disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, the scurvy was once the scourge of seamen on long voyages. As they travelled the globe in search of new lands, sailors faced abominable living conditions. With no fresh fruit, thousands died from the dreaded scurvy.
The standard account holds that exploratory voyages were limited by the poor health of the crews until 1747, when naval surgeon James Lind displayed the preventative effects of orange and lemon juices. His handbook, A Treatise of the Scurvy, was published in 1754, but it took 40 years for the Admiralty to put his theories into practice.
But another cure had been discovered as early as the 16th century. During his circumnavigation of the globe, Drake stopped at what is now Patagonia in 1577. His sailing master, Captain William Winter, saw that the natives ate the bark of a local tree (now known as Drimys Winteri) to prevent sickness during the long winters, when no fruit or vegetables were available. Winter bartered for some of this bark and doled it out to the sailors. The voyage continued for three years, with hardly any reports of scurvy deaths. So while Drake himself can’t add a cure to scurvy to his list of achievements, he knew how to prevent it ravaging his crew thanks to William Winter.