3 soldiers & 1 sailor

Three soldiers and one sailor at Dorset County Hospital

The transcripts on this site have made Dorset County Hospital’s historic admissions registers far more accessible, thus allowing patient information to be linked up with other records to gain greater insights into the experiences of individuals treated at the hospital. Army and navy records in particular can provide physical descriptions of individual patients, details of their medical histories and the progress of their treatment.

Richard Joseph Collett was born in Weymouth and was aged just 14½ when he enlisted for the 63rd Regiment of Foot in February 1835 at Rochester in Kent. He had already been working as a labourer when he enlisted. He was 5ft ½ inch tall with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. Just four months after enlisting he embarked at Gravesend for Madras in India. The voyage took over three months. He was to stay in India for twelve years. He remained a private and, for a short time, he was a drummer. In India he was court martialled for minor offences and imprisoned on six occasions. His superiors thought his conduct “Indifferent”.

In 1846 Collett contracted dysentery. In the view of the army surgeon “His disease originated from the climate” and despite treatment it had “not in any degree improved”. He returned to England in 1847 and for most of the remaining three years of his military career he received medical treatment. In late 1850 he spent two months at the military hospital at Ford Pitt, near Chatham. In January 1851, he was discharged as “permanently disqualified for Military Duty”. Not only had he contracted chronic dysentery but he had also gained 11 inches in height during his military service. What he did not have, as a result of his poor conduct, was the additional pension which he had applied for. By March 1851 he was back home in Weymouth, a patient in the town’s Royal Infirmary. Because the infirmary’s records have not survived we do not know how long he was there, but it was not long. On 17 July 1851 he was admitted to Dorset County Hospital for his chronic dysentery. There was not a lot medical science could do for him. He was discharged two months later “relieved” but not cured.

Another soldier with a poor conduct record to make his way into Dorset County Hospital was …


medal-for-nicodemus-crocker-croppedA third Victorian soldier treated at Dorset County Hospital was Nicodemus Crocker, who had a far better conduct record. Crocker had enlisted for the Royal Artillery in January 1853 at Dorchester. He was a labourer, born in the parish of Hazelbury Bryan, aged 21 years and 9 months. At 5 ft 7¼ ins, with hazel eyes and light brown hair, Crocker initially served in the Royal Artillery 12th Battalion as a gunner and driver.

The Crimean War broke out between Turkey and Russia in October 1853 with Britain and France joining the conflict in March 1854. Crocker fought at the Battle of Alma on 20 September 1854, where Franco-British forces defeated the Russians. In April 1855 he transferred to the 4th Battalion, and took part in the Sebastopol campaign. By early September 1855 he had been injured in the knee, and he was shipped back to England. He was awarded the Crimea medal with the Alma and Sebastopol clasps.

In February 1856 Crocker was admitted to Dorset County Hospital for treatment to his knee but in April he decided to discharge himself. In mid-September he was re-admitted and underwent an operation to amputate his leg through the thigh. Afterwards tetanus set in and he died on 1 October 1856. He was buried with military honours at Dorchester cemetery, his body “attended to the grave by Wellspring’s band, playing the ‘Dead March in Saul,’ and accompanied by the Staff of the Dorset Militia”. He left behind a wife and …. Children.

The sailor in our quartet of patients was Levi Critchell. His story is remarkable for the length of time he spent at the Haslar naval hospital at Portsmouth before being admitted to Dorset County Hospital. Critchell was the son of a labourer, born in Dorchester in 1833. By 1841 his family had moved to Bockhampton in the parish of Stinsford. At some point he enlisted as a Navy boy – we do not know when but generally Navy boys joined between the ages of 8 and 12.


By the age of 16, in 1849, he was serving on the HMS Arrogant, a 200-foot warship which the Navy had launched the year before. Critchell was part of the 450-man crew. In April 1849 he was put on the sick list, suffering from erysipelas, and was immediately discharged to the Haslar hospital. He was to stay at the hospital for an astonishing 2 years and 4 months – a total of 880 days. In September 1851 he was finally discharged from Naval service and returned to Dorset. He was soon admitted to Dorset County Hospital, in November 1851, with a diagnosis of albuminuria. He stayed in the hospital until he died on 31 January 1852. The certified cause of death was “Bright’s disease of kidney”. He was buried five days later at Stinsford.