In 2005, a service in Halifax commemorated US soldiers and sailors who perished in Britain’s Melville Island prisoner-of-war camp during the War of 1812 and whose remains now lie on Deadman’s Island, a nearby peninusla. The service culminated nearly a decade of debate, in which local history enthusiasts, the Canadian and American media, and Canadian and US politicians rescued the property from developers. The media in particular had highlighted the prisoners’ struggles with disease and death, often citing the sombre memoirs of survivors.1 Curiously, Canadian investigators relied largely upon American accounts and did little research on efforts at amelioration from the British perspective.

Coverage has emphasized British cruelty, citing accounts of internees such as that edited by Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse (an American medical officer) and American deaths at the hands of guards at Dartmoor Prison in England during a riot in April 1815,2 while ignoring more positive elements, such as medical care.

This article explores British medical care for American prisoners of war in terms of organization, delivery, treatments and results, and US observations of the matter. In fact, British medical authorities addressed problems in the custody system and provided humane and compassionate medical care.

In the absence of international codes for the treatment of prisoners and substantial provision for handling thousands of prisoners of war, upkeep was difficult, rendering medical care often chaotic. British medical officers none the less cared for captives adequately and comparably to the way they assisted their own forces.