The lessons of Walcheren Fever, 1809

Mil Med. 2009 Mar;174(3):315-9. doi: 10.7205/milmed-d-01-7708.


The British landed on Walcheren Island on July 30, 1809 in an attempt to form another front against Napoleon. The British objectives were to destroy a French fleet based in Holland, to destroy the arsenals at Antwerp, and to deny navigation of the Scheldt to the French. Over 300 ships and 42,000 soldiers took part in the expedition. In less than a month the British expeditionary force, bogged on the island, went on the defensive because of Walcheren fever incapacitating their regiments. The British eventually suffered over 8,000 dead and tens of thousands sickened; recovery was prolonged and many of the sick were invalided out of the service. Walcheren fever was likely a combination of malaria, typhus, and typhoid fever. Today we can still draw valid public health, medical, military, and political lessons from this 19th century expedition.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Expeditions
  • France
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Malaria / history*
  • Military Medicine / history*
  • Military Personnel / history*
  • Netherlands
  • Typhoid Fever / history*
  • Typhus, Epidemic Louse-Borne / history*
  • United Kingdom