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18th century Sailor’s food – Ships Provisions

siftingthepast_Ships in the Thames Estuary_Sailmaker-1708

Just to give an idea of the variety or lack there of, in the 18th century sailor’s diet.

Provisions listed for the British ship Bellona 74 guns in 1760
listed as provisions for 650 men for four months.

  • Beef 5200 pieces    20800 lbs
  • Pork 9620 pieces    19240 lbs
  • Beer 236 butts        29736 US gallons
  • Water 339 butts 30 puncheons 60 hogsheads    49018 US gallons
  • Bread 650 bags      72800 lbs
  • Butter                      3900 lbs
  • Cheese                    14160 lbs
  • Oatmeal                 19008 lbs
  • Peas                        20800 lbs
  • Flour                      15590 lbs
  • Suet                        2600 lbs
  • Vinegar                   709 US gallons

Provisions reported on-board the British Sloop Alert 1777,  a sloop of 60 men.

  • Beef  462 pieces in 6 barrels    weighing  2238 lbs
  • Pork 777 pieces in 5 barrels    weighing  1753 lbs
  • Beer 12 barrels    weighing  788 lbs
  • Water 56 hogsheads and 25 casks of 18 gallons each    about 4091 US gallons
  • Bread 6048 lbs in 54 bags
  • Butter 420 lbs
  • Oatmeal 20 bushels    weighing  800 lbs
  • Pease 16 bushels    weighing  928 lbs
  • Flower  1300 lbs in 4 barrels
  • Suet 82 lbs in 1 barrel
  • Raisons 200 lbs in 2 barrels
  • Rum 4 half hogsheads  126  US gallons
  • Vinegar 1 hogshead 63 US gallons
This Post Has 22 Comments
  1. That was just the long term stores, right? They took on fresh things like fruits, veggies and eggs if they could get them when they were in port, didn’t they? Otherwise, no wonder they needed press gangs!

  2. Wonder how much of that was already spoiled when it was loaded? There is one of the (War of 1812) Jack Aubrey novels in which Aubrey finally outsmarted the quartermaster of provisions who intentionally sent them spoiled meat. And of course we all know that the flour was oft infested with weevils….and that we always take the “lesser of two weevils”!

    1. Apparently it was a fairly common practice among those responsible for delivering casks of salt pork to outposts and forts to drain off the brine in order to lighten the load. Just prior to final delivery, they would refill the casks with fresh water. Um…what’s that smell?

  3. Does anyone have any information on the H.M.S. George that carried the missionary David Livingstone to Africa on December 8, 1840?

  4. Fresh beef and pork was issued when available which was in port and shortly after leaving. Enlisted sailors diet was essentially what is listed above, the suet and raisins used to make a pudding on special occasions. Sauerkraut was issued in the USN as an anti-scorbutic. Officers were able to stock their own mess with privately purchased food, beverages and livestock (hens for eggs, lamb, etc.) Commissary positions were in the RN were very lucrative. Money saved on inferior rations/skimming ration weights went into the commissariat’s pocket. This was one of the reasons the RN mutinied in the Nore.

    1. This info came from the “Anatomy of the Ship” series by Conway Maritime Press. Both ships have specific books devoted to them and the research portion is very good.

  5. Any information on what the rations and provisions would of been on the sailing warship HMS VICTORY ?

  6. Call me silly but I’m guessing the ‘raisons’ weren’t for a lovely pork roast, floured, browned in butter, sliced thin with a topping of rum and raisin reduction.

    1. The Raisons where issues for the ships crew to eat as it was found to help prevent Scurvy. and it was easy to dry them at any time of the year. So even with the first know Green houses, Grapes could be grown year round to provide a continuous supply of them. The Ship’s stores would also contain the Juice of 1000 lemons. and if available they would also have Barrels of Apples, as they can go for a long time before spoilage would set in.

  7. i have to make a dish for class of what sailors would eat in the 1800 we are reading moby dick i am not sure what to make any thoughts????

  8. Mr. Townsend,

    I would like to suggest reading both log books of HMAV Bounty and HMS Providence by Captain William Bligh.
    You will find there was more carried aboard either of these two vessels for long duration at sea. Given, it was a South Seas voyage and not that of sailing the Atlantic. But never-the-less, both these vessels were Royal Navy vessels.
    The ‘health & safety’ of the crew was of paramount mind of Captain William Bligh.

    Best regards sir,

    David Townsend
    G. . . . nephew
    Thomas Denman Ledward
    Surgeon of HMAV Bounty. R.N.

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