"Our first contact with the alternative world of Captain Cook was the food. A diet of salt meat, hard biscuit and sauerkraut was a shock to us, but our predecessors would have considered it superior to anything available on shore. For them such regular, hot, protein-rich meals, together with a nearly limitless supply of beer, would have been a luxury. Furthermore, every ship's captain knew that food was the primary concern of his crew, so he would have ensured they were well fed, and kept their dinner time sacred, usually allowing the men 90 minutes to deal with their tough rations. They would only be called away from the mess table in an emergency. The lack of rum or beer on our modern voyage left our crew significantly worse off than our predecessors - although less likely to be injured while under the influence.
One of the greatest threats to health on long sea voyages was scurvy...
Food then, as now, was directly related to health. One of the greatest threats to health on long sea voyages was scurvy, a potentially fatal disease cased by a deficiency of vitamin C, normally sourced from fresh fruit and vegetables. However, this was also a common complaint among the poor labourers on land in winter, when fresh food was scarce. Because the Royal Navy needed to operate around the world it made a huge effort to find a cure for scurvy, and on Cook's first voyage many remedies were tried, ranging from the infamous sauerkraut to extract of malt."
Life at Sea in the Royal Navy of the 18th Century
- By Andrew Lambert