|Day||Bisket lbs.||Beer gals.||Beef lbs.||Pork lbs.||Pease pints||Oatmeal pints||Sugar ozs.||Butter ozs.||Cheese ozs.|
The men ate in messes, usually consisting of eight men, although the number was not fixed. One of the few privileges granted to the men was the right to change mess, which they did at the start of the month. Food was prepared by the mess cook, each member of a mess taking turns. The mess cook would collect the days ration for all the mess from pursers mate or stewards mate and, in the case of the meat
tie it into a bag, and put the mess number (a small metal tag) on it.
He would then deliver it to the cook who boiled all the food in a large copper.
The notorious biscuit, or bread, was kept at the mess table in a bread barge. The biscuit was sometimes so old it would crumble away when tapped on the table. The frequency with which weevils were found in the bread is a subject for debate.
It is possible to overstate the poor quality of the food. Compared to his countrymen on land the sailor enjoyed regular, if monotonous, meals. Meal times were considered to be one of the highlights of the day.
The officers were entitled to the same food as the men, but the normal practice was to elect one of their number to buy in food and wine for their mess. They paid for this from their own pockets, and it was'nt compulsory to join this system, although officers who opted out were generally not popular. They messed in the ward room, or the gunroom on a frigate, and were waited on by servants (the servants were crewmen and boys, and not domestic servants. The captain had his own steward, who was a domestic servant). The officers were also supplied with fresh food from the chickens, pigs and sometimes cows housed aboard the ship, again at their own expense. The pigsty was usually placed in the forecastle, in the area that was eventuallly taken over for the sick berth. The chicken coops were often on the quarter deck.
The captain could mess with his officers or dine alone, or he could 'keep a table', which meant that he would invite the officers to come and dine with him at his expense. The captain had his own cook and servants.
The midshipmen had their own mess in the cockpit, and by some accounts it was not a place for the timid of spirit. The midshipmen were also entitled to servants, although not as many as the senior officers, as befitted young gentlemen.
Drunkeness was a big problem in the navy, contributing to a large percentage of the floggings ordered.
The men were entitled to a gallon of beer per day, this was small beer and not very alcoholic, in addition to this they received a half pint rum ration per day, with which, along with tobacco, they might hope to alleviate some of the tedium of life at sea. The rum ration was mixed with water to make grog and was issued twice a day. Hoarding your ration was a serious offence, but it was still common. As was smuggling of spirits, especially in home ports, the bumboatmen and women who visited the ships could be relied on for a regular supply.
It does'nt take a great leap of imagination to see that the amount of alcohol available to the men must have been a contributary factor to the number of men dying of individual accidents. And the incidence of insanity in the navy was far higher than in the population as a whole. Given the work they did in dangerous conditions, falling, crush injuries and being drowned were almost unavoidable consequences for the unwary.
As can be seen in the picture, women were permitted on board ships when they were in port (where discipline was considerably more relaxed), although this was at the captains discretion. In theory the women were supposed to be the sailors wives and were signed on board by the seaman, who were responsible for their conduct. In practice the majority of the women who came on board were prostitutes
and to some of the more puritanical seamen and officers the scenes below deck, where there was no privacy, were shocking and disgusting. When the Prince was in dock in Portsmouth one eyewitness reports that 450 women came on board, and only 50 were actually wives of sailors serving on the ship.
At sea Admiralty regulations forbade the carrying of women, however as with many regulations this was often ignored. Estimates vary as to the numbers of women actually at sea with the fleet, but the wives of important members of the ships company, such as the gunner and the carpenter were often found on board ship. Children were also at sea, the youngest boy at the battle of Trafalgar was just eight years old, and his nine year old friend had been born at sea.
For an idea of how the day was organised on board a ship at sea look at
The Watch System.
|CAUSE OF DEATH||NUMBER||PERCENTAGE|
|By Individual Accident||1630||31.5|
|By Foundering, Wreck, Fire, Explosion||530||10.2|
|By the Enemy, killed in action||281||5.4|
|By the Enemy, died of wounds||150||2.9|
Surgery was rudimentary, and few effective medicines were available. Until 1804 surgeons were expected to provide their own drugs and equipment. Most surgeons took pride in the speed with which they could perform an amputation. Amputation was then the only treatment considered for limbs smashed by splinters or cannon balls. In the midst of a battle the loblolly men as the surgeons assistants (not the surgeons mates, who were more skilled) were called, could easily fill a tub with severed limbs. Complicated surgical procedures on abdominal wounds were impossible, even on shore, in the eighteenth century. Infections were almost inevitable. And these sorts of wound were often fatal.
The common practice when treating amputations was to tie off the arteries and veins with ligatures and leave them hanging free from the wound, to be removed when it had healed. This had the unfortunate consequence of allowing infection easy access to the wound. Many men who survived the initial amputation succumbed later to bacterial infections.
A First Hand Account of Warfare at Sea
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