Provisioning the Ship

RC deWinter

Fairfield, United States

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© 2010 RC deWinter ~ All Rights Reserved

There are myriad reasons why anyone from our time – being of sound mind and body and in full possession of his or her faculties – would never want to sign on as a sailor on a 19th-century (or earlier) ship. One of the big drawbacks was the food.

Shown here are small containers of the type of non-perishable staples that most ships back in those days carried. There is a small vial of molasses, jars of flour and other grains, and the inevitable bane of both land and sea, hardtack. The price list per pound for these goods was always kept on the counter so that the sailors charged with purchasing provisions could calculate how much they needed vis-a-vis how much they could afford.

Non-perishable they may have been, but after a few weeks there inevitably were bugs and meal worms in the grains. Even the hardtack and dried peas were not immune to the depredations of insects.

Although ships also carried brined and salted beef, pickled eggs and other preserved goods, on a long voyage – say, from New Bedford to the whaling waters of the Pacific – even these items reached a state of inedibility. The potatoes and fruits eventually rotted, and if all these things were not enough, ships’ cooks were often elderly seamen, unable to do the hard work aboveboard, who were also alcoholics. Arrrgggh, matey!

Digital oils from an original photograph shot in the 19th-century general store at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut in August 2009.

Tech specs: Photoshop 7, Akvis Oils



Artwork Comments

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