Victualling in the Royal Navy circa 1824 - 1907

(Work in Progress)

General overview

Food, at least from the latter part of the 18th Century remained a major factor for seamen and, was a cause of grumbles and continued difficulties with recruitment, pay and retention until the early years of the 20th Century, which wasn’t, in many minds, resolved until the early 1960s.

Following on from pay, problems with food exercised the minds of the mutineers at Spithead in 1797, even more than the contentious subject of leave :

First, That our provisions be raised to the weight of sixteen ounces to the pound, and of a better quality; and that our measures may be the same as those used in the commercial code of this country.

Secondly, That your petitioners request your Honours will be pleased to observe, there should be no flour served while we are in harbour in any port whatever under the command of the British flag; and also, that there might be granted a sufficient quantity of vegetables of such kind as may be the most plentiful in the ports to which we go; which we grievously complain and lay under the want of.

Thirdly, That your Lordships will be pleased seriously to look into the state of the sick on board His Majesty's ships, that they may be better attended to, and that they may have the use of such necessaries as are allowed for them in time of sickness; and that these necessaries be not on any account embezzled.

Whilst the problem of pay and the first and third items were attended to little appears to have been done to resolve the lack of vegetables for over 100 years, and it appears that only by issuing lime juice, and perhaps, in some cases, reducing the length of passage times, between say the Cape of Good Hope and the UK, and stopping at St Helena, and Ascension en route, where vegetables were introduced during the century, that scurvy became a rare occurrence, although there appear to have been a few self-inflicted cases, where men were perhaps reluctant to drink their limers (lime-juice).

Victualling in the Royal Navy, in general terms, remained much the same though out the 19th Century, apart from a little tinkering here and there, such as :

In July 1824 the Admiralty introduced new regulations for what they described as "an improved mode of victualling,"

In 1847 tinned or canned beef was introduced on a limited basis.

In 1848 introduced a scheme whereby men could take tea and sugar in lieu of their spirit ration, or a part thereof.

In 1851 the meat ration was increased, along with the sugar, whilst the size of the tot was reduced.

From 1863 baked, or roast meats introduced as suitable ovens were fitted to HM ships, space permitting, and

Soft bread was produced ashore at the victualling yards, and introduced for men serving in ships based at the home ports,

but until the early days of the 20th Century, when attempts were made to improve the materials, menus and quality of cooking etc. little changed to resolve the main issues of contention i.e. salt beef and pork and lack of vegetables. At the same time whilst it was admitted that food was generally poor, especially at sea, sailors were a conservative lot when it came to food and were often reluctant to accept change which they were often inclined to treat with suspicion.

Rough surveys made at the time estimated that during peace time most sea-going ships in commission spent some 25 per cent of their time at sea, so that fresh food was generally available when in harbour or lying off a friendly port and for the first week or so at sea, livestock and fresh vegetables having been brought on board prior to departure.

It should be noted that there was little or no alternative to the salt beef etc. at this date, if ships were to be able to remain at sea once fresh produce had been consumed, and whilst at sea the men probably eat much as the civilian population would have done in the winter months, but with the added problems of weight and stowage, etc. to be taken into account – much as the weight on board an aeroplane needs to be distributed evenly, the same also applies to shipping, but the weights involved are far greater e.g. a ship of the line could consume over 3 tons a day, including water for cooking and drinking etc.

In addition the Victualling Yards were required to keep large reserves of a limited range of the main stores in hand, so that in the event of war and a hasty mobilisation ships brought forward for commission could be victualled and stored without delay. This brought about a situation whereby many of the victuals issued to ships in peace-time were nearing the end of their expected life and not perhaps at their best, thus adding to the problems regards the quality of food issued. But even with this attempt to save wastage large quantities (many tons) of condemned meat were disposed of annually. It is also suggested that when ordering victuals, especially where meat was concerned, that price was often a major consideration and that the quality of the fresh meat, prior to salting etc., often left much to be desired.


Before delving into the nitty-gritty of Naval victualling it is perhaps worth mentioning that from 1799, when they were legalised, men were entitled to receive a refund in the form of "savings;" that is their mess received from the Admiralty a part of the money that they saved the Admiralty by not consuming or drawing rations, which they could then spend as they wished, perhaps by buying their preferred delicacies ashore ; from bum-boats which came alongside when in port ; on occasion, from the Steward, if he had a surplus, although I gather this was frowned upon ; or from canteens, following their introduction in the latter part of the 19th Century.

From a new regulation published circa April 1844, it would appear that savings made a considerable impact on the economy of the ship and those who sailed in her : the money paid to the Naval Service for savings on their provisions, was to be reduced due to a reduction in the price of provisions since the last scale was established - the order went on to state: "This will seriously affect the Purser's profits, so much so that it must be made up to him by an increase of full pay; he will lose at least one-fifth of his former balance bills. The boys of the men-of-war must also be considered, as their savings materially aided their pay, which will now be insufficient to keep them clean and decent. The following prices will in future be paid:- Bread, 2d. instead of 2½d. ; spirits, 3s. instead of 4s. per gallon ; chocolate, 5d, instead of 10d. per lb. ; and, sugar 4d. instead of 6d. per lb. Savings are to be allowed on oatmeal, which was not the custom in the late regulations."

The sums saved by the men and particularly by the Admiralty appear to have been quite considerable, since the Admiralty, in their budgets, included an allowance for the money saved, for example in 1869, following the introduction of baked meats, in lieu of salt beef, and fresh baked bread in the Home Ports, in lieu of biscuit, the annual loss to the Admiralty budget in respect of savings, because the men were eating what was put in front of them, was estimated at £54,000.

This was quite a considerable sum in those days, and perhaps illustrated the degree to which sailors were either going without, or, and perhaps more likely, were buying alternatives through their messes with the savings, so in net terms the Admiralty, by issuing such items as salt beef, were said by some to have made a profit out of the men. Between 1850 and the end of the century the amount of savings per man had doubled so that by the year 1898-99 savings per man were estimated at £4. 14s. per annum, due in part to the introduction of canteens on board HM ships, where items such as jam, butter and condensed milk could be procured.

In 1874-5 the cost to the Admiralty of each ration per man per day was nearly a shilling ; the "savings" price per man was almost 8d., thus the Admiralty remained "in pocket" to the tune of about 4d. a day. However by 1900 the daily cost of a ration had fallen to 8.62d., whilst the savings price for the man remained the same. It was estimated that in 1895-96 annual "savings" were £730,000, most of which was spent at the Canteen.

In addition to the savings refunded to the messes, the men also made a contribution to the mess budget in the form of subscriptions : in 1900 these averaged about 3s. 3d. per month, although it was reported that in some messes the subscription was as much as 15s. Boys were exempt from the subscription, and were thus considered to be a bit of a liability, and were invariably nobbled to do cooks of the mess duties and clean up after meals etc. although in Aug 1900 when the proportion of boys to men in a mess was less than 1 in 6 an additional 1d. per diem should be paid to each mess in the form of savings for each extra boy.

Savings eventually disappeared in the years following R.-Adm. Login’s committee's investigation into service victualling in 1907 and the subsequent introduction of the General Mess System of victualling.

Meal Hours.

The hours at which meals were issued – at least officially – were as follows :

Breakfast circa 5 a.m. : biscuit and ship’s chocolate.

Dinner at noon : salt beef and suet raisin pudding, or salt pork and pea soup, or preserved boiled beef and preserved potatoes.

Tea at 4 p.m.: tea and biscuit boiled in the ship’s coppers with sugar.

During the Middle Watch in the tropics, at the Captain’s discretion, an allowance of soluble chocolate, or kye as it was known.

Although the reality was that in addition to the above a stand easy was taken at 8 a.m., when some form of victualling was probably provided, and at the end of the day at 7.30 p.m., when supper was taken.

The Mess and the Cook of the Mess

Taking into account that the living accommodation for the ship’s company’s on board HM ships in the first half of the 19th Century was in the same space as that occupied by the guns, and that there were probably over 800 men on board on say the Victory, the crew were divided up into groups of 8 to 12 men known as a "mess," who would remain together throughout a ship’s commission.

This situation changed somewhat with the introduction of iron and steel ships, which were built usually with water tight compartments and messes were divided up between stokers and seamen and the seamen between their different parts of ship (where they worked), but they still messed on a similar basis, but, as the century progressed, without the ever present hardware !

Each day one man would take his turn as 'duty cook'. who was responsibility for collecting and preparing the day's rations for cooking. The prepared food was then bagged up and taken along to the galley to be cooked, or shall we say boiled, each bag being marked with a metal tag. When piped, the duty "cook" would collect his bag and take it back to his mess. Although towards the end of the century when roast or baked meats appeared on the menu, trays of food and mess fannies replaced the bags, although when food was boiled it was still probably cooked in the bags.

In the early years of the century the ship’s cooks were often former seaman who were unable to perform the heavy shipboard tasks of going aloft etc., and although untrained were expected to cook for all the crew, and it wasn’t until 1873 that they received any rudimentary training according to Captain Wells in his book : The Royal Navy: An Illustrated Social History 1870-1982. He then goes on to state that


Canteens appear to have been introduced during the latter end of the 19th Century. In sea-going ships canteens were run by the ships themselves under what was known as a co-operative or service system, whilst harbour and depot ships were operated by civilian contractors, known as tenants.

Those operated as co-operatives were preferred by the sailors, presumably because they thought they were getting a fair deal, but they are reported to have suffered from much corruption by those involved in the management, purchasing, and selection of tradesmen ; and to work properly they involved supervising officers in a great deal of extra work and took men away from their place of work and from that point of view were unpopular as far as the wardroom was concerned. By 1900 trials with tenanted canteens were being made in ships of the Channel Squadron and as might be expected were "favourably reported upon."

Civilian run canteens were also supervised, but to a far lesser degree, but with tenants often being selected by lower-deck committees, these too are occasionally reported to have involved corruption and certain companies were reluctant to accept tenancies when they had to deal with these committees. But in the case of tenancies Jolly Jack often felt that he was getting a raw deal and was being ripped off. In 1900 it was recommended that the Commanding Officer should make the ultimate decision regards the appointment of tenants.

But in a well publicised court case it transpired that even a commanding officer had his finger in the pie and was taking bribes, so in 1907, as a result of R.-Adm. Login’s inquiry into the Canteens and Service Victualling it was recommended that the Admiralty take over responsibility for canteens.

The canteen system, as recommended, didn’t last that long, and following a number of twists and turns on the way, the Naval Canteen Service under the auspices of the NAAFI took over the running of the canteens in the early 1920s, which has evolved into the organisation we have today.

1900 – Committee set up to Review the Navy’s Diet etc.

So, with little change in the diet over the last 100 or more years, except perhaps improvements in the quality, in 1900 the Admiralty appointed a committee under Vice Admiral Rice to investigate the situation, taking evidence from officers and men of the major branches, the medical profession and expert in food preservation, and made visits to the home ports, with a view to improving the nutritional value of the food, and making it more attractive and appetising, taking into account that rise in the standard of living to which those being recruited into the service may have become accustomed.

However, the committee, whilst it resolved many minor problems, either by default or design, or poor terms of reference, appears to have dodged the main problems that beset victualling in the service and did little more than tinker around the edges with the diet and recommend that such things as the meal hours, which had become customary, should be recognised, and either ignored the main causes of grievance amongst the men or chose not to recognise them, and thus recruitment and retention remained a problem.

As a result questions continued to be raised in Parliament over the issues that remained outstanding, in particularly the continuing problems with canteen management and the overly complicated and highly inefficient system of savings and victualling, so that within 5 years these matters were under review again by a committee lead by Rear Admiral Login. In summing up their investigations in Sep 1907 they concluded that :

"the cooking question, the canteen question, the victualling question, and the savings question were all parts of one great problem - namely, that of the proper feeding of the ship s company - and that all these sections of the problem must be dealt with simultaneously, if any real progress is to be made…..

The net result was that it was recommended that "savings" were to be abolished and that a "general mess system" be introduced, with a trial being carried out on board the Dreadnought, and as far as possible the diet should be more varied and less boring : that the tenant canteen system was necessary, but should be supervised by the Admiralty, with appropriate checks and controls being introduced, thus removing the opportunity for bribery and corruption that prevailed in so many areas of the system..

In view of the major changes involved the introduction of the general mess system didn’t take place overnight, but slowly evolved into, dare I say, the excellent system that the navy has today. Following the end of WWII most men were still eating their food on the mess deck, but by the 1950s most ship’s being built were designed with dining areas and a cafeteria system of serving and by the 1960s a choice of food was becoming available.


Salt beef and pork were the staple items of meat, and whilst canned or tinned meat became available circa 1810, and was reportedly issued by Napoleon to his troops, it was a comparatively expensive commodity and was generally considered to be a luxury by the Admiralty and its use initially limited to :

1815 to patients in the sick bay ;

1819 to expeditions to polar regions ;

1840 expedition to the Niger.

In 1840 a Mr. Goldner patented an improved canning process which reduced costs, and following pressure in the press etc. the Admiralty carried out trials on the product in 1846 which resulted in preserved or canned meat being introduced for those serving on foreign stations as a new item on the menu from about April 1847, on one day a week, along with preserved potatoes, in lieu of salt beef and biscuit, or salt junk as it was known.

[As an aside, the tins were often cleaned out and following some work by the ship’s tinsmith were used as mess fannies or containers, named after, it is said, Fanny Adams, a young girl who was said to have disappeared around this period……I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.]

However, the canning process was still far from perfect and during the 1848-51 period there were problems with the original contract, and in 1852, following numerous complaints an examination of samples found that the contents included "improper substances," and the contract was cancelled and supplies withdrawn. It was reported in an editorial in The Times that the smell in the neighbourhood surrounding where the meat was stored had become overpowering and prompted complaints, thus bringing about the examination mentioned above.

But by the 1850s the cost of canning was falling and becoming more widespread and in April 1850 it is reported that the Admiralty had found alternative suppliers, including a purchase of 1,000,000 lbs. from New South Wales. This perhaps reflects the fact that the canning process had been improved abroad and that canned and salted meats were now being imported from North and South America, as well as the Antipodes, thus impacting on the UK farming economy, and the fact that the Admiralty were accepting tenders from abroad brought about complaints from farmers in Ireland in 1858.

Hitherto supplies of salt meats had been provided by contract and as a result it was suggested that the quality of this product often left much to be desired and in 1852, a trial was to be carried out at the Royal William Victualling Yard, with bullocks being slaughtered on site and duly salted and packed. But from subsequent reports it would suggest that the trial was little than a means of keeping the contractors in check in the future !

In 1853 it is apparent that the problem remained at the top of their Lordships’ agenda i.e. when the Deptford Victualling Yard was inspected it was reported that a part of the site was being cleared to permit the contractors to slaughter animals on site ; for the salting, curing process, and packing in casks to be carried out without having to unpack sample casks for inspection and then repack them, as had been the case until this date. From 1859 slaughtering was carried out elsewhere and the meat, about a million pounds in weight being delivered to Deptford, mostly destined for salting, but some for canning. In 1869 mutton was also included in the canning process.

However, with price rather than quality often being the controlling factor for purchases there were times when the quality of preserved meats that came out Deptford deteriorated to an alarming degree and in 1896-7, there were reports that from want of adequate supervision many thousand of pounds of beef had been processed which were unfit for consumption and had to be returned by ships to Deptford to be condemned, which resulted in a number of early retirements amongst the senior RN personnel and civil servants involved at Deptford.

Until 1863, whilst the meat provided to the various officers messes on say ship’s of the line, ie one galley for each of the following : the wardroom, gunroom, warrant and engineer’s, could be roasted or baked, the only way of providing the sufficient quantities for a ship’s company was to boil it, although, by this date, most ships in harbour might expect one roast meal a fortnight.

In Apr 1863, following satisfactory trials at the Royal Clarence Yard, Portsmouth, it was proposed to fit an additional oven, as designed by Mr Grant, capable of producing baked meals for 300 men, on board the depot ship Hannibal, at Portsmouth, and to conduct a practical trial. It was also proposed to include an extra half pound of potatoes with the half pound of boiled vegetables and that mutton might occasionally replace beef as an alternative. Commentators at the time welcomed these suggested improvements as probably doing more to help recruiting than any previous measure. Although it should perhaps be noted that this was only a trial and that it if it was successful it would take a number of years to equip all RN ships with such a device. It would appear that the trial proved to be more successful than was expected : in 1869 it cost the Admiralty an additional £38,000 a year due to lost savings, suggesting that men were taking full advantage of the greatly improved diet.

It may be of some interest to note that for those men serving on board HM ships based at Portsmouth, and the other Home ports, but were living ashore with their wives and families, could if they wished take their allowance of meat and biscuit on shore for their wives to prepare and cook for them - until about Feb 1863, when, much to the dissatisfaction of those concerned, an order issued stating that no provisions were to be removed from the dockyard. A previous order, to the same effect had been issued, but was later rescinded, being replaced by an order that no excisable articles could be removed from the Dockyard. Other stories from the newspapers of the day would suggest that much pilfering of stores and provisions went on in the dockyard and that whilst sailors were allowed to take provisions ashore there was little or no way measures could be introduced to prevent the stealing.

However, it would appear that uproar caused by this order resulted in the decision being reversed, since, in Aug 1900, it was recommended that this concession should not be withdrawn, although this would have started to disappear in 1907, following the introduction of the general mess system of catering.

Whilst Admiralty or "Pusser’s food," remained the staple diet, along with fresh supplies made from local purchase, and from savings, when the opportunity arose, the diet, especially for officers, was occasionally enhanced by hunting and shooting expeditions, and on the rare occasions when sufficient quantities were procured, the ship’s company could also have taken advantage of the results of the "sport." But in view of the numbers involved this was often limited to small ships.

In addition, most ships operating in overseas waters appear to have been fitted out with fishing nets, lines and hooks, but little appears to be reported regards their use. Janet MacDonald in her excellent book "Feeding Nelson’s Navy" writes that dried fish disappeared off the official menu in the 1730s, but that there is evidence to suggest that when blockading the French ports 1793-1814 they did fish when circumstances permitted, and that they also, occasionally, bought fish from French fishermen, along with the fresh fruit and vegetables. So fish was most certainly on the menu occasionally.

Later in the 19th Century Vice-Admiral Sir William Kennedy, in his autobiography "Hurrah for the Life of A Sailor," writes regards a visit to Belize that "We used to fish for them [sharks] with a piece of pork in which was placed a disc of gun-cotton connected by wire with the ship " etc., and in an earlier incident, whilst crossing the line in the Calcutta, he writes to the effect that they caught shark and cooked the steaks, and that, though not particularly choice, after a diet of "salt horse" (salt beef) for several weeks, to a young Midshipman almost anything was edible.

One also reads of the Seine-nets being used "round the quarter-deck, to play cricket or deck hockey every evening after tea to keep fit." But that is the wardroom, and I suspect that many a matelot who fancied a change of diet, if the sea conditions and the movement of the ship were favourable, may well have slung a line and hook overboard in the hope of catching something – some days you are lucky – other days perhaps less so – and in the event of a shoal of fish being sighted, with the commanding officer’s approval, a seine net might have been lowered overboard, and the whole ship’s company would have benefitted !

But despite these improvements it wasn’t until the mid 1890s that it was reported in Parliament that Salt beef was not issued in Home waters, but was still issued for use by ships on Foreign stations. But that said, the reality was that ships in UK waters were still being supplied with salt beef, in the event of their being sent abroad for operational reasons, and on annual exercises it was reported that salt beef was still a part of the Admiralty ration once fresh supplies were used up, and that troop-ships going to South Africa in late 1899 were being supplied with the Admiralty ration of salt beef as a part of their rations, although, after numerous complaints from the military, the ships' owners appear to have been permitted to victual their own ships.

Samples taken by the Army at this time suggest that 12 lb. of salt beef, including bones, were prepared and boiled down, resulting in about 3 lb. of barely edible material. It would appear that when troops joined a troop ship and were supplied with salt meats they weren’t always advised as to how to prepare and cook them and the tales of soldiers preferring to do without rather than attempt to eat the stuff are said to be legion, the meat having only been boiled for an hour and was therefore still hard and full of salt. The washing and soaking of the meat prior to boiling took some 8 hours, involving a process of allowing salt water to percolate through a cask, drilled with holes, and containing the meat, before boiling for another hour or two with the vegetables, thus producing a broth or soup like mixture, which it is said was still very salty !

Aug 1900 Salt Suet to be replaced as soon as a suitable replacement can be found.

17 Jun 1905 It was announced that Salt beef was to be phased out until stocks were exhausted, but that Salt pork was to remain on the menu for one day in three.

Sep 1907 Salt pork only to be issued when fresh meat was not available.

Nov 1922 Following representations from the lower deck a trial was to be undertaken, substituting Salt Pork with tinned meat and vegetables, as issued to the submarine service, to be sent to certain foreign stations. The issue of Salt Pork had already been discontinued on the coast of West Africa. Reports were to be made to the Director of Victualling as to whether this could be recommended as a permanent measure.

Feb 1926 The Admiralty announced that the issue of Salt Pork, as a part of rations, was to be abolished, thus regularising that which had evolved in recent years. At about the same time it was also announced in Parliament that fresh and frozen meats would replace salt pork, and tinned meats when these weren't available.

With the introduction of the general mess system slowly becoming general and improved canning methods extending the range and cost of meats available, and improved refrigeration and cold rooms etc. on board ship, a wider range of fresh meats to be carried. This, along with improved training of cooks created a more varied diet.

Bread and biscuit

Biscuit was standard issue though out the 19th Century, and into the first few years of the 20th Century , although in certain circumstances, towards the end of the Century, it could be substituted by bread or "soft tack," as seamen termed it. From the revised regulations issued in 1824 it also suggests that soft bread may also have been issued at other times, but it is difficult to know when this may have occurred.

Biscuit was made by hand at the main dockyards until the early 1850s when baking was mechanised and the yards could produce many thousands of biscuits a day.

Flour suitable for baking bread was a difficult commodity to store, especially at sea, where it could soon become spoiled by damp conditions, rats, cockroaches and weevils etc. A satisfactory trial of baking soft bread was carried out on board the Agamemnon during Mar-May, 1783, when it was reported that "there was not a sick man on the list," no attempt appears to have been made to repeat the trial until Sep 1862, when a trial was carried out at Portsmouth, substituting biscuit with loaf bread, or "soft tack," as seamen termed it. Sufficient bread was baked at the Royal Clarence Victualling yard, using ovens in the biscuit bakery, for the crews of the Victory, Edgar, and Excellent, all based in Portsmouth harbour, following which commanding officers were to report their findings to the Admiralty. Wheaten bread was used, which is said to have produced loaves of a closer texture than those retailed ashore and of a more satisfying nature.

But whilst the biscuit was replaced by bread in harbour the existing reasons remained which militated against the measure being carried into effect through out the fleet. These included :

  1. the additional space which would be required in each ship for ovens
  2. the additional stowage which would be required in the ship's hold to carry the casks of flour,
  3. the deterioration which the flour would be subject to from the heat and damp of a vessel's hold.
  4. the constant use of ovens on board a ship, especially iron-cased, would render them insufferably hot in the tropics, and must materially affect the health of the crew.
  5. the financial objections on the part of the seamen. Under present regulations a certain allowance of biscuit is apportioned per man, which the men eat if they please, or, not taking it up from the ship's steward on issue days, receive a money value for it instead; but under the new system a man must eat his loaf or leave it, and under no circumstances will he be paid for any portion of big bread allowance which he does not consume.

So, for the present the trial remained shore based and soft bread was only available at Portsmouth initially, although the practice would appear to have been taken up by the other victualling yards at the home ports and even in 1900 the Committee set up to look into the quality of food in the fleet was unable to recommend that the additional ovens and cooks should be provided on sea-going ships, however, this state of affairs doesn’t appear to have lasted much longer :.

  1. by an Order in Council of 9 September, 1907, it was stated that when the exigencies of the Service render it necessary for bread to be baked by the cooks in the galleys of HM ships, extra pay shall be allowed to the cooking staff for undertaking bread-making in addition to their ordinary duties, so whilst it may not have been general practice, it would appear that the walls were coming down and by
  2. 1912 extra pay was sanctioned for "Bakery Staffs of ships fitted with bakeries when employed in making bread for other ships not so fitted."

So, I think one may assume that depot ships and the new heavier units of the fleet were now probably being fitted with bakeries as standard practice and were supplying bread to ships not fitted out with bakeries such as light cruisers, destroyer, or submarine.

I thought it amusing to note that in 1871, a notice on a boys’ messdecks was displayed that stated that the "Throwing of biscuit at each other, being a highly dangerous practice, is strictly prohibited," which, for those not familiar with the product, perhaps gives an indication of the consistency of a ship’s biscuit !

On which note it is perhaps worth noting that during R.-Adm. Login’s review of victualling in 1907 he recommended that a new type of biscuit be proposed.


As stated in the opening section the mutineers at Spithead would appear to have recognised the importance of vegetables and requested that when : "we are in harbour in any port whatever under the command of the British flag"….."that there might be granted a sufficient quantity of vegetables of such kind as may be the most plentiful in the ports to which we go; which we grievously complain and lay under the want of."

A half pound of vegetables was allowed, but this included potatoes, but since the latter could make up the whole of the vegetable allowance potatoes was generally refused and replaced by ship’s biscuit.

N.B. convicts were also allowed a half pound of vegetables, but they were also allowed an addition pound of potatoes !

In Apr 1863, following the trials at the Royal Clarence Yard, when it was proposed to fit an additional oven to produce baked meals for 300 men, on the Hannibal, it was also proposed to include an extra half pound of potatoes with the half pound of boiled vegetables.

A form of preserved potato was introduced during the period under discussion, but, much like other attempts to reproduce the product in later years it doesn’t appear to have been very popular and it was recommended in 1900 that it be abolished.

Pressed vegetables also appear on the menu, but there doesn’t appear to be much mention of them.

Flour, pease, and a half pint each of oatmeal and vinegar were also issued, along with lime-juice, the latter when undertaking long passages and overseas, especially in tropical climates.

Oatmeal was withdrawn in 1900, except for stokers.

The following substitutes or equivalents were introduced in 1824 :

On the days on which flour is ordered to be issued, suet and raisins, or currants, may be substituted for a 1 lb. of Flour., at the following rate: 1 lb. of Raisins ; ½ lb. of Currants ; ½ lb. of Suet.

1 lb. of Rice, or 1 Pint of Cavalances, or 1 Pint of Dhollis to be considered equal to 1 Pint of Peas

¼ lb. Onions or Leeks to be equal to 1 lb. of other vegetables.

In 1907 it was recommended that potato lockers be fitted as standard on all ships ; that when orders were placed abroad for fresh vegetables, two thirds of the order may be made up of potatoes if preferred.

Tea, Coffee and Chocolate - to be done

1½ oz. Sugar, 1 oz. Cocoa, ¼ oz. Tea.

1 oz. of Coffee, or ½ oz. of Tea equal to 1 oz. of Cocoa.

Aug 1900 it was recommended that :

  1. tea should be issued to messes in its raw state when practicable.
  2. unsweetened condensed milk should be added to the ration, but that it should not be eligible for savings.

In 1907 it was recommended that fresh milk could be issued to ships alongside and in the home ports in lieu of condensed milk. It was also recommended that chocolate /cocoa could be issued as chocolate or in a soluble form, at the option of the men.

Spirits and beer - to be done

1 gallon Beer, 1 Pint of Wine or ¼ Pint of spirits

Jam, marmalade and butter etc. - to be done

Jams etc. would appear to have been made available though canteens and would probably have made their appearance towards the end of the 19th Century and were slowly introduced into Admiralty scale of victualling : and in 1907 the limit of jam ration to marmalade on 2 days a week was abolished.

It was also recommend at this time (1907), that items available under the repayment system introduced with the new general messing system, shouldn’t be duplicated by the canteens.

Boys rations - to be done

Aug 1900 it was recommended that the following be added to the scale of rations for boys :

  1. 2 oz. of jam 4 days a week, dripping being provided on the remaining days.
  2. ¾ of an oz. of condensed milk per diem.
  3. ½ oz. of coffee per diem.

and that the current chocolate / cocoa ration should be reduced by ¼ oz. per diem.

That on first turning out a ration of cocoa only should be issued, and that corned pork should be issued at 8 a.m., with breakfast, the 10.30 stand easy being abolished.

^ back to top ^