Life On Board

The Ship's working day

The Working Ship

Food and Provisions

The purser, Mr Josiah Miggins, explains how the C18th sailors, marines and officers were fed, 'watered' and clothed.

You can help to measure out rations and check ship's biscuit for weevil infestation.

Mr Miggins has rations of salted, dried meat and peas that will go into the sailors' 'square meal, and will tell you also just how much alcohol you can expect to drink per day...

When a sheep is killed on board, let the blood be carefully saved, and let a person stir it continually from the time it comes from the sheep til it is cold; this will prevent it from congealing.Then cut up the sheep, and cut the leg of one side like a haunch of venison.

Then cut off the shoulder and the loin, and the neck and breast in two.

Put first the leg into a deep pan and pour some of the blood to it; then put in the other pieces, and pour more of the blood as they are put it, and last of all pour the whole over them.

Thus let them stand soaking as long as they will keep good.

Then when the blood begins to turn bad, for that will taint a great while before the meat, take out the several pieces, and hang them up out of the sun; keep them thus as long as they will keep fresh, then roast the haunch of the mutton in all respects as if it were venison; make some gravy sauce of the portable soup, and serve it up.

The other joints might be dressed in the same way at the same time, but as so much venison is not wanted to be dressed at once, the best way of treating them is this: lay them in a large pan, with the fat side downwards, and when they are pressed flat with the hands pour gently over them a bottle of red wine; then when they are well soaked with this pour on a quart of vinegar, and thus let them lie all night.

After this, take the neck, breast, and loin out of the pickle, but leave the shoulder in to stay a week longer; rub it with a handful of common salt, and a large spoonful of coarse sugar mixed with half an ounce of salt petre and the same quantity of bay salt. The breast and loin should be made into a pasty and the best way of doing this is first to bone and season them then make a good crust and make the pasty in the usual way as we have directed in its place.

While the pasty is baking let the bones be boiled to make gravy, with some pepper, salt and dry leaves of sweet herbs and a blade of mace broken.

When the pasty comes home take off the lid and pour in this hot gravy then send it up.

The shoulder will eat extremely well, boiled with a pease pudding in the manner of pork.

What John Farley does not explain is how to prepare the pudding cloth. I have found the best way is to soak a large cloth in hot water. Wring it until nearly dry then sprinkle flour over the cloth. Put the pudding mix in the middle and then bring the edges of the cloth together and tie them tightly with twine. Be sure to leave enough space for the pudding to expand.

This makes a very big pudding, best for serving a small ships company or a hungry launch crew.

The use of ship's biscuits on board during ship during late C18th – and how to make your own.

The biscuits were provided to every person on board as part of the ration. Each person had 1 pound of biscuit per day. The biscuits were prepared and baked at one of the bakeries belonging to the navy (for example at Chatham) then put into canvas bags. Biscuits were made from plain flour (usually a good wheat flour with added "sharps"). The nearest we have to this today is a light brown flour.

Biscuits were essentially bulk. They are too hard to eat without soaking. They could to be placed on the plate before the stew and allowed to soften, or softened in your Beer or Grog. Alternatively they could be ground up and used as a thickener.

The only reason they will become infested is if they get damp. A good purser would make sure this did not happen, by keeping them in a well ventilated, tin lined bread room in the stern of the ship.

To make your own, authentic ‘ship’s biscuit’

Salt and a little oil are added to the flour (see above) then add enough hot water to make a stiff paste. The dough is kneaded and then rolled out into oval shapes. (1 Lb of flour makes 5 Biscuits)

The biscuit is pricked on one side and a large broad arrow placed in the middle. There were variations in thickness , size and shape depending on where the biscuit was made.

They are then placed in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, then the temperature is lowered and they are left for about an hour.

The temperature is turned right down and I leave them overnight. The aim is for them to dry out completely. This is the ‘Chatham recipe’.

Jean Spence



Cut a pound of suet into little pieces, but not too fine. Mix with a pound of currants washed clean, a pound of raisins stoned, eight yolks of eggs and four whites, half a small nutmeg, a teaspoon of beaten ginger, a pound of flour and a pint of milk. Be sure to beat the eggs first and mix with the milk. It will be very thick.

It will take 5 hours of boiling.

Plumb Pudding

A recipe from The Art of London Cookery by John Farley (1797)