Cook’s Endeavour: Victualled, Flogged, & Pickled

From: Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz (Picador, 2002), pp. 16-17, 28-29:

ON MY FIRST night aboard the replica Endeavour, I sat down with my watchmates to a dinner advertised on galley blackboard as “gruel.” This turned out to be a tasty stew, with pie and fruit to follow It was also a marked improvement on the fare aboard the original Endeavour. Before leaving port. Cook complained to the Navy Board that the cook assigned his ship was “a lame infirm man, and incapable of doing his Duty.” The board granted his request for a replacement sending John Thompson, who had lost his right hand. Cook’s request for still another man was denied. The Navy gave preference to cripples and maimed persons” in its appointment of cooks, a fair indicator of its regard for sailors’ palates.

“Victualled” for twelve months, the Endeavour toted thousands of pounds of ship’s biscuit (hardtack), salt beef, and salt pork: the sailors staples. On alternate days, the crew ate oatmeal and cheese instead of meat. Though hearty—a daily ration packed 4,500 calories—the sailors’ diet was as foul as it was monotonous. “Our bread indeed is but indifferent,” the Endeavour‘s botanist, Joseph Banks, observed, “occasioned by the quantity of Vermin that are in it. I have often seen hundreds nay thousands shaken out of a single bisket.” Banks catalogued five types of insect and noted their mustardy and “very disagreeable” flavor, which he likened to a medicinal tonic made from stags’ horns.

On the replica, we also enjoyed a considerable luxury denied Cook’s men: marine toilets and showers tucked discreetly in the forward hold. Up on the main deck, Todd showed us what the original sailors used: holed planks extending from the bow, utterly exposed in every sense. These were called heads, or seats of ease. On Cook’s second voyage, an unfortunate sailor was last seen using the heads, from which he fell and drowned….

On our first-day tour of the replica, Todd had showed us a canvas bag; inside it was a heavy knotted rope—the cat-o’-nine-tails, so named for the number of its cords and the catlike scratches it left on a man’s back. This was also the origin of the phrases “let the cat out of the bag” and “not enough room to swing a cat.” The cat came out of the bag with depressing regularity during the Endeavour‘s long passage to the Pacific. On one day alone, three men were lashed, the last for “not doing his duty in punishing the above two.” Before the trip was over. Cook would flog one in four of his crew, about average for eighteenth-century voyages.

If Cook didn’t spare the lash, he also didn’t stint sailors their most treasured salve: alcohol. The Endeavour sailed with a staggering quantity of booze: 1,200 gallons of beer, 1,600 gallons of spirits (brandy, arrack, rum), and 3,032 gallons of wine that Cook collected at Madeira. The customary ration for a sailor was a gallon of beer a day, or a pint of spirits, diluted with water to make a twice-daily dose of “grog.” Sailors also mixed beer with rum or brandy to create the debilitating drink known as flip. Cook’s notes on individual crewmen include frequent asides such as “more or less drunk every day.”

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Filed under Britain, food, military, Pacific, science, travel

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