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"Life at Sea in the Royal Navy of the 18th Century" Topic


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Areas of Interest

Renaissance
18th Century
Napoleonic
19th Century

120 hits since 17 Jan 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP17 Jan 2019 7:27 p.m. PST

"The experience of naval life in the 18th century has often been portrayed as one of suffering in something little more than a floating concentration camp, where an unwilling crew, raised by the press-gang, was systematically beaten, starved and terrorised into doing their duty. Meanwhile disease was ever present. This notion has undoubtedly partly arisen because of Doctor Johnson's famous observation that going to sea was akin to being in prison, with the added danger of drowning.

Although those of us who served on the Endeavour replica found some elements of this image convincing, we recognised that we should not allow our delicate 21st-century sensibilities to cloud our judgement. Historical research and a deeper understanding of the age provide a different picture.

Our first contact with the alternative world of Captain Cook was the food. A diet of salt meat, hard biscuit and sauerkraut was a shock to us, but our predecessors would have considered it superior to anything available on shore. For them such regular, hot, protein-rich meals, together with a nearly limitless supply of beer, would have been a luxury. Furthermore, every ship's captain knew that food was the primary concern of his crew, so he would have ensured they were well fed, and kept their dinner time sacred, usually allowing the men 90 minutes to deal with their tough rations. They would only be called away from the mess table in an emergency. The lack of rum or beer on our modern voyage left our crew significantly worse off than our predecessors – although less likely to be injured while under the influence…."
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