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Chapter 5:

Sailing ship provisions - Food and drink

There were those among us with itchy fingers...
(By BÝrge Solem)

The passengers traveling by sail had to bring their own food. This was often stored in a hold beneath the between-deck, and each day the passengers had to go down to fetch provisions. On the emigrant vessel Laurvig, baggage was piled on top of other cargo. Sometimes it was difficult for the passengers to get to their provisions, especially if there was little space in the cargo hold. On some ships there was space for trunks and other loose equipment in the center aisle, but this could, of course, be dangerous in bad weather. There are accounts about passengers who were injured by goods that slid back and forth on the deck. On the Atalanta in 1871, it was said that food chests and kegs with milk and beer were tied down in the center aisle. The ship was hit by a storm and all the passengers lay in their bunks holding themselves fast. A man from Rennesø had taken a keg of beer into the bunk with him, but the waves hurled the keg out of the bunk onto the deck. The man jumped out after it, and in an attempt to save it, rode the keg back and forth across the deck. This resulted in the ropes holding the items in the center aisle working their way loose, and soon everything was rolling from side to side in keeping with the waves. Fortunately, the man managed to get him self and the keg of beer back into the bunk before he was seriously injured. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, everyone had a good laugh. The most common food was cured mutton and other salted or dried food. Flatbread was almost always brought along. Also customary were sour milk and beer in kegs. In addition they had dairy products with them such as butter and soft whey cheese. They also had raw materials with them so they could cook porridge on board. It was important that the provisions could be stored for the duration of the journey.

The following is a list of provisions printed by Det Norske Udvandringsselskap in Christiania (later Oslo) in the 1870s. These provisions were intended to be adequate for an adult for up to ten weeks:

- 70 pounds hard bread (or the equivalent in soft bread or flatbread)
- 8 pounds butter
- 24 pounds meat
- 10 pounds sidepork
- 1 small keg of herring
- 8/3 Td. potatoes
- 20 pounds rye and barley flour
- ½ bushel dried peas
- ½ bushel pearl barley
- 3 pounds coffee
- 3 pounds sugar
- 2½ pounds syrup
- Quantities of salt, pepper, vinegar and onions

Of course, each passenger may take along the type of provisions desired as long as they are adequate for 10 weeks. [Pound = 454 grams, Td. = tønne = keg]

The emigrants were also advised to take along equipment, such as a water pail, (the size according to the needs of each family, about 3 quarts a day per person) cooking pot, coffee kettle and dishes and eating utensils. They had to prepare their own food on the ship's galleys placed up on deck. Often there were no more than a couple of these to be shared by all the passengers. The lines for preparing food could easily become long, when there were several hundred passengers. There are reports about ships where some passengers never made it to the stoves -- it was a matter of the survival of the fittest. Ole Ellingsen Strand, who crossed on the Christiane when he was 11 years old in 1851 latre wrote an account about the crossing. His description of the kitchen and the cooking conditions gives a lively picture of how it cuold be like:

"The kitchen where the cooking was done for about 259 passengers was a board shanty about 12 by 16 feet in size and was built on deck near the middle of the it; along the back side of this shanty a box or rather a bin was built about 4 feet wide and about 1 1/2 feet high, and this bin was filled full of sand, and on top of this sand the fires were built and the cooking done. The kettles were set on top of a little triangular frame of iron with three short legs under it, and this people would set anywhere on this bed of sand where they could possibly find or squeeze out room and then start their fire underneath. There was no chimney where the smoke could escape, only an opening in the roof the width of a board over the fire where smoke could go if it wanted to, but most of the time it did not want to because the wind kept it down."

"Early in the morning you could see the women coming up from below with a little bundle of fine split wood in one hand and a little kettle of some kind or a coffee pot in the other, heading for the kitchen, eager to find a vacant place somewhere on this bed of sand large enough to set their kettle on and build a fire under it. But it would not be very late in the day, if the weather was favorable, till every place in the kitchen was occupied, and there would be a large crowd outside waiting for vacant places, which were generally engaged already. And if you sat outside watching the kitchen door you could in 18 minutes time see perhaps half dozen women come out with their aprons over their faces, wiping tears, coughing and almost strangled with smoke. They would stay outside long enough to get their lungs filled with fresh air and the tears wiped out of their eyes, then they would crowd themselves back in again. Perhaps to find the fire and wood removed from their kettle under somebody else's. Then, of course, broad hints and sharp words would be exchanged, and the loser would have to watch the opportunity when her next neighbor would have to go outside for fresh air to get her wood and fire back again. And these were not the only adversities and troubles in the kitchen because it was hardly ever so stormy but that somebody tried to cook something, and if it was too stormy for the women to be on deck the men would generally volunteer to steep tea, cook coffee, or even make a kettle of soup. They would start their fire, put their kettles on, and in a little while the cook shanty would be chock full of men. Some would be on their knees, some sitting flat on the floor while others would be standing outside peering in. Then imagine an oncoming big wave striking the vessel and almost setting it on end, and in a wink of an eye every kettle, coffee pot, and teapot is upset and spilled in the fire and hot ashes. This of course made them scramble for the door and you could see that coming out like swirling bees from a beehive. Some would swear, some could laugh, while others would say they might have known better than to try to cook anything this stormy day, but in less than an hour the shanty would be full again and perhaps going through the whole performance."

Daily rations of wood and water were included in the price of the ticket. The emigrants on board the sail ships were completely dependent on wind and weather. If the weather was bad, the journey could take much longer than anticipated. There were several occasions when the emigrants ran out of food and water before they arrived in port. On board the bark Fauna in 1868, they were about to run out of water and the daily ration was down to one glass per person. If they were lucky they might meet other ships that had something to sell, but the prices were often very high. If necessary, they might anchor off land somewhere, like the bark Napoleon that had to go to St. Johns, Newfoundland. The banks off the coast of Newfoundland had great quantities of fish, however, which came to the rescue of many.

Contents of the "Rosemåled" Chest
Wooden Chest
The chest with food supplies that Anders Nilssen Kloster (1843-1936) and his wife Madel Magdela Handsdatter Lie (1843-1889) from Kloster gård at Halsnøy brought along on the bark Erling Skjalgson in 1869:
 
Kjue-kjue leivar flat brø. (400)
76 pund smør. (butter)
Tolv saua. (twelve legs of mutton)
1 tønne kavring (cask of hardtack)
2 tønne nøteknekker (crackers)
½ anker brennevin (cask of brandy)
2 kvart rom (quarts of rum)
1 kvart mjø (mead)
½ anker sur melk (sour milk)
8 gallon primost (cheese)

 

The Transatlantic Crossing - read more >>

 -  Chapter 1:   Early Norwegian Emigrants
 -  Chapter 2:   Steerage Passengers - Emigrants Between Decks
 -  Chapter 3:   By sail across the ocean - daily life aboard
 -  Chapter 4:   Children of the ocean - life and death on the Atlantic
 -  Chapter 5:   Sailing ship provisions - Food and drink
 -  Chapter 6:   Sanitary conditions on board - health and sickness on emigrant ships
 -  Chapter 7:   From sail to steam
 -  Chapter 8:   The largest, the fastest and most comfortable ships - by steamship across the ocean
 -  Chapter 9:   The giant express steamers - The transatlantic crossing following 1900
 
 

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