THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

12 June 2018

Sauerkraut, sugar, and salt pork – the diet on board Cook’s 'Resolution'

In May 1775 Captain James Cook called at St Helena in the Resolution on his voyage back to England.  Cook sailed away with eight East India Company soldiers who had been granted a discharge after serving their contracted time. The Royal Navy sent the Company a bill for the soldiers’ food and drink, detailing exactly what they had consumed over the course of three months.

Cook Resolution add_ms_17277_(2)Drawing of the Resolution made during Cook's Third Voyage British Library Add.17277, No. 2 Images Online

St Helena was administered in the late 18th century by the East India Company and there was a garrison of soldiers based there.  The eight men who took their passage home in the Resolution were Thomas Green, John White, Samuel Clare, David Grant, John Jones, Thomas Rhodes/Roades, Richard Spite/Spight, and Michael Kerry/Carey.  The Royal Navy Victualling Office submitted a bill for supplying the men from 16 May to varying dates in August when they left the ship.  This was computed to be the equivalent of the cost of 701 men for one day, a total of £36 9s 11¼d.  So the cost of victualling each man was about 12½d per day.

  Cook Resolution diet IOR E 1 59 - 3IOR/E/1/59 f.483

The Company was charged for –
Bread 701 pounds
Wine 43⅞ gallons
Brandy 21⅞ gallons
Salt beef 37¾ pieces
Salt pork 25 pieces
Fresh beef 200 pounds
Flour 112½ pounds
Raisins 37½ pounds
Pease 3¼ bushels
Wheat (for oatmeal) 4 bushels 5½ gallons
Sugar 75 pounds
Vinegar 6¼ gallons
‘Sour Krout’ estimated at £1
'Necessary money' 13s 5d

Lack of vitamin C in the diet of sailors on long voyages resulted in the disease scurvy which could prove fatal.  The symptoms of scurvy are swollen gums that are prone to bleeding, loose teeth, bulging eyes, easy bruising, scaly skin, and very dry hair.  To counter this, James Cook replenished supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables for his crew whenever the ship made a land call.  He also took with him ‘Sour Krout’, that is sauerkraut, cabbage fermented with lactic acid bacteria.  On Cook’s first Pacific voyage in 1768, the Navy wanted to trial the efficacy of sauerkraut in combatting scurvy.  The Endeavour was provided with 7,860 pounds of sauerkraut, a ration of 2 pounds per man per week.  Cook reported back to the Victualling Board in July 1771 that no ‘dangerous’ cases of scurvy had occurred and that he, the surgeons and the officers believed that the sauerkraut had played a large part in achieving this.

Cook’s second voyage with the Resolution and Adventure lasted three years and, although there were outbreaks of scurvy, only one man died from the disease.  The Victualling Office bill shows that there was still some sauerkraut left towards the end of the voyage.  Let’s hope that the Company soldiers enjoyed their ration, perhaps washing it down with some of their 43⅞ gallons of wine and 21⅞ gallons of brandy!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/E/1/59 ff.482-483v Account from the Royal Navy for victualing eight soldiers in the Resolution 1775
IOR/G/32/36 St Helena Consultations May 1775
Egon H. Kodicek and Frank G. Young, ‘Captain Cook and scurvy’ in The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, vol. 24 no. 1 (1969)

Visit our exhibition James Cook: The Voyages
Open until 28 August 2018