Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cooking on wooden sailing ships in the 1700s and 1800s

Feeding the sailors in the 18th and 19th century sailing ships - especially during voyages of discovery or times of fighting such as the Napoleonic Wars - was on eof the most important jobs ob board ship.
But what were the cooking stoves like? Ad was the fire a danger on a wooden ship?

On HM Bark Endeavour (c1770)
The fire for cooking was contained in the fire hearth and the smoke went up the chimney through a funnel to the weatherdeck. Cooking could be done in the oven but the pork and beef was boiled in large round pots which sat in large round holes on the top - next to the hanging net bags into which each mess-table put its 6 pieces of meat and each bag was labled with the table’s name. To prevent heat descending to the wooden deck, beneath the fire hearth was a layer of sand with bricks, slate or stone slabs.
Kevin Boatman Foster offered this description of the firehearth: The fire was contained in a sheet-iron patent galley stove. The stove usually had a hot water tank, several ovens with sheet or cast iron doors, heating surfaces for pans and kettles surrounded by iron pipe railings, and an iron and copper smoke pipe equipped with a damper. It rested in an open-topped sandbox capped with bricks. The galley stove was one of the most complicated machines on board a sailing ship. Small vessels had smaller sheet-iron stoves, capable of baking inside and cooking on top. The simplest version of galley on a sailing ship was an open topped sand box atop bricks for an open fire to heat cook pots. Those were found on larger dhows and other vessels in the Indian ocean as recently as the last hundred years.

The Galley - HMS Warrior 1850 - Portsmouth Historic Dockyard – here the galley had to cater for hundreds of men every day.

Fireheath - HMS Victory (c1770) - replica - Portsmouth Historic Dockyard


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Margaret, thanks for sharing this. Always better to have actual photos to give a feel for the place.

Tony said...

I demonstrate the craft of net making for a local historic folklife group (Eastern Pennsylvania, USA). I have been told about the use of "boiling bags" in 17th and 18th century cooking and am always searching for historic documentation of their use. It was nice to see net bags hanging ion the photograph. Net bags are very easy to make but there are so many shapes to be considered. Up to now I was not certain about which shape bag was historically accurate.
If you ever need any net bags to be made I will be happy to help you. I also know a few net makers in Great Britain who could help you as well.
I LOVE books about sailing ships, both fiction and non fiction. It is an unexpected bonus to find an author in this genre that I was unaware of. I am looking forward to reading your books.

Tony said...

After I posted the above I discovered that you are from Australia. I was mislead by a HM Bark Endeavour website from England.

M. C. Muir said...

Hi Tony,
Thanks for your comments. If I had an email address I would reply to you personally cannot through this blog.
Yes, I live in Australia but was born in England.
I sailed on Endeavour for a short half-day sail soon after she was launched in Western Australia and, more recently, have 'served on her for 5 days as a volunteer guide in Hobart Tasmania, where I live now.
I am an avid tall ship enthusiast, as you might have gathered and have spent several days at the Portsmouth Maritime Museum during my visits to UK.
I have some good pics of the netting used on deck for holding hammocks on HMS Victory if these are of interest to you.
You can contact me through the page on my website or through Facebook -
Have a good day. MM

Colin Youl said...

Hello Margaret. This is a wonderful resource. Thank you very much. I am cuurrently making a model of Endeavour ( the Artesania Latina kit) which is by far the most ambitious thing I've attempted. It has been a bucket list item ever since, as a quite small boy, I used to visit the Art Gallery in Adelaide and look at the two or three model ships there "downstairs". I do not believe that they are still there. One was HMS Buffalo, i think. My question for you is not directly related to model building, but just one of general interest. I, too, have long wondered about having a fire on board a wooden vessel, and you have answered that beautifully. thanks again. However, what on earth did they use for fuel? I expect that timber would be out of the question from the point of view of its sheer bulk, and wasn't 1770 before the age of coal? Did they use oil, possibly derived from Whales? I would love to hear from you about this. my e-mail address is


Colin Youl

M. C. Muir said...

Hi Colin, thank you for your question.
While I have no specific references, as to what Endeavour carried for fuel, I would put forward two suggestions.

Firstly, as the ship itself had originally been built as a coal carrier, the idea of bunkering with coal is not unusual for the time.

I briefly recollect watching the TV drama of Cook's voyages and seeing the coal being offloaded from the ship during its original refurbishment.

"Endeavour was originally the merchant collier Earl of Pembroke, built by Thomas Fishburn for Thomas Millner, launched in June 1764 from the coal and whaling port of Whitby in North Yorkshire, and of a type known locally as the Whitby Cat." (from Wikipedia).

The other thing that comes to mind is that on any voyages of the age of sail/Napoleonic era, ships stopped en route at suitable locations to take on "Wood and Water". Teams of sailors were sent ashore to cut and collect suitable firewood. Ideally this had to be seasoned/dry wood as green wood would create smoke in the galley which in turn would displease the cook.

I would therefore suggest, both sources of galley fuel were carried aboard and replaced when depleted.

Barrels of oil would have been used for lamps.

Just my thoughts on the matter.