RN Victualling - 1825


Admiralty Office 1 Jul 1824.

The following new regulations have been just issued by the Lords of the Admiralty, for the establishing of an improved mode of victualling the seamen of His Majesty's navy, and paying to them a portion of their pay whilst employed on foreign service :-

The King having been pleased, by his Order in Council of the 23d of June, to establish a new and improved scale for victualling his Majesty's navy, a copy thereof is subjoined.

There shall be allowed to every person serving in His Majesty's ships, the following daily quantities of provisions, viz.

Bread 1 Pound
Sugar 1 Ounce
Beer 1 gallon
Fresh meat 1 Pound
Cocoa 1 Ounce
Vegetables Pound
Tea Ounce

When fresh meat and vegetables are not issued, there shall be allowed in lieu thereof:

Salt Beef and
Salt Pork and

And, weekly, whether fresh or salt meat is used :

A quantity of oatmeal not exceeding  pint For occasional use when required, but not to be considered as subject to be paid for when not used.

The following scheme shows the proportion of provisions for each man for 14 days, when not on fresh meat victualling:

Days of the week Bread Beer Sugar Cocoa Tea Beef Pork Flour &c. Peas Oatmeal and Vinegar
  lb. galls. oz. oz. oz. lb. lb. lb. pints pints each
Sun 1 1 1 1 - - pint weekly as explained above
Mon 1 1 1 1 - -
Tues 1 1 1 1 - -
Wed 1 1 1 1 - -
Thurs 1 1 1 1 - -
Fri 1 1 1 1 - -
Sat 1 1 1 1 - -
- - - - - - - - - -
Sun 1 1 1 1 - -
Mon 1 1 1 1 - -
Tues 1 1 1 1 - -
Wed 1 1 1 1 - -
Thurs 1 1 1 1 - -
Fri 1 1 1 1 - -
Sat 1 1 1 1 - -
Proportion for 14 days 14 14 21 14 3 5 5 5 3 1

On the days on which flour is ordered to be issued, suet and raisins, or currants, may be substituted for a portion of flour, at the following rate:-

One pound of Raisins being considered equal to 1 lb. of Flour.
Half pound of Currants being considered equal to 1 lb. of Flour.
Half pound of Suet being considered equal to 1 lb. of Flour.

Change of some species of Provisions for others, as the Service may require.

And in case it should be found necessary to alter any of the species of provisions before mentioned, and to issue others as their substitutes, it is to be observed, that:

1 lb. of Soft Bread, or
1 lb. of Rice, or
1 lb. of Flour
is to be considered equal to 1 lb. of Biscuit.
1 Pint of Wine or
Pint of spirits
is to be considered equal to a Gallon of Beer
1 Ounce of Coffee, or
Ounce of Tea
is to be considered equal to 1 Ounce of Cocoa
1 lb. of Rice, or
1 Pint of Cavalances, or
1 Pint of Dholl
is to he considered equal to 1 pint of peas
1 lb. of Rice is to he considered equal to 1 quart of oatmeal
1 lb. of Butter is to be considered equal to 1 lb. of Sugar
2 lb. of Cheese are to be considered equal to 1 lb. of Cocoa.
lb. Onions or lb. Leeks to be equal to 1 lb. of other vegetables

Flag-officers, captains, and other commanding officers will observe in the above scale, and will fully explain to the ships' companies under their orders, the advantages of this new system - viz. that what were called banyan days are abolished - that meat, vegetables, flour, or peas, is to be issued every day - that flour, instead of being exchanged for a portion of beef, will now become an article of the men's regular allowance - and that a quantity of tea or coffee sufficient to make a pint of liquid will be issued every evening.

It will be observed in the table of substitutes, that the quantity of spirits to be issued in lieu of beer or wines is diminished one half ; but in addition to the pint of tea or coffee allowed in part compensation for this diminution of spirits, His Majesty has been graciously pleased, in further and full compensation, to add 2s. per month to the pay of such warrant officers as do riot rank with lieutenants, and of each petty and non-commissioned officer seaman, marine, and boy. As the diminution of spirits only takes -place when beer and wine are not issued, while the addition of tea of coffee, and the increased pay, are permanent, it will be obvious how much this regulation is to the pecuniary advantage and comfort of the ships' companies, while it is confidently expected that the diminution in the article of spirits will conduct to the health of the people, and the good order and discipline of the ships.

In addition to these advantages, it is intended that a certain portion of the pay which may be due to each warrant and petty officer (not allowed to draw bills, and to each non-commissioned officer, seaman, marine, and boy, who may be desirous of receiving, shall be issued to them when in any port abroad or at home, at the expiration of every one, two, or three months, as the Captain may judge expedient by way of pocket-money, viz. 4s. per month to warrant, petty, and non-commissioned officers, seamen, and marines, and 2s. to each boy ; but as the carrying this arrangement into full effect will require the sanction of the Legislature, it is intended to submit a bill to Parliament, early in the next session, to authorize it ; and in the mean while, in order to carry the same principle into effect as far as is at present practicable, the addition 2s. now added to the pay as compensation for part of the spirits, will be paid to the before-mentioned classes in the same way that short allowance money is now paid.

The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, in communicating to the Fleet the gracious and beneficent intentions of the King, are satisfied that they will be received by the officers and men as additional marks of His Majesty's favour, and as real and substantial improvements to the condition of the petty and non-commissioned officers and men. By commander their Lordships, J.W. Croker.

In reference to the substitution of one species of provision for another, the most frequent was that of spirits for wine, or beer, and of tea, or coffee for cocoa, or chocolate. Beer was supplied on the home station only, while ships were in harbours, or during a short period after leaving them, as it could not be conveniently stowed, or kept for any length of time at sea ; and wine, or spirits mixed with water, were consequently more frequently, and more extensively used than it was. Wine was occasionally issued, but spirits, generally rum, were used almost universally throughout the service, at sea, during the last 20 years. Such was the general practice, in substituting wine or spirits for beer till the year 1831, when the ration of beer was superseded altogether ; wine, in lieu of spirits, is now issued only on the Cape of Good Hope station.

The Rum Ration
Previously to 1825 half-a-pint of spirits, when spirits were issued, was allowed to every person serving in the fleet ; at which time a salutary and judicious change was introduced, by the reduction of the spirits to a quarter of a pint daily, and the allowance of tea, or coffee instead. The practice formerly was to divide the half-pint of spirits into two equal parts, one of which was issued at dinner-time, the other in the afternoon ; now, instead of the afternoon allowance of spirits, tea, or toffee is issued, and proves a safe, healthy, and satisfactory article of diet. When the change was introduced, it was apprehended by some that the seamen, if they did not resist, would be, greatly dissatisfied with it, their love of grog, being considered paramount to all considerations. It vas, however, introduced without disturbance, or general complaint ; in a short time it became liked ; and now it is believed, that the majority of the men serving, if it were put to them, would prefer the present to the former a system. It is certain that the change has acted, and yet will act yet more beneficially ; for it is unnecessary to state, that one of the most active causes of disease, and insubordination, with all its mischievous results, has been the intemperate use of spirituous liquors. It is not less certain, though not so evident, on which account partly perhaps it was so long allowed to continue in force, that the former practice was a sure method for laying the foundation, and fostering habits of intemperance. To give a lad of 18 half-a-pint of spirits daily, with the precepts, and example of his seniors, was tantamount to teaching drunkenness ; for, if he abstained from the allowance of grog, he was ridiculed as a milksop, but was praised for his manly, and seamanlike qualities, if he drank it with avidity. The quantity allowed produced unhealthy excitement, if not intoxication, under the influence of which he neglected duty, or committed acts of insubordination, which entailed punishment, followed sometimes by repentance, and amendment, but often by further indulgence, procuring spirits beyond his allowance, by every means in his power, becoming reckless, a confirmed drunkard, and finally a burthen, and a pest to the service. Many diseases were the direct effect of such conduct, many more were excited, and all were aggravated by it. The habit and, its numerous bad effects, are far from being extinguished, but they are much less than they were ; and there is no reason to doubt that they will become progressively less, till pervading temperance, aided by other means of improvement, shall give to the Navy a force organic, moral, and intellectual, much greater than it has hitherto possessed.

After 14 days' use of salt food, lemon juice, with an additional allowance of sugar, is issued, as an anti-scorbutic.

There is no fixed regulation as to the manner in which it is to be used - it may be either mixed with the grog or made into lemonade. The allowance is half an ounce of lemon juice, and half an ounce of sugar per day, to each man. Some officers prefer serving out double allowance for one week, and then missing a week: the pint of lemonade is thus made doubly strong, and, of course, more agreeable to the palate. It is sometimes mixed with the grog, which is converted into punch by this process ; but this is not relished by the sailors. Occasionally, it is served out in a raw state, and in this case, the men use it either as a condiment for their dough (pronounced duff) or pudding, or mix it with their drinking water. It is generally appreciated in any way, and seems to be equally beneficial in all, as far as the health of the crew is concerned.

Naval Rations
From the foregoing Table it will be seen that the naval rations are abundance in quantity ; they are also excellent in quality. Salt beef and pork, being good when cured, are not kept in store in larger quantities than the ordinary exigencies of tie service require, so that they may not suffer unnecessary deterioration from long keeping. The biscuit, which is very palatable and nutritious, is made from flour ground in Government mills, from wheat which must weigh, at least, sixty pounds per bushel ; and is prepared, with the greatest care, and precision. The flour put on board ships is from the same source, and is as good as can be procured, or is used any where. The same thing may be safely said of the cocoa, coffee, tea, spirits, and all other articles of diet supplied to ships of war. Good remunerating prices for superior articles are paid in every instance ; it seldom happens that inferior or bad ones, are sent on board ; but if they should, the the law supplies a remedy, which is promptly acted on in doubtful cases, viz. a survey, in which such articles are tried, and, if found unfit, are returned, or thrown overboard, according to circumstances.

It cannot be questioned, that the abundant, and excellent provisions supplied to ships of war contribute largely to the hight degree of health now enjoyed in the Royal Navy. Formerly a ship of war was, on many accounts, an object of aversion ; destructive disease, under various forms, being one. Scurvy, putrid ulcer, malignant dysentery, and fever, allied to that of gaols ; suddenly swept off the greater portions of many ships' crews, and well nigh depopulated fleets. Many causes, no doubt, concurred to occasion those maladies ; but in the production of the first and worst, the most fertile and constant, was insufficient nutrition, resulting from scanty and unwholesome food. It is matter of surprise, not less than of regret now ; that the pervading agency which led to such disastrous results on health in those days, should not have been known, or, if suspected, was not counteracted. Till the year 1?96, scurvy continued to infest the fleet, to cripple its power by the number it affected, and, in many instances, to produce a large amount of mortality.

In 1797 the victualling was changed, greatly improved, and strictly regulated, and consequent immediately to the change, the health of seamen improved strikingly. Scurvy, typhoid fever, dysentery, and ulcer, which, up to the period of change had produced great havoc, became comparatively rare in occurrence, and light in impression. Some ships, in particular circumstances, suffered from one or more of those diseases ; but the sweeping epidemics of former years, which often rendered individual ships, and sometimes entire fleets, totally ineffective, became unknown. Since 1797 various improvements have been introduced into the victualling of the navy, such as giving cocoa in lieu of gruel (burgoo) for breakfast ; issuing salt meat at a much earlier period after being cured, the supply of better articles, and the substitution of tea for the afternoon allowance of spirits ; and with every improvement in those respects, as a general result, has there been farther improvement in health, till the four forms of disease, at no distant date, so destructive, are scarcely known, except by name. Endemic fever, the effect of extraneous agency, in particular localities, sometimes prevails extensively, and fatally ; acute inflammatory dysentery is not uncommon, nor frequently without serious results ; and ulcerative disease is anything but rare, and is often extremely troublesome. But the putrid fevers, ulcers, and dysenteries, so rife within the last 50 years, are as nearly banished from the Navy as is scurvy. They are all diseases of debility, if not excited by, intimately connected with it, and of which imperfect, and inadequate nutrition was the prevailing, and most powerful cause. It is not meant that mere debility, excited directly, and without the intervention of other agency, those putrid fevers, dysenteries and ulcers, whatever might be its power as regarded scurvy ; but it is affirmed, which is the same thing for practical purposes that had the bodies of seamen in those days been as vigorous as they are now, they would not have suffered as they then did from such diseases. They all - scurvy, fever, dysentery and ulcer - declined nearly in the same ratio, on the introduction of an improved scale of victualling, and resulting improvement in the bodily vigour, and mental condition of seamen. They would appear at one time to have been considered evils, in some way, inherent in a sea life, intimately connected with, and easily excited by it ; they are proved to be no more dependent on residence in a ship, than in a house.

Diet Vs. Disease over the previous 50 years
Of the many improvements which have taken place within the last 50 years in the physical, and social condition of the people, none is to be compared with that effected in the health of seamen in the public service, because none approaches it in magnitude, and importance. Within that period they suffered immeasurably more from disease than the average of citizens, or even than their brothers in arms of the land service ; now they will not lose in comparison with the latter, nor, deducting a little now and then on account of endemic disease, within the tropics with the most favoured of the former. There is no doubt, as has been stated, that for this striking and momentous change, humanity, and the country are chiefly indebted to abundance of wholesome, nutritious food.

In connexion with this subject, it may be stated in general terms, without entering on details, that previously to the year 1797, the nutriment supplied by public rations to seamen and marines was at least a third less than it is now. It is abundant, but not in excess, at present ; it is therefore not wonderful, however deplorable that the insufficient supplies of those days, without any strong concurring agency, should occasion diseases of absolute debility, or excite disease by it, leading to so much misery and death. The necessary evils of war, whether arising from battle, or shipwreck, were trivial when compared with those tremendous calamities which might have been avoided. There is no danger of returning to the causes which produced them ; but in an inquiry of this sort, allusion to them could not well be avoided, and their bearing on the highly important question of the necessary connexion between nutrition and health should not be overlooked.

Palatable water
Palatable water, in sufficient quantity, is essential to comfort, and influential on health ; and in no article, at least in the manner of keeping and preserving it, has there been greater improvement than in this indispensable one, in recent times, in ships of war. When water was kept in casks, it became slightly foetid, from the disengagement of hydrogen, in a few days, and, in a fortnight or three weeks, so loathsome, as to be swallowed with repugnance, even when called for by urgent thirst. The progress of decomposition, and its nauseating results, were especially rapid and offensive, when the water was most pure at least, when it contained the smallest portion of mineral admixture, and the temperature was high. When the solid food at sea consisted almost exclusively of very salt beef and pork, biscuits long baked; and puddings made of salt suet and flour, the desire for, even the necessity of abundance of water, was great. No one who has not felt it can imagine the distress that was often endured, within the tropics, setting aside the effects on health, from the intense thirst thus excited, and the only means available for quenching it. Water so putrid, and offensive, often so thick, and green from vegetable admixture, and decomposition, and emitting so strongly the ftor of rotten eggs, as to disgust at once the sense of smell, and of taste.

Happily all those evils and inconveniences are banished from the Navy, by the substitution of iron tanks for water-casks. Water suffers no change in these iron vessels, however long kept, at least no change in itself, from decomposition. The metal becomes oxydised to a certain extent, and the oxyde in the interior of the tank mixes with the water, but, from its weight and insolubility, falls to the bottom, and does not, except in stormy weather, discolour the water, till the tank is nearly empty. When the water is taken from the tank in stormy weather, or from the bottom, it has a brownish colour, on account of a portion of the oxyde of iron being suspended in it, the greater part of which soon falls to the bottom of the vessel into which it has been drawn. It is not tainted with any thing offensive either to the palate, or the nose. There is no reason to suppose that the slight chalybeate admixture is injurious to health ; it may be in such minute portions beneficial.

It is of importance, not only that water should be kept without deterioration in ships, but also that it should be wholesome when sent on board. The first object is fully obtained by iron tanks, the last must depend on the means of supply, and care, and judgment in selection. At home, and generally in British colonies, there is little difficulty in procuring good water, but in some of the many places visited by ships of war, it is not always easy to procure it free from mineral solutions, deleterious in quality, or quantity, or from various vegetable additions. In such cases care and labour should not be spared in choosing, and procuring the best. In some foreign ports a small charge is made for supplies of good water, to save which, bad water has been taken on board, at the expense of considerable labour to ships' companies ; this is poor and injurious parsimony, which should never be practised. The acuteness and philanthropy of Captain Cook led him to much stress on abundance of wholesome water for the preservation of health, and to use every means for obtaining it. It may be thought that it did not require much of either quality to arrive at that conclusion; but, looking at the general practice then, and long after, it was not so self-evident as it now appears to be. There were other articles in the sanitary code of that eminent man, even more important, and not less evident, and of which the admirable effects were testified by ample experience, from which little benefit, beyond that accruing to his own party, was for a long time derived. Had the lessons which his conduct taught, in regard to the provisioning and economy of ships, been properly learned, and acted on, much of subsequent misery, and loss might have been avoided in the Navy. Respecting supplies of water, he had an impression that it was more salubrious when recently taken from its source on shore, than when long kept on board. The impression was, no doubt, correct, and the practice founded on it, judicious his time; but since the introduction of iron tanks, frequent renewal of water is of little, if any, importance.

Tanks were introduced partially into ships of war before the year 1815 ; since that period they have been used throughout the service, and have contributed largely to the health, and comfort now enjoyed in it.

Victualling in Sick Messes - 1825
In connexion with the foregoing statement, and remarks, on the ordinary victualling of the Navy, it is right to notice the dietetic provision made for seamen in sickness, its influence being great in the treatment of many chronic diseases, and paramount in the management of convalescence, when the first danger, from violent acute attacks, is over. In such cases medical treatment, however skillfully, and, to a certain point, successfully, will often be applied in vain, if nourishing food cannot be obtained ; though disease, which would speedily have destroyed life, without its antagonism, be thereby subdued, the subject, exhausted by violent suffering, and powerful remedies, will yet perish, unless a sufficient quantity of nutriment be supplied to him. It is painful to think how often such a catastrophe, sinking from simple exhaustion, and without the pressure of any disease, has taken place; but it is gratifying to know that it cannot, or, at any rate, need not, happen again in the Navy. In 1825 the following diets for the sick were to be carried into effect:-

Full Half Low Fever
Bread 1 lb. Bread 1 lb. Bread 8 ounces Bread 8 ounces or 4 ounces of sago.
Beef or Mutton 1 lb. Beef or Mutton 8 ounces Herbs for Broth 12 drams Tea 4 drams
Potatoes or Greens 1 lb. Potatoes or Greens 8 ounces Barley 7 drams Sugar 20 drams
Herbs for Broth 25 drams Herbs for Broth 25 drams Salt 8 drams Milk for Tea 2/6 pint
Barley 14 drams Barley 14 drams Tea 4 drams Milk for diet pint
Salt 8 drams Salt 8 drams Sugar 16 drams - -
Vinegar 16 drams Vinegar 16 drams Milk for Tea 2/6 pint - -
Tea 4 drams Tea 4 drams Milk for diet 1 pint - -
Sugar 16 drams Sugar 16 drams Broth pint - -
Milk for Tea 2/6 pint Milk for Tea 2/6 pint - - - -
Broth 1 pint Broth 1 pint - - - -
Home Beer (small) 2 pints Home Beer (small) 1 pints - - - -
Home Beer (strong) 1 pints Home Beer (strong) 1 pint
Foreign Wine at the surgeon's discretion, not exceeding 1 pint Foreign Wine at the surgeon's discretion, not exceeding 1 pint - - - -
Foreign Porter 1 pint
Veal Such quantities in lieu of beef and mutton, as the medical officer may prescribe.
- - - - -
- - - - -
Rice or flour pudding, at the discretion of the medical officer.
- - - - -

Two drams of souchong tea, eight drams of musoovado (sic) sugar, and one-sixth part of a pint of genuine milk, to be allowed to each patient for a pint of tea, morning and evening.

The meat for the full and half diet is to be boiled together, with 14 drams of Scotch barley, eight drams of onions, one dram of parsley, and 16 drams of cabbage for every pint of broth, or at the discretion of the medical officers, eight drams of carrots, and eight drams of turnips, in lieu of the cabbage, which will make a sufficient quantity of good broth to allow a pint to each on full and half diet, and half a pint to each on low diet :

Rice Pudding.- Each to contain :

Rice 3 oz.
Sugar 1 oz.
Milk pint
Eggs 1 No.
Cinnamon 1 blade

Flour Pudding.- Each to contain :

Flour 4 oz.
Sugar 1 oz.
Milk pint
Eggs 1 No.
Ginger a few grains

In ships the diet of the sick is as nearly the same as the circumstances in which they happen to be placed will permit. When long at sea, fresh meat in any quantity, except poultry, cannot be procured ; but preserved meats, and soups, good substitutes for fresh beef, and vegetables, are supplied, and are made available, with many other comforts, for the support of the sick and convalescent.

It is due to the present Board of Admiralty, and the Physician-general, by whom it was proposed and recommended, to state, that the diet of the sick at sea has been much improved within the last five years. Previously, though preserved meats, tea, sugar, sago, rice and barley, were supplied, there was no money fund by which soft bread, potherbs, poultry, spices, milk, porter, &c. could be procured ; and consequently in many cases of sickness, and more of convalescence, many things were wanting, and the privation was severely felt by the medical officers, as well as the patients, of essential importance to the speedy restoration of health, if not to the absolute preservation of life. In 1833 the following order and scheme of diet were promulgated and carried into effect:-

Victualling in Sick Messes - 1833
Admiralty Order,
Admiralty, 4 May, 1833.

The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty having determined, with a view to the comfort of the seamen, when in ill-health, that a Sick Mess shall be instituted on board his Majesty's ships, it is their Lordships' direction that the following regulations be observed for this purpose :

1. When a Patient is entered on the sick list, his provisions are to be checked by a note from the Surgeon to the Purser, and the patient is then to be victualled by the Surgeon on such diet as he may consider most proper, following up the annexed scheme of full, half, and low diet, as in the hospitals, so far as the relative circumstances will admit.

2. The Surgeon is to draw from the Purser such articles of diet as he may require from that officer, and the Purser, at the end of each quarter, is to pay over to the Surgeon the balance of the stoppages of diet, at the savings' prices, including the amount in the usual list of savings; and the amount so paid to the Surgeon is to be laid out by him in the purchase of stock and such extra articles of diet as may be necessary for the recovery of the patients, care being taken that this expenditure be limited to the amount of such savings or short issues.

3. The Surgeon is to render a quarterly account current to the Captain, showing the particulars of his receipts and disbursements for this service, accompanied by regular vouchers for his payments; the said account is to be checked and countersigned by the Purser, and the balance is to be carried on by him to his next account, or paid over to his successor; but when a ship is paid off the balance is in that case to be refunded to the Purser, in order to the same being paid as savings to the men whose provisions may have been stopped, if still on board, otherwise to remain debited on his account current.

4. In ships of the 5th rate and upwards a man of good character is to be selected from the complement and rated as Sick Berth attendant, whose duty it will be to attend exclusively on the sick, without being called away by the ordinary duties of the ship, and who is to be paid as an able seaman.

The Surgeons are particularly to observe, with reference to the preceding regulation, that no extra issue of tea, sugar, or other articles of necessaries in the scale, will be allowed, unless under particular circumstances, of which an explanation is to be transmitted with their accounts.

By Command of their Lordships,

George Elliot

To all Captains, Commanders, Commanding Officers, Surgeons, and Pursers of H.M. Ships and Vessels.

  Full Diet. Half Diet. Low Diet.
Soft bread (when procurable)(lb.) 1
Beef (lb.) 1 none.
Vegetables (when procurable)(lb.) 1 none:
Broth (pint) 1 1
Barley for Broth (drachms) 12 12 6
Or rice in lieu of barley (drachms) 10 10 5
Potherbs (when procurable) (drachms) 24 24 24
Salt (drachms) 8 8 8
Vinegar (drachms) 16 10 none.
Tea (drachms) 3 3 3
Sugar (drachms) 14 14 14
Milk (when procurable) (pint) 1
Wine (at the discretion of the surgeon) - - -
Cocoa (as a substitute for tea) (oz.) 1 1 1

N.B. The preserved meats and other articles in the scale of medical necessaries are to form a part of the Diet for the sick, as heretofore.

The general economy of ships of war, in so far as it may be supposed directly to influence health, may be noticed under the following heads, viz. modes of employment, of berthing, and of cleaning and ventilating.

Seamen, and embarked marines, excepting those employed as sentries, are divided into two watches, on which alternately the working of the ship devolves. Such is the practice now, though at one time it was not uncommon to divide the working force of ships of war into three watches. Each method has certain advantages, and drawbacks. Three watches give the men longer intervals of rest, which, during the night at least, is desirable, but necessarily reduce the strength of the party in charge to an extent, which might be, especially with reduced complements, dangerous, and must be fatiguing. When, as is common, if not universal now, the men are divided into two watches, they perform alternately, during four hours each, the sailing operations of the ships. Each party has four hours' duty, and four hours' rest, or, as is said, is four hours on deck, and four hours below, excepting the four hours between four and eight o'clock at night, which are divided into two half, or, as they are called by sailors, dog-watches. The effect of this break is to alter constantly the periods of labour and rest to each party ; so that the men who have the first watch one night, have the second watch the next night, and so on till the circuit be completed.

In this way, though there is sufficient time for rest, it is never long continued, and sleep is broken into short periods. Whatever effect such a division of labour and rest may have on constitutional vigour, though it is perhaps the best that can be devised, it probably contributes much to the frequency of some affections, such as catarrh, and rheumatism, to which seamen are so subject. At midnight, or four o'clock in the morning, the men relieving the deck rush from their beds into the open air, often very inadequately covered, perhaps perspiring profusely, and pass in an instant from a highly heated, and debilitating, to, it may be, a really cold, always to a comparatively cold, atmosphere. In such circumstances it is to be expected that catarrhal, rheumatic, and other affections, traced to sudden, reductive changes of temperature, should be numerous. These remarks apply chiefly to ships at sea. In port the number of men kept on deck lessens with the increasing safety of the anchorage, till, in ships moored in secure harbours, all hands, excepting the officer, petty officers, and sentinels in charge, may pass the whole night in bed.

Sleeping Conditions
Seamen and marines are berthed, that is, mess and sleep, on what is called the lower deck of all ships under first rates, in which they occupy the middle, as well as the lower deck. By lower deck, in frigates, and all smaller vessels, is meant the lowest, or that covering the holds, and store-rooms ; but in ships of the line it means the lower gun-deck, and has the orlop deck between it and the holds. There is, therefore, material difference between the parts of the vessel in which the people live in ships of the line, and in frigates, and smaller craft. In the former there are ports which can be kept open in moderate weather ; in the latter there are only small apertures - scuttles - close to the water, which cannot be kept open except in an absolute calm at sea, and very fine weather even in harbour. Hence, as well as from the intervention of a deck between the crew and the holds, ships of the line have more means of ventilation, and are generally better ventilated than frigates, and smaller vessels.

In all ships, from the number embarked, and the apace available for what may be called domestic purposes, viz. for eating and sleeping, the men are, from necessity, much crowded between decks, the least relatively in three deckers, for in them the crews have two decks to live on, and the numbers are not augmented in the ratio of the space. Yet it is not clear that the benefit thus obtained, by the reduction of pressure, is not counter-balanced by the increased volume of heated, and vitiated air in which the men live. So far as it can be accomplished, even at the expense of increased crowding, it appears to be better to berth crews, at night in one tier, than in two tiers ; for at sea, and even in harbour, except in very moderate weather, the ports must then be closed, and fresh air can be conveyed only by the hatches, to the sleeping places; when they are double, adequate ventilation, supply of pure, and evolution of impure air, with resulting reduction of temperature, is much more difficult than when they are single. The difficulty does not depend solely on the increased volume of heated and deteriorated air thus produced, but also and principally on its being intersected by a deck ; for the pure air conducted down the hatches can be directed to one division only, leaving the other in a state of increasing impurity, the means of admitting air to it being extremely imperfect, during four, six, or seven hours at a time.

The usual space between the suspending points (clues) of the hammocks, is from 14 to 18 inches ; SO that when they are extended by the beds, their bodies are in contact. The effect is to bring the bodies into contact, in greater or less number, according to the size of the ships. When at sea, with a watch on deck, the accumulation and pressure are reduced by a half, but when in secure harbours, 500 men, perhaps, sleep on one deck, their bodies touching each other, over the whole space laterally, and with very little spare room lengthways. The direct results of elevated temperature, and deteriorated air, may be conceived ; but it is not easy to conceive the first, nor the depressing and debilitating power of both, as measured by sensation, within the tropics. The tendency of such a state of things must be to subvert health, and lay the subject of it open to attacks of serious disease. It conduces to catarrhal and other simply atmospheric affections, but it does not appear to act so prejudicially to life, other elements of health being abundant, as might be supposed. Such is the conclusion to which the following Tables lead ; alone, it has little, if any, appreciable influence ; but let it co-operate with other agencies injurious to health, such as defective nutriment, depressing passions, or malaria, and its power may become destructively great. The salubrious influence of abundance of fresh air cannot be doubted, nor conversely the direct detriment to be sustained by any considerable, and continued privation of it ; still the health now enjoyed by seamen, considered in connexion with the necessary crowding of their sleeping berths, and the means available for their ventilation, shows that air may be contaminated to a certain extent, for a considerable period, without producing any decidedly deleterious effect, immediate or remote, on the persons breathing it.

Cleanliness of decks, bedding and the men - 1840
The economy of ships of war, in regard to interior cleanness, cannot be surpassed, in so far as the object of absolute cleanness is concerned. The assertion is, of course, general ; but it is believed to be just, with scarcely any exception. Indeed, it is true, however paradoxical it may seem, that cleaning of decks is carried too far in the Royal Navy, not as regards the first effect and only object, but in reference to the means employed, and other effects arising from them. The ordinary methods employed are washing, wet, and dry stoning. In the first, large quantities of sea-water, with friction by brushes, is used ; in the second, a small quantity of water is poured on the decks, which are then diligently rubbed with flat stones, generally of sand-stone, designated holy-stones by the seamen, for the purpose of removing stain-spots, grease, &c. , In the third, the same kind of stones are used for rubbing, but instead of water, they are applied directly over a small portion of sand, cold or heated, which has been scattered on the decks. There is a forth method sometimes employed, called sprinkling and scrubbing, in which the decks are slightly wetted and rubbed with brushes, or dried by cloths, so far as they can be dried by such means. The selection from, or alternation, in various proportions of these methods, is left to the determination of officers in command.

In each of them, except that of dry stoning, more or less water is employed, a portion of which, whatever pains be taken to remove it, is absorbed by the planks, or lodges in their crevices, to be dissipated in the course of considerable time by evaporation. In ships where daily washing, or wet cleaning is practised, the decks are never thoroughly dry ; the evaporating process which carries off the retained moisture of one morning, is not completed till the washing operations of another morning are begun. Frequent washing of the upper, and upper gun deck, in ships of the line, is perhaps unobjectionable, but as applied to the lower, and orlop deck, and the decks of other vessels where the people eat and sleep, its use should be restricted to the demands of necessity. Evaporation, especially in low decks, and low degrees of temperature, goes on slowly, and therefore long ; in hot climates it is of course more rapid, and sooner completed ; but ire either case these is strong reason to conclude, as well from observation, as the nature of the things, that the effects on health are injurious, sometimes highly so. Their power to excite catarrhal, and rheumatic affections will not be questioned ; nor ought there to be much question as to their power exciting many of the inflammatory affections of the lower extremities, which in some ships give rise to much inconvenience, and suffering. The tend to reduce physical force, and therefore co-operate in the induction of diseases of debility, or render the body more susceptible of attacks of violent disease ; and there is strong reason to believe, though the evidence will not perhaps every one, that they act energetically in the production of some of the more destructive ship epidemics.

Cleaning decks by dry stoning is free from these objections, and is therefore, in these important respects, preferable. Its power to remove impurities, especially those which discolour the planks, and are so far offensive to the eye, is not so complete. Besides, when very friable (sometimes calcareous) stones are employed, a good deal of dust is disengaged in the process which irritates the eyes, settles on the clothes, and insinuates itself into the chests bags &c. and is therefore to a certain extent annoying. But these are small evils, and ought to be considered slight objections, when compared with the dampness, discomfort, and the serious evils alluded to above, as the results of frequent washing. Every thing unseemly, and readily decomposable, should at once be removed, but extreme cleanness, even to spotless whiteness of the decks, is not necessary to health, and, when obtained at the expense of frequent washing, may be, and no doubt often is, injurious to it. Hence dry stoning, at any rate dry cleaning, though it may not so much beautify the decks, should be preferred to cleaning by any means in which water is employed.

The holds, wells, and spaces under the limber boards, in which accumulations of extraneous decomposable matters are more likely to happen than on the open decks, should be closely looked to ; and it is no more than justice to officers commanding generally - iy would be too much to say there is no exception - that they are kept as dry, and clean as possible.

In connexion with the cleaning, and great cleanness of the interior of ships, it is not out of place here to observe that personal cleanliness is strictly enforced in the Royal Navy.

The shirts, frocks, and duck trousers, are washed, or scrubbed, and changed, at least, twice in the week. Besides frequent bathing, in favourable weather, regular ablution of the body, shaving, combing, &c. are required. The cooking apparatus is kept in the highest order ; and the mess places, and utensils, are clean, and well arranged. The hammocks are scrubbed clean at regular, sufficiently frequent periods ; and in fine weather, though generally stowed in the bulwark nettings during the day, they are opened, and the beds and bedding, exposed to the full influence of the air on deck. In short every thing is done in this, as in other parts of the interior economy of ships, for the health and comfort of the crews, which the means, usages, and information of the service afford, and which are generally abundant and judicious. And it may be alleged, it may be looking at the health enjoyed, that the results, are all that can be desired, that no improvements or correction can be adopted ; and that the remarks on the cleanness, and modes of cleaning decks, as well as others, are therefore unnecessary, and impertinent. But high as is the present standard of health, there is reason to hope, and anticipate, that it may be raised yet higher. Every instrument should, and will be employed for the purpose ; and in a matter of such importance, any observations, which have that purpose only in view, will be not only inoffensive, but acceptable.

Health of the Mind - Education 1840
Nothing is more certain than the great influence of the mind on health, a happy and cheerfully occupied state of the former, conducing to the preservation of the latter ; while gloom and discontent, the offspring often of the want of innocent, and healthy occupation, lead to its subversion. In all its relations and effects, this subject, till a comparatively late period, had been too little considered ; for a great length of time it was almost entirely neglected. In hours of idleness, dancing, leaping, and other athletic exercises were encouraged, to dissipate unoccupied time, and, in the want of more satisfactory, and profitable objects, were desirable ; but the mind, which it was more important to occupy agreeably, and to instruct, was left, as far as the State was concerned, to its own resources. There is no disposition nor desire to convert the man of war's man into a metaphysician, or pseudo philosopher ; much less to make him the conceited, prating, mischievous being, called a sea-lawyer, but his mind may be agreeably employed, and wholesomely informed - the reverse of being misled or perverted - while he is rendered thereby healthier, and happier, and that, too, without depriving him of his dance, song, or gymnastic sports. It would not be at all becoming in this place to enlarge on the higher, and more enduring objects connected with moral, and intellectual culture ; but in so far as a healthy state of the mind conduces to vigour of the body, it is right to advert to their relation, and mutual operations ; and it cannot be wrong to notice what has been omitted, as well as what has been done, for that purpose.

Little was attempted till within the last 20 years, except the appointment of chaplains, and schoolmasters to certain ships ; and, setting aside the performance of divine service on Sunday by the former, the value of which is not questioned, it is no breach of truth or charity, to say that little was done by either for the working sailor, or marine. Little pains were taken, at least systematically, to train and instruct the mind. Discipline, in the military sense of the word, having in view the encouragement of good, as well as the punishment of bad conduct, was enforced ; but it must be admitted that the latter mode generally predominated much over the former, necessarily, and from no proneness to severity in commanding officers. Had safe, and therefore salutary information been generally communicated in all fitting opportunities, it is not too much to affirm that the order of things would have been reversed - that punishment would have been little, and reward much. The bearing of these observations on the subject in hand, the health of seamen, is evident.

The most simple and comprehensive method for accomplishing that end, would have been the supply of amusing, and instructive books. Sailors can generally read, and many of them are fond of reading, as every one who has been much at sea, and observed the eagerness with which they fasten on any books which fall in their way, and read, either alone, or to a group of attentive listeners, knows. Yet, till a comparatively recent date, no measures were adopted, at least at the public expense, to gratify, and foster a taste, from which many advantages, direct and indirect, might have been derived, and may, and no doubt will, be derived. Less than 20 years ago, Bibles and Prayer-books, and, more lately, religious tracts, were issued gratuitously. The excellence of the measure, and of the motive which led to its introduction, are fully admitted ; but it is no disparagement of either to say, that more was wanted. Knowledge must precede conviction ; and, in the ordinary course of things, the mind must be opened and enlightened by ordinary means, before it can be made capable of understanding the doctrines, and receiving the benefits of religious truth.

Entertaining these opinions, which few, it is believed, will controvert, it is gratifying to know that means have been adopted to supply so great a want, and to obtain ends of such importance - agreeable occupation of the mind, and improvement of its faculties, leading to increase of health, and greater efficiency of national force. By an Admiralty order, dated August 1838, libraries are directed to be established in each of Her Majesty's ships, for the use of the crew, furnished at the public expense, and placed in charge of the schoolmaster. The books, amounting to 270 volumes for large, and 100 for smaller ships, exclusive of Bibles, are judiciously chosen, with the view of combining amusement, and instruction, and making the first subsidiary to the last. Besides the accomplished men vow appointed to instruct the junior officers, it is further directed, by an order from the Admiralty, May 1837, that a fit person shall be appointed to give elementary education, comprehending reading, writing and arithmetic, to the sailor boys, aid other seamen, and marines, who may require it.

There can be no doubt of the value of these measures, or of the beneficial results to which they will lead, if that on health alone is considered. Many less deserving have attracted much notice, and obtained high praise. Nowhere is there a mental field more capable, or more worthy of cultivation, than that which may be found on board ships ; and it maybe fairly lamented that it has been so long, so much neglected. Leisure, long absence from loved objects, and scarcity of external objects of interest at sea, dispose the mind to contemplation, rendering it highly susceptible of moral, and intellectual impressions, and, where it has the means, of being pleased and benefited by them. The time has passed when utter ignorance of every thing, but his immediate duty, with all the debasing, and destructive effects of savage ignorance, is thought essential to the character of a British seaman - implicit obedience, indomitable courage, and love of country. The time, too, has passed, when such ignorance, even if it were desirable, could be retained. Information of some kind will be communicated ; it is therefore politic, if there were no higher object, that it should be of a sort to improve, not to deteriorate.

And it may be anticipated, when these, and other advantages, which are to be found in the Royal Navy, some of which have been alluded to above, are fully understood, that the service will become more popular than it has heretofore been. It is difficult to get rid of a bad character. Tradition, especially in seaport towns, and in merchant ships, is still rife of the evils, and of the sufferings, formerly endured in ships of war, some of them false, or exaggerated, but too many of them true. When there is neither personal evidence, nor convincing testimony, to the contrary, the easily prejudiced are too apt to believe that such evils, and sufferings are not yet banished from the public service ; and it is therefore important to show, in how many respects, and to what extent, it has been really changed - how great is the preponderance of its benefits over its drawbacks. The best argument will be derived from experience. Good men, capable of thinking, and appreciating its advantages, and the number of such will increase, after knowing, and feeling them for some time, will not readily abandon them. They will speak of them to others, not yet sufficiently informed, or labouring under old prejudices; and thus the service will be sought, not avoided, and a ship of war, happy, healthy, abounding in present comfort, and prospective benefits, will be an object of desire to good seamen.

Artificial ventilation has hitherto been almost exclusively effected by wind-sails on board ships ; for though other methods have been proposed, they have either not answered, or have not yet been sufficiently tested to show their effectiveness. Ventilation by means of wind-sails, is defective in many essential points. With strong breezes, in dry weather, a sufficient volume of pure air can be carried by them to, but cannot be sufficiently diffused along, the decks. They can reach only one point of one deck at a time ; at that point the force of the air, in fresh breezes, is too strong, chilling, and often communicating disease to the persons on whom it directly falls.* Beyond that point it extends various distances, according to the force of the descending current, but does not extend far in most cases, and is often scarcely felt over considerable spaces between decks. Three wind-sails are generally employed, which are suspended from the rigging, pass down the hatchways, and terminate at any point between decks, which may most require ventilation. They vary in size, from eighteen inches to three feet in diameter ; and when properly adjusted, so that their open, upper part is exactly opposed to the breeze, they transmit a sufficient supply of air, if it could be equally diffused over the interior of ships. Distribution is the difficulty. In some places, as has been stated, where the tubes terminate, there is often too much; in others there is, if any, too little. That is the greatest objection to ventilating by wind-sails. In calms it is of course unavailable, and in rainy weather cannot be practised.

(*It sometimes happens that men near the wind-sails, feeling discomfort from the chilling effects of their currents, tie them up during the night, and so, while undetected, which may be during a whole watch, deprive their shipmates of the fresh air which the wind-sails might supply, and which is particularly wanted by those at some distance from the hatches. It also sometimes happens that wind-sails, which are taken up during rain, are forgotten to be let down again when it ceases. These, though not necessary, are objections to this method of ventilating.)

Adequate, and equal ventilation between the decks where the people live, and an exhausting power, by which stagnant air may be removed from the holds, wells and storerooms, where deleterious games are likely to accumulate, are therefore decided desiderata.

The last would appear to be fully accomplished by an apparatus lately invented by Captain Warrington ; it has sufficient power to draw air from any part of a ship, more indeed than is required, but that can easily be reduced. When foul air is taken from below, fresh air will descend from above to supply its place ; and thus, it may be supposed, that both purposes will be answered, and that nothing more can be desired for ventilating ships. But two objections present themselves to the completeness of the process thus conducted. Both the ascending and descending currents are strong, too strong, if the ascending one were not otherwise deleterious, to be safely applied to the body in their direct course ; and beyond the limits of their direct course, through the hatches, as happens with wind sails, their influence will be little felt ; at least it will not be equally and beneficially felt. And thus it will appear that much is yet wanting to complete the great object of ventilation, namely, a sufficient, and not more than sufficient, supply of fresh air between every part of the decks, where the people eat and sleep. Diffusion is still wanting ; and till that be accomplished, the means of ventilation will be imperfect, and the full objects of the process continue unattained.

But there is reason to think that Captain Warrington's apparatus might be made instrumental in the thorough ventilation of ships between decks. Though exposed to some of the objections which have been stated to wind-sails, it has a great advantage over them ; it will not, like them, be rendered, inoperative, or useless by calms, or rains. It can be worked in almost every kind of weather ; and it might probably be made to accomplish the desired object by some contrivance like the following. Pure air might be drawn by it from an open port, or hatchway, and transmitted through tubes led along the sides of ships, the tubes being so perforated as to allow numerous small streams to pass from them to the centre of the ship. In this, or some such way, it appears likely that all which is wanted and desired from ventilation, might be effected, deficiency, and excess being equally avoided.

In small vessels, where the cooking apparatus is on the same deck as that on which the people are berthed, the heat of the fire, especially in cold weather, contributes to its ventilation.


  • Admiralty Instructions as dated.
  • Extracts from the Introduction to the Health of the Navy, 1830-1836, submitted to Parliament by Surgeon John Wilson (b), M.D. R.N. in 1840.

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