4. Life for the Crew

The Company ships set sail with a range of provisions: bread, flour, beer, cider, wine, salted and pickled meats, dried fish and oatmeal. Fresh produce was purchased whenever a ship touched land, but long voyages could result in putrid food and tight rationing. A typical diet for a seaman consisted of stinking water, rotten flesh and wheat porridge.

Sailors often became ill, picking up all sorts of unknown diseases in foreign ports. Scurvy and flux were common, caused by poor diets. Scurvy, brought about by a lack of vitamin C, made your gums swell up and get soft and painful so that it was not possible to eat. Your teeth would drop out and your arms and legs would become spotty. Soon you would not be able to move at all. Some of the other diseases like flux (which we now call dysentery), the ‘bloody flux’ and tertian ague (which we now call malaria) were even worse. By the time James Lancaster reached the Cape of Good Hope, a hundred of his crew had died of such diseases.

Many of the ships brought surgeons with them. In the picture you can see some of the tools the surgeons used. You might notice a very big saw in the middle. What do you think it was it used for?