Mealtime on a Whaling Ship

Class 1: Students Prepare for a Voyage

Teachers will lead a mapping activity for whaling voyage from the late 1800s as a whaling captain would have done. The destinations have been provided in a document you can access by clicking on the caption of the map. Teachers can decide whether to read the journey to their students or let students read and map on their own.

First Activity:

Begin by having students trace a whaling voyage (click here to download a written list of ports of call) on a world map. There are several blank world maps available on the internet. Calculate the distance and ask students to figure out how long a voyage may take. It is critical to the next activity that students estimate in years the length of a whaling voyage. Have students look at rations (see Class Two) and talk about what kind of food sailors had at sea.

Second Activity:

Since the trip is mapped out, it’s now time to determine how much food was brought on the trip.

The following information will help you:

A ship began its voyage supplied with quantities of food and water required by a legalized scale of provisions: salt beef and pork, hardtack, water, tea, coffee, molasses, as well as some fresh foods like potatoes, cabbage and livestock. The amounts of the basic supplies were regulated by laws revised periodically during the nineteenth century.

From an 1805 act of congress:

“Every American vessel, bound on a voyage across the Atlantic when she sails, must have on board, well secured under deck, at least sixty gallons of water, one hundred pounds of salted flesh meat, and one hundred pounds of wholesome ship bread, for every person on board; besides other such provisions, stores, and livestock, as may, by the masters or passengers, be put on board; and in like proportion for shorter or longer voyages.” Since this requirement is just for the Atlantic Ocean, for the purposes of the questions below, have the students increase the amounts of all of the provisions by a factor of 2.5 to account for sailing across the Pacific as well. For example, there would be 250 pounds of wholesome ship bread for the entire voyage for every person on board.

A typical crew consisted of approximately 30 men. They were the captain, first mate, second mate, third mate, cook, cooper, blacksmith, harpooners and the seamen. (Captains had access to additional provisions.) For the purposes of this activity, base your answers on a crew of 30.

Using the information provided above, have your students calculate the following:

What is the minimum amount of food needed for one person for one day on a ship?

What is the minimum amount of food needed for all of the men for one day while on the ship?

What is the minimum amount of food for all of the crew for the entire voyage?

Enrichment questions: How does this compare with food an average American eats today? How is your food rationed? Why would the government need to require the amount of food vessels take per sailor?