Mealtime on a Whaling Ship

Class 4: Food for the Captain vs. Food for the Crew

Questions to consider:

How did food vary by class?

What kind of food did a captain eat versus a whaler?

What were differences in dining in the forecastle (fo’c’sle) where the crew ate, versus the cabin, where the captain ate?


Have the students look at the menu options for the cabin (click here to download the crew's bill of fare and click here to download the captain's menu). Ask them to think about how the cabin menu differed from the fo’c’sle.

The following information will assist you:

There were two societies aboard ship, one in the cabin and the other in the fo’c’sle. The difference between these societies in their food and manner of eating was striking. Food in the fo’c’sle was an extension of the ship’s discipline and a daily reminder of the shipboard hierarchy. The quantity and quality of the food was an extension of the owner’s principle of maximum production for the least cost. Sailors ate communally and this style of eating helped create and maintain cohesiveness in the watch.

Meals for the cabin were prepared from the same basic provisions but with differences in quality and quantity. In addition to the salt beef and salt pork of general provision, the cabin had small stores of nice foods: in preparation for the Morgan’s’ first voyage in 1841 a loaf of sugar, olive oil, cinnamon, cloves, hams, chocolate, pepper sauce, various liquors, wine, and lemon syrup were included in the cabin stores. Additional cheese, butter, and pickles may have been shared with the fo’c’sle on special occasions but most was eaten aft.

Have students compare these meals with the crew menu. What differed?