“(A) sailor’s diet consisted of salted fish and meat, dried vegetables, weeviled biscuits and rancid oils, cheese, and butter. … The caloric content – estimated at 2,500-3,000 calories – was adequate, but the diet was sorely deficient in vitamins.”
“In the absence of vitamin C, rampant scurvy became responsible for thousands of sailors’ deaths and disabilities. On long voyages, nearly three-quarters of a ship’s crew was likely to be unable to sail because of this deficiency.” (Cuppage)
Scurvy (derived from the Latin name scorbutus) is a disease that occurs when you have a severe lack of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in your diet. Scurvy causes general weakness, anemia, gum disease and skin hemorrhages. (nih-gov)
It is a gradually debilitating disease that destroys the body’s connecting tissues, causing lethargy, blotchy skin, rotting gums and teeth, and reopening of old wounds or healed fractured bones. If not treated, scurvy leads to death.
Scurvy was at one time common among sailors, pirates and others aboard ships at sea longer than perishable fruits and vegetables could be stored (subsisting instead only on cured and salted meats and dried grains) and by soldiers similarly deprived of these foods for extended periods.
“The plague of the sea,” killed over an estimated 2-million sailors during the Age of Sail. Far more naval personnel died from scurvy than all other diseases combined, including deaths from combat, storms, disasters and shipwrecks. (Captain Cook Society)
In the early years, its causes were imperfectly diagnosed according to prevailing medical theories and assumptions. Mandated treatments prescribed included bleeding and a host of concoctions, some of which would now be considered potentially harmful (e.g. mercury and sulphuric acid.)
One of Captain James Cook’s most important discoveries during his voyages was actually about food. Cook realized that there were certain foods that, if eaten, prevented scurvy. (Mariners Museum)
Cook experimented with a variety of alternatives to combat scurvy. Bown writes, Cook used “a regiment of cleanliness, fresh air, and an antiscorbitic diet.” (Captain Cook Society)
Cook took two major steps to change the diet of his crew. First, every time the ships stopped anywhere that grew fresh fruit and vegetables, he bought some to feed to the crew. However, because there were sometimes weeks between stops, and fruit and vegetables would rot in that time, he had to have another plan. (Mariners Museum)
Cook “eagerly embraced” the Admiralty’s tactics by stocking on board a range of antiscorbitics such as sauerkraut, wort of malt, carrot marmalade, and concentrated (robs) of orange and lemon juice, among other treatments.
He encouraged naturalists who sailed on voyages to identify edible plants to fight scurvy. Fresh vegetables and fruits were added to the ships’ food supply (e.g., scurvy grass, wild celery, the Kerguelen Cabbage.)
After Cook ordered sauerkraut served daily at the “Cabbin Table”, the once-reluctant sailors ate it as well and “murmurings” against it ceased. Cook’s experiments with “rigid enforcement of diet and cleanliness” led to “unheard of accomplishment.” (Captain Cook Society)
Cook’s crew was out to sea for a longer period of time than any sailors before them. And yet, not one of Cook’s sailors died of scurvy. This means that Cook proved that certain foods could prevent scurvy, and smart sea captains after him followed his example and took sauerkraut, fruit and vegetables on their voyages. (Mariners Museum)
Cook’s crew first sighted the Hawaiian Islands in the dawn hours of January 18, 1778. His two ships, the HMS Resolution and the HMS Discovery, were kept at bay by the weather until the next day when they approached Kaua‘i’s southeast coast.
On the afternoon of January 19, native Hawaiians in canoes paddled out to meet Cook’s ships, and so began Hawai‘i’s contact with Westerners. The Hawaiians traded fish and sweet potatoes for pieces of iron and brass that were lowered down from Cook’s ships to the Hawaiians’ canoes.
The first written record of sugarcane in Hawaiʻi came from Captain James Cook, at the time he made initial contact with the Islands. On January 19, 1778, of Kauaʻi, he notes, “We saw no wood, but what was up in the interior part of the island, except a few trees about the villages; near which, also, we could observe several plantations of plantains and sugar-canes.” (Cook)
Cook notes that sugar was cultivated, “The potatoe fields, and spots of sugar-canes, or plantains, in the higher grounds, are planted with the same regularity; and always in some determinate figure; generally as a square or oblong”. (Cook)
It appears Cook was the first outsider to put sugarcane to use. One of his tools in his fight against scurvy was beer.
On December 7, 1778 he notes, “Having procured a quantity of sugar cane; and having, upon a trial, made but a few days before, found that a strong decoction of it produced a very palatable beer, I ordered some more to be brewed, for our general use.”
“A few hops, of which we had some on board, improved it much. It has the taste of new malt beer; and I believe no one will doubt of its being very wholesome. And yet my inconsiderate crew alleged that it was injurious to their health.” (Cook)
“I gave myself no trouble, either by exerting authority, or by having recourse to persuasion, to prevail upon them to drink it; knowing that there was no danger of the scurvy, so long as we could get a plentiful supply of other vegetables”.
“But, that I might not be disappointed in my views, I gave orders that no grog should be served in either ship. I myself, and the officers, continued to make use of this sugarcane beer, whenever we could get materials for brewing it.” (Cook, 1778) The image shows Captain Cook.