The following series was translated from the original Dutch by Willem Rabbelier and
Cor Snabel of the Netherlands. It is published with their permission on The Olive Tree Genealogy pages.
Food on Board Dutch Ships in the 17th Century
The food on board of a Dutch ship in the 17th century was strictly
regulated according to official rules, so there was not a big difference
in the food supply on merchant ships, whalers, VOC or WIC ships.
In 1636 the Admiraliteit van Amsterdam (Amsterdam Admiralty) ordered
that everyone on board was entitled to half a pound of cheese, half a
pound of butter and bread to the weight of five pounds a week with double this
amount for the officers. In order to feed one hundred men, the ship had
to carry for each month at sea; 450 pounds of cheese, five tons (cubic
measure) of meat, four tons of herring, one and a quarter ton of
butter, five and a half tons of dried peas, two and a half tons of dried
beans, half a ton of salt, 35 barrels of beer in winter (42 barrels in
summer) and French and Spanish wine for the officers.
In 1654 the state of emergency during the First English War made it clear
that food was as good a weapon as cannons and bullets. The States
General therefore established regulations for food rations, which had to be read to the
crew before sailing. Although it was always hard to recruit enough men
for the ships, the food supply on the Dutch ships compared favourably
with the others countries, so this was probably one of the reasons why
so many foreign sailors were listed on Dutch ships.
A very important part of the food supply was the hardtack or ships
biscuit, made of wheat or a mixture of wheat and rye. It was
manufactured in bakeries north of Amsterdam in Zaandam and the Wormer,
where you can still find to this day large factories which produce biscuits and
Perishable food had to be smoked, dried or salted. Fish, apples and
prunes had to be dried, vegetables, meat and fish were salted, even live
stock as chicken, pigs and sheep were on board. Groats, beans and peas
often replaced vegetables and fruit.
The day began with bread and porridge (made of groats), lunch had less
starch. On Sunday there was half a pound of ham or a pound lamb's meat or
salted meat with beans. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday fish with peas
or beans were on the menu. On Thursday it was a pound of beef or three ounces
of pork and on Friday and Saturday it was fish again. At the beginning
of the journey the beer was drunk first, because it was perishable (no
preservatives in those days) and by the time these barrels were empty,
the crew had to drink water.
The food was very nutritious, at least 3500 till 4500 calories a day,
but it contained too much protein and too little fat. Vitamins were a
problem too, scurvy is an well known example as a result of lack of
The purchase of the food and liquor was the task of the captain. The WIC
captains had to buy according to official food lists, but what they paid
was their own concern. It is obvious that some captains made
considerable profit by skimping on quality. It is known that in 1672
Michiel de Ruyter, the famous Dutch admiral, made a profit this way of
482 guilders each week.
>THE EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
Uitgeverij Contact Amsterdam 1987
ISBN 90 254 1621 7
DER NEDERLANDEN PART 2
drs. L.M. Akveld, dr. S. Hart and dr. W.J. van Hoboken
Uitgeverij De Boer Maritiem Bussum 1977
ISBN 90 228 1947 7