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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 gingerbread. 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 vitamin C.

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.


Simon Schama
Uitgeverij Contact Amsterdam 1987
ISBN 90 254 1621 7

drs. L.M. Akveld, dr. S. Hart and dr. W.J. van Hoboken
Uitgeverij De Boer Maritiem Bussum 1977
ISBN 90 228 1947 7

Choose from the Marine Museum Series
Introduction to Marine Museum Series
List of all ships sailing from Netherlands to the New World 1609 - 1674
List of all ships sailing from the New World to the Netherlands 1609 - 1674
#1: Dutch First Presence in the Atlantic Area
#2: The Isle of Texel
#3: The West Indies Company/West-Indische Compagnie (WIC)
#4: The Crossing: Routes and Duration
#5: Colonist Arrivals in the New World Between 1624-1640
#6: Colonist Arrivals in the New World Between 1641-1657
#7: Colonist Arrivals in the New World Between 1658-1660
#8: Colonist Arrivals in the New World Between 1661-1664
#9: Privateering Under W.I.C. Command
#10: Food on Board Ship
#11: Harbour Procedures in New Amsterdam


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