Sailing the British Empire : The Voyages of The Clarence, 1858-73

Diet and Wellness on Ships

Another important aspect of the conditions on board the ship was the diet of the passengers. The food on board the ships was said to be far better than the food usually consumed by the passengers. In fact the quality and quantity of food received was considered so far superior that the passengers were supposed to have look markedly more healthy than when they had started the journey. These accounts, however, need to be taken with a grain of salt, as they come from a ship surgeon. The diet was usually decided by the ship surgeon, who had little knowledge of the coolies normal eating habits. For instance, some ships did not carry flour, an essential ingredient for ‘chaupaty’ which made up a part of the coolies staple diet back home. William Henry Pearse, a ship surgeon who was on board multiple coolie ships claimed that ‘A Devonshire boy does not so much enjoy plum pudding as a Coolie his chaupaty’. Similarly, some ships did not provide their coolies with fruit or vegetables as they wrongly presumed that cholera stemmed from those foods. While the lack of these foods did not directly result in cholera, when the coolie has ‘changed his climate, soil, diet...he dies very readily, in greatly increased proportion to his usual mortality’.
Similarly, the death and sickness also affected the surgeons dealing directly with the passengers. This is clear when Richmond said ‘Seldom have I experienced more sincere pleasure’, than when he had saved a mother and child from cholera. While Richmond could have used drugs such as quinine and antimony to help his patients, the coolies’ lack of trust in Western medicine would have most likely rendered this useless. Instead, the isolation of patients, along with variations in diet (according to the surgeon’s preferences) would have been more likely to aid in the recovery process.



"DEATH SHIP disinfected: The Karamania Docks." The New York Times 12 Mar. 1903: n. p. ProQuest. Web.
Wells, Brigid. "From India to the Caribbean." History Today (2009): n. p. Web.
Pearse, William Henry. Notes on Health in Calcutta and British Emigrant Ships, Including Ventilation, Diet, and Disease. London: Churchill, 1866. Print.

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