In 1853, the good ship “Sir Edward Parry” left Plymouth bound for South Australia, its passengers hungry for the gold recently discovered in the colony.
They were generally left pretty hungry on the three month voyage too, for the ration for an adult emigrant, even on ships operated by ‘respectable shipowners’ was:
Daily: 8oz. of “ships’ biscuit”, 6 oz. flour, 3 oz. oatmeal, and 3 Quarts of water.
Weekly: Coffee: 2 oz, Tea: 1½ oz, Treacle: 8 oz, Raisins: 8 oz, Suet: 6 oz, Pease: ⅔ pint, Rice: 12 oz, Butter: 4 oz, Cheese: 4 oz, Preserved Potatoes: 8 oz, Mixed Pickles: 1 gill, Mustard, ½ oz, Salt: 2 oz, Pepper: ½ oz.
Many passengers supplemented the ration with personal supplies, but it was still pretty grim fare for most, particularly when you take into account that the flour and biscuit would almost certainly have been weevily, and the meat so heavily salted and tough as to be inedible by any normal rule of thumb, except by the very hungry.
One emigrant to the Antipodes 1879 wrote :
“We had preserved potatoes today for the first time. None of our Mess could eat them so we threw them overboard”
Many methods of preserving potatoes were tried at this time but the most common method for use at sea involved covering them with quicklime, which must certainly have added something to the flavour.
A simple drying method would have kept them more palatable, but keeping them dry on board ship would have been a physical impossibility!
“I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine; except for that I know of nothing more eminently tasteless” Brillat Savarin