Nelson’s Lunch

Marking Trafalgar Day at Great Yarmouth last year

Marking Trafalgar Day at Great Yarmouth last year - Credit: Nick Butcher

We know of his seafaring achievements - but do you know what Nelson and his crew would have eaten? Judith Taylor, our voice of farming from Ludham, has the answers

October 21 is Trafalgar Day – the day, in 1805, of Admiral Viscount Lord Nelson’s devastating defeat of the French and Spanish Navies, establishing Britain as the leading world naval power for over a century. A Norfolk boy, born on September 29, 1758, the sixth of 11 children, to a clergyman and his wife at Burnham Thorpe, Nelson joined the Navy aged just 12 years old.

Food on HMS Victory wasn’t too bad, although monotonous. The 821 sailors each consumed around 5,000 calories a day, all cooked on a surprisingly small Brodie stove. They generally had one hot meal a day which, by the time they ate it, was usually cold. Boiled beef and suet puddings or boiled pork and peas were common meals but also spit-roasted chickens and fresh meat were occasionally enjoyed. At their own expense the seamen were allowed to keep live animals and chickens on board.

For breakfast the men ate an oatmeal porridge sweetened with molasses called “burgoo”. Biscuits, peas and oatmeal were stored in casks or bread bags in the hold, although some went bad as barrels leaked and became infested with maggots and rats. Drinking water was in short supply, so men drank beer with lemon juice added in an attempt to prevent scurvy, and rum and spirits were regularly smuggled on board – drunkenness was a big problem!

Did you know that when Nelson was fatally injured on Trafalgar Day from a gunshot wound fired by a French sniper he was pickled? He was put inside a cask of brandy to preserve his body on October 22, 1805 and transported to Gibraltar aboard HMS Victory.

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