How comfortable the emigrant was on the journey depended on a number of factors, not the least of which was the “class” in which they travelled. There was plenty of advice available for those about to undertake the journey - and one such source was The History of the Rise and Progress of the New British Province of South Australia .. with hints to various classes of emigrants … by John Stephens, published in 1839.
There were essentially three classes of passengers: cabin, intermediate, and “free”. About the meals and provisions, the author of today’s source had a number of comments and suggestions:
“Cabin passengers mess with the captain of the ship, and are entitled to a good dinner of fresh meat every day, and every reasonable comfort; including a pint of wine, and a moderate quantity of spirits and malt liquor each person: so that no private stores are required; but a small assortment of common medicines, and a quantity of Seidlitz, soda and ginger beer powders will be found agreeable under the line, and a supply of sago, arrow-root, and groats, in case of illness, should not be omitted. A small stock of preserved meats may likewise be of service. These stores should be packed so that access can be had to them on board ship if necessary.
To those who can dispense with appearances, and particularly families, an intermediate passage is recommended, as the saving effected (except a small portion which might be expended in extra stores and comforts) would be very desirable on landing in the colony, and would amply compensate for the supposed distinction between the cabin passenger and the intermediate passenger. In such cases a few pounds might be advantageously spent in some of the following articles; viz. tea, sugar, flour, suet, and preserved fruit for puddings, bacon or ham, rice, arrow-root, carbonate of soda and tartaric acid, lime juice, half a dozen bottles of good port wine or bottled porter (a most excellent thing after sea-sickness) a few cases of preserved meats, &c. Five pounds judiciously laid out will procure a good stock of these articles, and persons disposed to be economical, or whose funds are limited may effect a considerable saving by taking their passage in this manner.”
The “free” emigrants were those, generally “from the labouring classes who have not capital enough to be landed proprietors or tenants, if young, honest, and industrious.” Their fare was paid by the emigration authorities, and the emigrants were to provide labour in the new province, and, in their turn, to provide employment for others when they became established themselves. These passengers were required to be under thirty years of age, and it was aimed to ship approximately equal numbers of men and women (for obvious reasons) on each voyage. Children (who would be a liability for the province for some time), were accepted under certain conditions, but usually a fare had to be paid for them. Each free emigrant provided their own bedding for the journey, and were expected to supply the necessary tools of their own trades. As would be expected, their victuals were not luxurious, and were and strictly rationed – but quite likely they were no worse than the usual daily fare for the urban labouring poor.
The following is the dietary for free emigrants to South Australia:- The passengers are in messes of six, or altogether, as may be determined by the surgeon superintendent, and are victualled according to the annexed scale, per head.
Bread ¾ lb daily
Meat ½ lb daily
Water 3 quarts daily
Flour ½ lb daily
Tea ¼ oz daily on alternate days
Coffee ½ oz daily on alternate days
Cocoa 1 oz daily on alternate days
Potatoes ¾ lb 4 days in the week
Suet 1 oz daily
Butter 6 oz per week
Rice 1 lb per week
Sugar ¾ lb per week
Peas 1 pint per week
Raisins ½ lb per week
Vinegar ½ pint per week
Oatmeal ½ pint per week
Mustard ½ oz per week
N.B Women receive the same rations as men; children receive rations in proportion to the charges made for their passage.
In case of illness, barley is served out; and, when the potatoes are expended, 1 oz of rice may be substituted for 3 lbs of potatoes.
It is highly likely that the free emigrants ate a lot of solid suet puddings, both plain and fruity – they were a staple back home on land, and the list of ration ingredients is suggestive. They were filling, and could be made in a number of ways, depending on available ingredients. Here is a basic recipe from the era, from A New System of Domestic Cookery, Maria Rundell (1833)
Baked Suet Pudding.
Boil a pint of milk; when it become cold, stir into it eight ounces of flour, and six of shred suet; add two eggs and a teaspoonful of salt. If to be plum pudding, put in eight or ten ounces of stoned raisins, and omit the salt.
Quotation for the Day.
The next time I have meat and mashed potatoes, I think I'll put a very large blob of potatoes on my plate with just a little piece of meat. And if someone asks me why I didn't get more meat, I'll just say, "Oh, you mean this?" and pull out a big piece of meat from inside the blob of potatoes, where I've hidden it. Good magic trick, huh?