The Sailor and the Stolen Pudding

03 January 2014

Area Studies | Cultural Studies | History | Literature

Whilst researching for our forthcoming China, America and the Pacific project I came across a book entitled ‘Fore and Aft; Or Leaves from the Life of an Old Sailor’, by a chap called William Dane Phelps. As a teenager I sailed on the gaff-rigged pilot cutter, the Jolie Brise. Whilst my adventure on the high seas was fun, it was also at times testing. I was intrigued what it was like to be an actual sailor in the eighteenth century. And the answer is considerably harder!

Phelps’ book is full of marvels; from battling leaks within a sinking ship to kicking and scratching at ‘rude bed fellows’ (better translated as fleas), to trying rather disastrously to ration his weekly allowance of bread; ‘I have frequently taken my week’s allowance of bread on a Sunday and finished it all before night’ (Fore and Aft, 1871, p.35).

Fore and Aft, 1871

Our sailor often finds himself in awkward predicaments throughout his long voyages from Boston to Canton. Predicaments that are usually related to food, or the lack thereof! One morning he is relieved of his duties after a long and cold night at work and there is only one thing that will take the edge of his gloomy mood, a good meal. Taking a detour to the cook’s gallery he happens upon a rather appetizing looking pudding. Without a second thought he steals it! As he begins to eat he declares with glee, “I enjoyed a glorious tuck out, without any thought or care as to how the bill was to be footed” (Fore and Aft, 1871, p.40). Unfortunately the pudding belongs to none other than the captain of the vessel who announces he will flog the thief for his devious deed. At least our sailor is honest, he admits his crime but tells the captain unashamedly, “Well, sir, you’ll flog on a full stomach, that’s some comfort” (Fore and Aft, 1871, p.41). Maybe I shouldn't judge our sailor so harshly; if the above image, entitled ‘getting breakfast’ is anything to go by it was quite a hazardous pursuit!

This illustrated text is part of the Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages from the University of California, San Diego and will feature in the upcoming project China, America and the Pacific.


About the Author

Sarah Hodgson

Sarah Hodgson

I am an Editor at Adam Matthew, an academic digital publisher of primary source collections in the arts and humanities. I have had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects including Mass Observation Online and African American Communities.