The following story is based upon a real life account written by Forrest Frank based upon a story by Captain John Wilson. These appeared in the Scarborough Daily Post in 1920 as part of the 'Sea Dogs' stories by Forrest Frank.
The conditions of life at sea in work, food, pay, and comfort seventy years ago were altogether different to what they are today. Our quarters in the forecastle were ours only as long as the space usually occupied by us was not required for other purposes. They were at all times dark, dismal holes, that might possess a stove or might not, even on voyages through ice strewn seas. Rats abounded, and were considered lucky. Cockroaches hid in and scuttled out of every crevice.
The food in all ships was only very plain, but was better in the coasters and North Country ships than on those going foreign. We had pea soup three times a week. It consisted of dried peas boiled in water into which a bit of salt pork had been washed for about twenty minutes, to give the water a taste. Duff we had twice a week - a flour pudding made without suet and boiled in a canvas bag till it could have been tossed over the foreyard without danger of breaking it.
On Sundays we had soup and Bouilli, but on Saturdays we had nothing but rice. In some ships there was as much salt beef as you cared to eat, and that wasn't a great deal, and the pork was that fat that very few men could face it, and I doubt if anyone would in the present day. There was always plenty of biscuit, but each mouthful had to be knocked edgeways on the table to shake the weevils out. Tea and coffee completed the menu.
The food came qalong from the galley to the forecastle in a kid - an oaken tub - and as a rule one man cut up for the rest. In a north country ship he would stick his fork into the junk of meat, slash off a lump, and holding it up ask: "Who Sez?" It might be too big, perhaps, for one man, too small for another, though the pieces were generally about a size, and there was but little choice in the cuts. A man would push his platter forward, get the lump, and so the 'joint' would be divided. On the coasters fresh meat and vegetables were more often available, and each man got a pound of sugar and a salt of salt butter a week.