HMS Victory - the galley
The crew ate in groups of 8 to 12 men known as a 'mess'. These groups remained together throughout a voyage so the men became 'mess-mates'. Each day one man would take his turn as 'duty cook'. It was his responsibility to fetch the day's rations from the hold and to prepare the food for cooking. The prepared food was then taken along to the galley to be cooked (each mess marked its food with a metal tag). The galley cook was often a naval pensioner or wounded sailor - unable to perform the normal heavy shipboard tasks, he cooked the food for all the crew - a cook's pay substantially supplemented the poor pension given to a man wounded in battle. The duty 'mess cook' would then collect the food for his mess and carry it back to his mess-mates.
Food and drink was stored in the hold in large barrels or casks. To prevent the casks from rolling around, they were set down into a bed of shingle. Casks were lifted out of the hold to provide the daily ration and then broken down to save storage space.
Storage of food was a major problem - there were no refrigerators and canned meat did not appear until 1816. At the time of St. Vincent, the only means of preserving meat was to store it in salt. This made the meat very hard and dry - and if there had not been enough salt added to the barrel when the meat was packed, it was probable that the meat would have rotted. Bread did not keep so flour was baked into hard biscuit. These became soft in storage and tasted unpleasant by the time they were issued. Weevils and maggots infested the biscuit - men were advised to eat biscuit with their eyes closed so that they did not see the soft bits!
Water rapidly became green, brackish and stagnant. Admiralty orders were given that Captains should replenish their fresh water stocks at every opportunity - and that casks should be used in rotation, oldest first. Because water kept for such short time, beer was provided at a rate of 1 gallon per man per day. If beer was not available, then wine could be substituted. Each man was also entitled to a ration of 2 gills (½ pint) of rum per day. The rum was issued at morning and evening meal times - at a rate of 1 gill (¼ pint) of neat rum mixed with 3 parts of water (the mixture is known as grog. Grog made the water drinkable and the food taste better!
How to get maggots and weevils out of a barrel of biscuits!
Place a piece of meat or fish on a plate and put the plate across the top of the barrel. Wait until the meat/fish is covered in maggots then throw away the bait and the maggots. Replace and continue until no further maggots are collected