- This is a real ship’s biscuit that was kept by a passenger who travelled on the SS Great Britain from Britain to Australia in 1874.
- Ship’s biscuits were given to passengers travelling in the lower accommodation classes (Third Class and the cheapest Steerage Class) as part of their food rations.
- They were made only from flour, water and salt and were not very tasty.
- Ship’s biscuits were baked twice to stop them from going stale too quickly on the long journey. They were extremely hard and needed to be soaked in a drink before eating.
- If you look closely at the top of this biscuit, you can see a paper label that reads “Steam Ship Great Britain, Passengers Biscuit, A.D. 1874.” This tells us that this biscuit is over 140 years old!
Ship’s biscuits are simple, twice-baked biscuits made from flour, salt and water. They have been eaten for centuries during sea travel because they last for a very long time; making them an ideal food for long voyages. The journey between Liverpool and Melbourne, Australia – on the SS Great Britain – lasted about 60 days. Ship’s biscuits were an important part of Third Class and Steerage passengers’ diet and were also eaten by the ship’s crew.
The biscuits would need to be softened before eating. Francis Dell noted in his diary that they would be soaked in liquid such as tea or coffee for at least 15 minutes. It was also important to tap biscuits on a hard surface or your elbow before eating to dislodge tiny insects called biscuit beetles or weevils.
This ship’s biscuit was kept by Mr Rowland, a passenger who travelled on the SS Great Britain from Melbourne to Liverpool in 1874. He saved this biscuit for many years after his journey, possibly as a souvenir of the experience. In 1972, his daughter, Georgina Rowland gave the SS Great Britain Trust his biscuit. You can see it today on display in the Dockyard Museum at Brunel’s SS Great Britain.