This half term, discover the weekly food allowances available in steerage, the lowest class of passenger travelling to Australia on the SS Great Britain.
In the depths of the world’s first great ocean liner, the passengers on the cheapest tickets were confined together in tightly packed accommodation for 60 days at a time. They had to eat and sleep in this cramped, dark space for the duration of their journey.
There wasn’t much to look forward to at mealtimes! In the 1800’s you got what you paid for: steerage passengers received the bare legal minimum provisions including ‘salt junk’ and a mountain of ships biscuits.
Natalie Fey, Interpretation Manager at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, highlights how ‘Eat Your Way to Australia’ brings visitors face to face with life in steerage.
‘Recreating the steerage ration has given us an insight into what it was like to live on board. The provisions were really limited, and the rules and routines around meals were quite strict. It must have had a big impact on a steerage class passenger’s experience on board.
The ration includes salt meat and many other ingredients which families today may never have used at home. I find it really interesting to compare what we think of ‘staple foods’ now and in the 1850s. Most of us have tea, coffee and rice in our cupboards – and baked beans take the place of dried peas – but there’s no pasta in the steerage ration, no cooking oil. And we know the biscuits were almost impossible to eat – you had to soak them or they’d break your teeth!’