Shipyard, Rebuilding and to China and Back

Lars 'Gillis' Larsson, artist (1929-2012)
Historical reconstruction paintings for the project


The following drawings was commissioned by Jan-Erik Nilsson as illustrations to his book (MS) on the food on board and the culinary influences that might still be traceable in today's food. The research was based on provision lists and all available references that was found in extant diaries from the actual voyages to China and back during the 18th century.

The diaries offered references to different situations along the travel route that Lars Gills agreed upon to illustrate. Most of the references came from Jacob Wallenberg, Min Son på Galejan, 1767-68.

Värdshuset Klippan
"Jösse, pudding and kapun"
Illustration by: Lars Gillis.

On board, awaiting good winds for departure. Gothenburg harbour.
"Without alcohol and Danish fur coats we would most certainly have frozen to death". Illustration by: Lars Gillis.

Usually the ships were fitted out during the cold winter months and sent off to China early in the year to match up with the direction of the monsoon winds near the equator. Occasionally the weather was so cold that the river froze over and the ships got stuck in the ice. To depart they needed to be pulled out to clear water through a sawed upp chanel in the ice. The illustration shows a situation on board the East Indiaman 'Finland' as described by Jacob Wallenberg in 1769.


Live provisions

Onboard was kept a large number of live animals that were brought to supply some fresh food to the provisions, mostly to the first table, meaning the officers and company officials who paid their own provisions out of their own pockets, and thus were allowed to bring anything they wanted. Depending on personal finances (that usually was excellent) some substantial amounts of gourmet food and wines was brought onto these ships before departure but even more so along the route as the circumstances allowed.


Involuntary stopover in Norway

During one memorial voyage with 'Finland', the ships once needed to make a stop over in Norway. The crew fed on crows and what they could hunt, at one occation they even shot an eagel. The cadets were overjoyed for being able to have fresh milk (this might be a straight face joke in the diary which certainly was circulated during the voyage). The officials dined with an old local whose cooking made them bring ashore their own chef to take over the cooking. (source: Wallenberg 1769)


Eating on board

The organization of the dining was strictly hierarchical both in what food that was served, drinks and actual seating.

Ship's pantry

How ship's pantries actually looked are very little known. This drawing is based on a cross section of an East Indiaman, by Röding, published 1796.

Toppling of Turtles at Ascension

Huge turtles offered a welcome change in diet on the way home. To catch them was easy, they were just toppled upside down before they could swim out to sea again. In this manner several dozen could be caught in a short time. They were then kept alive onboard by pouring water on them and for one month they could have fresh turtle meat every second day. In 1779 for example, 40 turtles was caught in this way.

Fresh fruit was bought at Java

During many voyages the Java straights near Batavia, modern day's Jakarta, was teh first stop after Cadiz.

Candied fruit and sugar glazed bakeries in Canton

In 1804-05 the rules for foreigners visiting Canton had softened up and the 13 year old Erik Marchander was allowed to explore the city alone, being treated most friendly by the locals. (Nilsson 1992, p 34, MS)