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dave obee Enough Food For An Entire Ship

By Dave Obee

Ocean liners carried millions of people to new lands in the 20th century, and passenger lists remain one of the most important resources for genealogical researchers. Books have been published that help us determine which ship was which, and how our ancestors' ships compared to the others on the seas.

But what about the actual operation of these vessels? The more we can learn about that, after all, the better idea we will have about the voyages themselves.

Take, for instance, the menus available. It goes without saying that these menus would vary by the class of service, but there are ways to get a general idea of what life was like on board.

Consider the Empress of Russia, built for Canadian Pacific in Glasgow and launched in 1912. After a maiden voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong through the Suez Canal, she entered Canadian Pacific's service across the Pacific Ocean, bringing people to and from Victoria, British Columbia.

empress of russia
The Empress of Russia crossed the Pacific more than 300 times

The Empress of Russia had three funnels. She was 570 feet long, measured almost 17,000 gross tons and had powerful engines that could drive her at a speed of 20 knots. She could carry 200 first class, 100 second class and 888 steerage passengers.

So what did it take to feed all those passengers? An answer may be found in the Victoria Daily Times in September, 1921, in a report that quoted W.J. Mylett, superintendent of the trans-Pacific service.

Here is Mylett's list of the foodstuffs taken on a round trip:

  • 50,000 pounds of beef
  • 17,000 pounds of pork
  • 7,000 pounds of mutton
  • 3,000 pounds of lamb
  • 2,000 pounds of veal
  • 3,000 pounds of ham
  • 25,000 pounds of fish
  • 70,000 pounds of vegetables
  • 35,000 pounds of potatoes
  • 6,000 pounds of sugar
  • 4,000 pounds of salt
  • 1,000 pounds of coffee
  • 600 pounds of tea
  • 70,000 pounds of eggs
  • 2,000 pounds of oatmeal
  • 1,000 gallons of milk
  • 100 barrels of flour
  • 175 cases of apples
  • 1,000 pounds of biscuits
  • 200 cases of oranges
  • 350 turkeys
  • 2,300 game
  • 700 capons
  • 850 ducks
  • 900 fowl
  • 200 geese
  • 1,700 broilers
  • And much more, including an emergency stock.
To keep the food stuffs fresh, the ship had a refrigeration system that was "the latest word in efficiency," according to the newspaper. The temperature was lowered by a gas plant, and all perishables were kept at 24 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, just below the freezing mark. There were separate refrigerators for fish, meats, poultry, cheese, milk and butter, fruit, and vegetables.

Admittedly, the Empress of Russia was more palatial than your typical immigrant ship. But the numbers will still give an idea of what life -- or, at least, eating -- was like on a trip across the oceans.


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