Monday, 19 December 2011

Everything was rationed at sea - but beer!

Published on Wednesday 14 December 2011 10:21  South Shields Gazette

UP FOR AUCTION ... Boldon Auction Gallery admin assistant Lucy McKelvey with Admiral George Delaval's letters.

HISTORIC naval documents being auctioned in South Tyneside later today reveal 18th-century sailors suffered supply shortages – of everything but beer.

Pork, oatmeal, beef, butter and all other foods were rationed during British war manoeuvres around the Mediterranean in 1718.

But only their daily intake of beer escaped limitation.

The order is detailed in one of 26 documents going under the hammer at Boldon Auction Galleries.

Spanning the months March to October, they were sent by Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Byng to Admiral George Delaval.

Both were based in the Mediterranean while Britain engaged in conflict with Spain.

Caroline Hodges, a Boldon Auction Galleries director, described the items as “fantastic”.

She said: “I was surprised and very excited when they were presented to us.

“You can chart the battles and see what was happening. It has been a real pleasure to be able to look through them.

“They are not easy to read or follow, but each is like a piece of a jigsaw showing how these men lived.

“There is a romantic idea of life at sea and of the battles fought at this time, but these show what it was really like.

“They reveal the difficulties of day-to-day life and the real circumstances in which they lived.

“They build up a picture and give a sense of history.

“The one about the beer is quite amusing.”

The items have been donated by an anonymous private female seller whose family have owned them for generations. She is not a descendant of either admiral. Described as in “delicate” but very good condition, they have a reserve price and are expected to sell for up to £2,000.

The documents detail the positions ships were given for battle, as well as each vessel’s commander and its crew numbers and guns.

One, a short amount allowance order, dated May 29, shows how a ship’s stocks were to be rationed except for beer.

Another tells of arrangements being made for a rendezvous point should the fleet be split by accident or bad weather. And a command to Admiral Delaval tells how he was to “take, sink, burn or destroy” any ship he encounters belonging to the King of Spain.

There is also a letter which shows that an agent in Lisbon had secured a large quantity of wine.

Admiral Delaval owned Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland.

It now belongs to the National Trust, which has shown an interest in the documents.

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