“The customs as to the allowance of ‘grub’ are very nearly the same in all American merchantmen. Whenever a pig is killed, the sailors have one mess from it. The rest goes to the cabin. The smaller live stock, poultry, etc., they never taste. And, indeed, they do not complain of this, for it would take a great deal to supply them with a good meal, and without the accompaniments, (which could hardly be furnished to them,) it would not be much better than salt beef. But even as to the salt beef, they are scarcely dealt fairly with; for whenever a barrel is opened, before any of the beef is put into the harness-cask, the steward comes up, and picks it all over, and takes out the best pieces, (those that have any fat in them) for the cabin. This was done in both the vessels I was in, and the men said that it was usual in other vessels. Indeed, it is made no secret, but some of the crew are usually called to help in assorting and putting away the pieces. By this arrangement the hard, dry pieces, which the sailors call ‘old horse,’ come to their share. There is a singular piece of rhyme, traditional among sailors, which they say over such pieces of beef. I do not know that it ever appeared in print before. When seated round the kid, if a particularly bad piece is found, one of them takes it up, and addressing it, repeats these lines:
‘Old horse! old horse! what brought you here?’
—‘From Sacarap to Portland pier
I’ve carted stone this many a year:
Till, killed by blows and sore abuse,
They salted me down for sailors’ use.
The sailors they do me despise:
They turn me over and damn my eyes;
Cut off my meat, and pick my bones,
And pitch the rest to Davy Jones.’
There is a story current among seamen, that a beef-dealer was convicted, at Boston, of having sold old horse for ship’s stores, instead of beef, and had been sentenced to be confined in jail, until he should eat the whole of it; and that he is now lying in Boston jail. I have heard this story often, on board other vessels beside those of our own nation. It is very generally believed, and is always highly commended, as a fair instance of retaliatory justice.” – Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.