Virtual Aratoi - Ships' Biscuit

Wilkie & Co, Sydney
Ships’ biscuit 1869

flour, salt, water, 130mm (diameter)
Collection of Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History. Masterton Museum Collection

 

From the 1880s until 1954 there was a museum in Masterton, started by the Masterton Trust Lands Trust secretary. Its collection consisted of curios and objects of interest gathered by local people, sometimes souvenirs of overseas trips. When the museum closed because new premises could not be found, most of the collection went to Wellington, to what later became Te Papa, and was returned to the Wairarapa in 2012.

One of the more intriguing items in the Masterton Museum Collection is an 1869 ships’ biscuit. Also known as hardtack, the biscuits were a vital part of a ship’s provisions in the days of long and arduous voyages without many opportunities to restock food supplies. Made of flour, salt and water, they were baked up to four times and left to harden and dry, to remove all moisture and ensure longevity. They were usually softened before eating. Hardtack was guaranteed to outlast any voyage, and its only enemies were rats, weevils and seawater.

This biscuit has its history written on it: it is from the HMS Galatea in 1869. The Galatea was captained by the Duke of Edinburgh, Alfred, Queen Victoria’s second son, on his first royal visit to far flung parts of the Empire, as part of a world tour that begun in 1867 and ended in 1871.

His arrival created huge excitement up and down the country, with enticing treats organised for the prince: race meetings, banquets, pig hunts, balls, picnics, and pigeon (kererū) and pukeko shoots.

The biscuit was donated to the Masterton Museum by a Mrs Boyes, who acquired it from the ship while it was in Nelson. We can only speculate on how she came to have such a souvenir…

More reading can be found in Papers past.

or have a go at the Kids Baking Activity

 

Adapted from text by Bronwyn Reid, in 50/fifty – Fifty years of Aratoi (2019)

152 pages, stitched, Full-colour illustrations, Foiled cover

Editor:  Lydia Wevers

Writers: Gregory O'Brien, Jill Trevelyan, Lizzie Bisley, Sian van Dyk, Bronwyn Reid, Susanna Shadbolt 

Special lockdown price of $50. Reserve your copy today and email info@aratoi.co.nz

 

Wilkie & Co, Sydney Ships’ biscuit 1869 flour, salt, water, 130mm (diameter)  Collection of Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History. Masterton Museum Collection
The biscuit inscription reads: "From H.M.S. Galatea at heloom, April 1869, SYDNEY, Captain H.R.H. Prince Alfred"
H.R.H. Prince Alfred in 1881
H.R.H. Prince Alfred in 1881
HMS Galatea
HMS Galatea