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
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