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Portable Soup

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Manufactured foodstuff used to combat scurvy.

In the late 1750s, the Victualling Office of the Royal Navy began providing seamen with an allowance of portable soup. This was done in the belief that the soup would improve the health of men weakened by scurvy and other diseases commonly encountered during lengthy sea voyages.

Portable soup was made from boiling meat, offal and vegetables into a thick paste. The paste was then dried and cut into cakes, which were issued to vessels embarking on long sea voyages at a rate of fifty pounds (22.7 kilos) per hundred men aboard.

Soup was made on board ship by dissolving the tablets in boiling water.

The process for making portable soup is generally held to be the invention of a London tradeswoman, called Mrs Dubois. In partnership with William Cookworthy, a Plymouth Porcelain manufacturer, Dubois won a contract to manufacture it for the Navy in 1756.

Cook carried portable soup on all three of his voyages, convinced that its regular consumption was largely responsible for the low incidence of scurvy on his expeditions.

By the early nineteenth century, however, medical opinion was inclined to agree with Gilbert Blane (1749-1834), Britain’s most influential naval physician during the Napoleonic era. In his 1815 treatise, ‘On the Comparative Health of the British Navy from 1779 to 1814’, Blane dismissed portable soup as insufficiently ‘hearty, solid or abundant for the purpose of recruiting health’. He favoured a process for bottling meat adopted by the French Navy in 1806, which was essentially the same as that used to provide the first tinned meat rations to the Royal Navy in 1813.

Related Entries for Portable Soup
Natural Phenomena: Scurvy
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Prepared by: Turnbull, P
Created: 4 October 2001
Modified: 28 February 2004

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000055

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