The saying to 'have a square meal' and Lord Nelson and so much more..
For years I have been fascinated by the meanings behind the everyday words we say. I moved from England to Canada and am constantly delighted by the new phrases my children's friends introduce to our home, except of course the swear words!
I found out some years ago during a tour of Nelsons flagship in Portsmouth England the meaning of the phrase to have ' a good square meal'. Nelson was very concerned to ensure the welfare of his sailors, they were served their meals on wooden square plates whilst at sea and Nelson ordered a line be drawn within the edge of the plates then stated each sailor's plate must be filled with food within the square, hence the expression to have a 'good square meal'.
When visiting historic sites the social history is so interesting, the narrow table hooked up between the guns where the sailors ate, details of their diet etc. The sailor had beef or pork stew, but the meat was salted and often so hard as to be almost inedible, even after being boiled for hours. Instead of bread he had ship's biscuit. Most amazingly instead of water, which did not keep well at sea, the sailor of the time had a gallon of beer a day! Health conscious people of the world groan please.
I always wondered what 'grog' was, so I found out, the beer ration was replaced by rum, mixed with water to make grog, in the West Indies. In the Mediterranean the beer ration was replaced by wine!
This is a description of the diet, given by an 11-year-old midshipman killed at Trafalgar, "We live on beef which has been ten or eleven years in the cask and on biscuit which snakes your throat cold in eating it owing to the maggots, which are very cold when you eat them! Like calf'sÂfoot jelly or blomage [blancmange] Ã¢Â€Â” being very fat indeed. We drink wine, which is exactly like bullock's blood and sawdust mixed together."
So tell that to the kids when they refuse to eat their vegetables and yes the midshipman killed was only 11 years old. This started me thinking about children serving on the ships , how old were they? I discovered, that which I had suspected, that there was a long-standing British tradition of children going to sea, of boys who volunteered to fight for Britain, during the Napoleonic Wars, these children, some as young as eight or nine. Goodness look at your little ones and imagine that. In Britain children had always done some work but before the 19th century they worked in their own homes with their parents or on nearby farms, the work was seasonal so they did not work every day. When the factories of the Industrial revolution opened children worked often for more than 12 hours a day. Unimaginable today, I struggle to get my boys to make their beds which would take all of 5 minutes. In the early 19th century parliament passed laws to limit child labour which banned children under 9 from working in textile factories. It said that children aged 9 to 13 must not work for more than 12 hours a day or 48 hours a week. Children aged 13 to 18 must not work for more than 69 hours a week. By the way I also found out that children as young as 5 worked underground in coal mines, oh and that in London in the twentieth century poor parents with children took their children when they were 16 to the local butcher and had their teeth removed and replaced by dentures to avoid the cost of future dental care, well that's enough history for now, I need a cup of tea.