Sailors, by Peter Earle

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The Independent Culture

This absorbing account of merchant seamen between 1650 and 1775 redresses the bleak clichés concerning maritime life. Yes, seaboard provender could be reduced to sour beer and biscuits of "dust and weevils", but the sailor's favourite lobscouse was "one of the most savour dishes I ever eat", according to a female visitor. Sailors were "paid relatively well" and enjoyed the comfort of cotton clothing. Despite the threat of privateers and the "hot press" (being press-ganged at sea), there was no shortage of volunteers. One tar cited his wife's "cross-grainedness" as his reason for a life at sea.