On the Water

Schooner Cook's Bell

This brass bell was used to summon the crew to meals on a Gloucester (Massachusetts) fishing schooner in the late 19th century. Each sailing schooner shipped a cook along with eight to twelve fishermen and a captain. Before heading out, the cook provisioned the schooner with food for the trip. George W. Scott served as a cook on the schooner Ocean King in 1879, around the time this bell was in service. His journal lists the following provisions for a four&#45month journey: 5 barrels beef, 1 barrel pork, 1 barrel hams, 10 barrels flour, 50 gallons molasses, 15 bushels potatoes, and 200 pounds butter.

The cook on a Gloucester schooner produced three large meals a day. Meal times followed the rhythm of work and were likely to change depending on the catch and the weather. Fishing always came first, and a good cook was able to work around changes in the routine. The schooner fare was similar to meals served in the crew’s home towns across New England and Atlantic Canada. Breakfast might consist of doughnuts, pancakes, potatoes, and porridge. The main meal of the day was dinner (lunch), and typically consisted of meat, soup, fish, baked beans, pudding, cakes, and bread or biscuits. Supper might have been leftovers.

Fishing in the North Atlantic was hard work, and three meals were usually not enough to keep the crew satisfied. So the cook left bread, pie, and leftovers in a cupboard where the crew could grab snacks between fishing duties. All meals were announced by the loud ringing of the bell. At meal times the captain and half the crew would eat at the table in the galley set by the cook. The other half would continue working until the second shift was signaled by the ringing of the bell. A good cook was one who could clear the table, wash the dishes, and reset the table in mere minutes, while keeping the hot food coming.

ID Number:
metal, brass, metal, cast iron, wood
10 in x 6 in; 25.4 cm x 15.24 cm
George Merchant

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