Last modified:
20 Nov 2003

17th century galleys & the Avondster's fitted kitchen

Plan of the Waterlant, c.1690.
In this plan of the Waterlant, c.1690, the galley is on the port side, at the top of the picture, with the bottelarij on the opposite side. Just forward of the main mast is a hatch, and then barrels. The bow area (right of picture) is where cables are stored - just where we have found lots of rope on the Avondster.

Although the Avondster's galley is amidships, seventeenth-century descriptions and some plans of VOC ships show the galley (kombuis) located to one side of the main mast, usually the port side, on the orlop deck. On the other side was a similar room, the bottelarij, where the steward prepared the drinks handed out to the crew(1). Another possible location for the galley was under the forecastle or bak(2). On small ships, where there was not enough space for a separate room, the galley was not much more than a wooden box filled with sand; rings at the sides were used to fix the galley wherever convenient(3). The galley of a ‘man-of-war’ was located in the hold(4).

On the bigger vessels sailing between Europe and Asia it was common to have a crew of about three hundred; on the routes within Asia the crew might be half this number. The galley was small in relation to the number of seamen for which it catered. The galley for a ship of 134 voet measured 6 voet by 4 voet (1.70m x 1.15m); larger galleys could be 7 voet (1.95m) square. Near the galley, a hatch led to the food supplies below deck.

Principles of galley construction

The galley was fitted in a wooden construction, described by Witsen as follows: standing posts 3.5 duim x 3 duim (80 mm x 75 mm); the planks of the walls 1.5 duim (37 mm) thick; the floor under the bricks was made of planks 3 duim (75 mm) thick and 15 duim (300 mm) wide(5).

The wooden construction was sheathed with metal on the inside for fire protection. Copper was generally used, but there are references to tin and even lead being used as sheathing. Journals from early seventeenth-century shopkeepers indicate that two different thicknesses of copper were used, probably thinner for the walls and thicker for the floors. The same journals account for the sheathing of a galley with old lead(6). On the Avondster, lead sheathing was used, and crumpled lead sheets protrude from the seabed today. The floors and parts of the walls of a galley were laid with bricks. There are a number of references to the amount of bricks and mortar used; depending on the size, a galley might need 800 to 1500 bricks. As an extra layer of fire protection, sand or salt or both were laid between the floor sheathing and the bricks. Burning through the galley floor happened often, and on one occasion an enquiry attributed the destruction of a galley to the absence of a salt layer(7).

Iron fittings in the galley

Dutch kitchen fittings, contemporary drawing.Dutch kitchen fittings, contemporary drawing.The concretions found on and around the floor of the galley are possibly the remains of iron fittings for holding pots and pans. A description of this construction was given by Van Yk, who speaks of an ezel (literally, donkey; an iron stand) placed 4 voet 5 duim from the rear end of the galley; two iron bars were constructed 7 duim and 21 duim respectively from the wall, and 1 voet above the floor. This description is borne out by prints of 17th century kitchens, such as those shown here.

On land, a large pot usually hung above the fire. We are not yet sure whether this system was common onboard ships, but certainly on the Swedish ship Vasa (1628) the pot hung on a bar above the fire(8). Gridirons were used both directly for grilling, and as pan stands.

  1. Witsen,1671:59, 91: Van Yk, 1696:136
  2. Witsen 1671:268
  3. Van Yk, 1696:304; Vlierman, 1993
  4. Witsen, 1671: 59, 91, 268
  5. Witsen, 1671:91 ARA
  6. VOC, 14854 folio 156
  7. BTLV-NI-1875
  8. Landström, 1980: 138

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