Page 174 - Dutch Asiatic Shipping Volume 1
P. 174

 The men's accommodation on the ships also left much to be desired. Whereas officers and passengers had separate cabins and a shared cabin for meals and social intercourse, the men had to find shelter in the so-called orlop of the ship where there was little space per person. The hammocks of sometimes 300 or more men hung right against each other and the only occasional space was due to the watch having to be stood at night as well, thus permitting sleep in the daytime for the watch. Fresh air entered through the hatches and open port holes, all but one of which however stayed closed in bad weather. In an artikelbrief of 1658 the Heren Zeventien had urged greater attention to hygiene on board and given appropriate instructions: the tidying and cleaning of the orlop, the sprinkling of vinegar, the smoking and burning of juniper berries and gunpowder. But such instruc- tions, even if obeyed, would not have made much impact. For quite often the men did not even comply with instructions on defecation. The prescribed use of chamberpots for the stools which had to be emptied overboard was often ignored: through carelessness or haste due to serious abdominal disorder the m en often used corners to deposit their excrement. For lack of fresh water they often washed little, while their clothing was usually insufficient to permit a change. The galley being situated in the orlop made their sleeping quarters often close and stifling. Especially in the tropics the orlop must have been almost unbearable through heat, vermin, overcrowding and stench.35
All this alone was enough to make disease inevitable. The ship's sickbay generally had room for 40 patients only, the remainder having to recover as best they could in their own hammocks in the orlop. Thus the AMERIKA (1271) in February 1675 reached Saldanha Bay in 'desolate' condition, 120 dead having been set overboard already. With assistance from the fort De Goede Hoop however Table Bay was reached, after 32 men had spent two days cleaning out the ship. The number of dead eventually rose to 147.36 Admittedly this is only one particularly bad example, but closer observation shows all the same that disease and mortality were appalling on the outward voyage and could have serious con- sequences even after arrival at the Cape or Batavia.
Disease and mortality
The number of deaths on board VOC ships varied greatly between one voyage and the next. Between 1655 and 1770 for instance for no fewer than 85 ships on the outward voyage it could be recorded with an emphatic figure 0 that there had not been a single death to be reported. Probably some homeward voyages will have produced similar favou- rable results, if only we knew more about numbers and mortality on these voyages. A t the other extreme are found the shipwrecks in which ships might be lost with all hands. Thus on the outward voyage the PRINSES MARIA (1513) in 1686 went down with 250 souls near the Scilly Isles, and the LIEFDE (1251) in 1711 with 300 hands near the Shetlands. Such alarming disasters occurred on the homeward voyage as well: on probably the same stormy day in 1739 five ships disappeared below the waves of the Indian Ocean with the loss of altogether perhaps 300 souls (7085-7089). These examples of particularly favourable or unfavourable results of the carrying of personnel were of course exceptional: most ships always had some dead to mourn on the way, while sometimes in shipwrecks there were survivors. As to the latter, the MERESTEIN (1869) in 1701 went down in Saldanha Bay when 99 of the 200 men got away with their lives, and of the 208 men on
35 DeHullu,'Ziektenendokters'inBruijn&Lucassen,OpdeschependerOost-IndischeCompagnie, 86-88.

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