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A year without toilet paper on the high seas: what’s the panic?

Dhe fear of not having toilet paper available for the emergency is currently great. That was not always so. In medieval Europe, mostly retired textiles and rags were used, and later newspapers. Visitors to Batavialand in the Dutch town of Lelystad can see how this was solved on sailing ships in the 17th century – when the virus-related restrictions are lifted again. In Lelystad you can explore the impressive replica of the merchant ship “Batavia” of the United East Indian Company (VOC). Including toilets.

The original first set sail from Texel on October 29, 1628 under Captain Adriaan Jakobsz. After new food was bunkered in the Cape of Good Hope in mid-April 1629, the sailor ran onto a reef on June 4, 1629 near the Wallabi Islands off the Australian west coast. The survivors saved themselves on the surrounding islands. The captain and some seafarers sailed around 1000 nautical miles to Batavia (Jakarta) in one of the dinghies and got help. A rescue ship finally housed the survivors, who had been severely decimated.

Such a trip was comfortable for none of the crew members, although there was already modest luxury for officers or better-off guests. Because their chambers were in the aft ship, where there were two “toilets” in addition to a linen-covered table for meals, consisting of a board with a hole. Beside this opening there were no paper rolls, but the “Allemannsend”, a brush-like spliced ​​rope, the end of which hung in the sea water was pulled up after the big business and used to wipe away the very best. In the dictionary for nautical terms you can find this definition for the “Allemansend”: “Part of the (outside) on-board toilet: A rope hanging outboard with a spliced, brush-like end that serves as a toilet paper substitute for everyone on board.” held.

Such a trip was comfortable for none of the crew members, although there was already modest luxury for officers or better-off guests.





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So that was the luxurious variant. Most of the crew were only able to relieve themselves through two holes in the bowsprit when the weather was suitable. Otherwise the bucket was the means to an end. Toilet paper? Didn’t exist.

When the three-master, 56.6 meters long and 10.5 meters wide, was put down, 341 digesters were on board. In addition to around 200 seafarers who were required to operate the ship, there were also soldiers and passengers on the first trip, including 38 women and children. The trip to East India took a year. The crew were advised to take a second set of laundry with them for the return trip. Six people shared a wooden bowl while eating. There were no tables. The smut usually prepared barley groats with plums and salted meat in the large vats of his kitchen. The bread was as hard as it was, drinking water was carried in large wooden barrels and was mostly of very poor quality. No wonder that the crews of such ships suffered from scurvy and other deficiency diseases, and there was a high risk of epidemics due to the miserable hygienic conditions.

A pastor was also on board, and the barber also served as a surgeon. In addition to cutting his hair, he could bleed or amputate. There were strict rules for life on board. For the slightest misconduct, there are severe penalties. Whipping on the main mast was the lesser evil. It was not uncommon for the malefactors to lose their lives in keel fetch, which was also popular. The soldiers found the worst conditions. They weren’t recruited after a job interview, but were collected in the bars of Amsterdam. After a good night’s sleep they found themselves on the transport deck of such a ship. It was impossible to stand upright on the flat deck, and the men only occasionally saw daylight during the long passage. Not all survived the ordeal.

The Batavia shipyard in Lelystad is committed to making this history tangible for a wide audience. Since none of the VOC merchant ships survived, in 1985 six employees began work on the drivable replica. It took three years to assemble all 72 frames of the fuselage. By the time the Rahsegler was launched in 1995, the group had grown to 55 craftsmen.

1800 cubic meters of oak from the forests of Denmark were purchased as material for the replica. Masts and decks are made of lighter pine from the Black Forest. To protect against pirates and other attackers, the Batavia carried 32 cannons of different models and calibers. The replicas are also used for regular shooting, albeit in the air. The historic merchant ship and the workshops, in which the craftsmanship of the time is also demonstrated, can be seen in normal times in Batavialand be visited. The exhibition is currently closed due to the corona pandemic.

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