Thanks to a wonderful correspondence with one of my blog readers, I ended up buying Jacob Abbott’s Rollo on the Atlantic, written in the early 1850s and part of a series that, as Abbott put it, are “intended to be books of instruction rather than of mere amusement.” The reader “may feel assured,” the author continued, “that all the information which they contain . . . is in most strict accordance with fact.”
Because I feel a lot like a child who must be introduced into the ways of shipboard life by an expert, I have depended on Rollo on the Atlantic to verify my hunches, clear up my confusion on certain matters concerning the layout of a Collins vessel, and on occasion, correct some of my information regarding food and dining aboard early steamships.
A brief plot synopsis: Rollo, a twelve-year-old boy, and his cousin, Jane, must take a Collins ship, the Pacific, to England to be reunited with Rollo’s parents. They are travelling alone, first-class, and in this predicament must rely on the kindness of the crew and fellow passengers for information and help; however, their being unchaperoned also allows them freedom to explore and to make inquiries in regards to the workings of the vessel.
Given my needs as a researcher, I was most interested, of course, in scenes that involve food and dining, and given that meals presented one of the surest opportunities for a child to break protocol or upset decorum and thus cause the rest of the passengers some annoyance, Abbott does focus on the saloon and meals to guide his young readers.