Behind the Line – Barrels of Apples

“We sure scared them off!” Jack laughed. “I’ll miss the oranges and bananas, though.” “Me too,” replied Emma, “but we do have barrels and barrels of apples.”

The Day the Pirates Went Mad, Chapter 7: Encounter at Sea, pg 62.
#TDTPiratesWentMad - Barrels of Apples - Treasure Island
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One of the inspirations for The Day the Pirates Went Mad was Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson. And a pivotal scene from that story was when Jim Hawkins, at the bottom of an apple barrel, first overhears Long John Silver plotting with the pirates.

The events of Treasure Island, and even those of Captain Flint and the crew of the Walrus, took place decades after Emma’s first adventure in 1701. But apples were not a new provision and surely this fruit could be found aboard the New Adventure?

In answering this question, I learned more about apples than I would have ever thought to ask! Here are a few of those apple facts. And yes, apples were available to be taken on sea voyages in many countries.

Do Apples Prevent Scurvy?

Then came the question about apples and scurvy. This arose from a plot point in the story where Captain Garrett decides not to visit the Cape Verde Islands before crossing the Atlantic, thereby passing up the chance to resupply the New Adventure with fresh citrus fruits.

First, a bit about scurvy itself. Sailors on long voyages would frequently die from this vitamin deficiency. It has been said that once Europeans began undertaking extended sea voyages, the deadliest thing they encountered wasn’t battle, starvation, or bad weather – it was disease, with scurvy being one of the worst.

During the Age of Exploration (between 1500 and 1800), it has been estimated that scurvy killed at least two million sailors.


Scurvy results from the breakdown of collagen, the “glue” that holds our bodies together. When collagen production is impaired for a prolonged period, one will experience malaise and lethargy, gum disease, loosening of teeth, susceptibility to bruising, poor wound healing, bone pain, fever, convulsions, and even eventual death. Vitamin C is utilized in the process of creating collagen.

Though it was not widely documented, and there were contradicting ideas at the time, it was known during Emma’s voyages that diets including certain vegetables and fruits would stave off the debilitating disease. Likewise, even when symptoms were quite advanced, the damage was often reversible with consumption of the same.

In 1593, British Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins mentioned in his Observations that “it is the plague of the sea, and the spoyle of mariners”. He went on to say, along with a few other less viable methods, that he felt consuming oranges and lemons was an effective treatment.

That which I have seene most fruitfull for this sicknesse, is sower oranges and lemmons…

The Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins, Knt, in his Voyage into the South Sea in the Year 1593, as edited by Captain C.R. Drinkwater Bethune of the Royal Navy for the Hakluyt Society, London, 1847.

So back to my question: Would the apples already stowed aboard the New Adventure provide sufficient vitamin C to prevent scurvy in the crew during a one month voyage?

Though apples are not as high on the vitamin C list as oranges and lemons (~53mg/100g), eating an uncooked apple with the skin would definitely provide some benefit (4.6mg/100g). The amount of vitamin C is also comparable to ginger (5.0mg/100g), which was grown in pots and carried aboard Chinese ships to ward off scurvy for those sailors, according to the 406 CE writings of the Buddist monk Faxian.

Since it takes up to one month for symptoms of scurvy to appear, I concluded that as long as the crew of the New Adventure ate a few apples a day, they would arrive upon that farther shore.

And that’s what’s behind the line in the quote above. 🙂