Tuesday, December 11, 2012

History: The Turtle in Question

Over at Homo Gastronomicus the knowledgeable India took on the subject of how turtle, and sea turtle in particular, went from the food of scurvy dogs to a delicacy in 18th century Great Britain. The piece is profoundly interesting, even if it does only skirt the issue of boucanier barbeques. I won't paraphrase the post as you really should read it yourself, but here are a few points I'd like to bring up.

The hero of the day as far as introducing sea turtle to the glitterati of England was George Anson, 1st Baron Anson. Pictured above, the Royal Navy man became famous and wealthy after raiding Spanish territories and ships in South and Central America. These endeavors were followed by a circumnavigation of the globe that earned Anson a comparison to Francis Drake.

Anson, who wrote a best seller about his adventures entitled A Voyage Round the World, hit some questionable bumps in the road on his much acclaimed journey. He wrecked ships; the loss of HMS Wager and subsequent stranding of several of his men created much speculation. More importantly, he lost men. His squadron of six men-of-war left Portsmouth with a complement of over 1,000 sailors in 1740; only 188 men returned to Spithead in 1744.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, Anson managed to return to England a wealthy man after capturing a number of Spanish ships in the West Indies and negotiating lucrative trade deals in China. He seems to have talked a good game, too. Rather than reprimand or courts martial for his losses, Anson was made 1st Baron Anson in 1747 and elevated to the station of First Lord of the Admiralty.

He also brought back tales of the excellent taste and restorative effects of the meat and fat of sea turtles. Having experienced these things first hand, and then written about them in his book, he became more than just a gastronome suggesting a new delicacy. Anson, to one degree or another, became the "turtle king". He gifted huge turtles imported at his own expense to such high society organizations as White's Chocolate House and the Thursday's Club. Soon enough, sea turtle became all the rage and Anson was given credit for introducing Brits to a taste sensation that was once thought to be only fit for common seamen and down right pirates.

As an aside, or perhaps an addendum, you can find an excellent discussion of buccaneers and sea turtles here. Scroll down to the comments and find Benerson Little's thoughts on the points made. If anyone knows whereof they speak on the subject, it is certainly he.

Header: George Anson, 1st Baron Anson, contemporary portrait by an unknown artist via Wikipedia

7 comments:

Timmy! said...

I don't think I've ever had turtle, Pauline, but I'll bet it's pretty tasty if prepared properly.

Other than Benerson Little's comment, the rest of the comments on that CNN article are pretty annoying... just saying.

Pauline said...

I haven't either, honestly. I kind of wonder, though.

And you're right. The comments there sort of devolve into an "I'm right and you're wrong" yelling match... Kind of like Congress, now that I think about it. Huh.

Charles L. Wallace said...

Good stuff (I enjoy turtle stew, but generally made beef stew as turtle can be a bit difficult to obtain).

Anson would never have profited in today's "zero defect" navy....

Pauline said...

I guess turtle isn't to hard to come by around the Gulf coast, but I don't believe that kind of turtle is the same as Anson's enormous sea turtles.

And isn't that the truth? No prizes these days; it would make a good Scot like Thomas Cochrane weep!

India Mandelkern said...

Hey Pauline! Thanks for the shout-out! And thanks so much for the link to the pirate bbqs! I'm plan to present a paper in the coming year on turtle-feasting and I wonder where one would find more sources on these overseas turtle feasts?

Pauline said...

My pleasure, India, and thank you for stopping by Triple P. I loved your post and had to share :)

As far as piratical interaction with turtles in general and sea turtles in particular, Benerson Little deals with the subject in detail in his books The Buccaneer's Realm and The Sea Rover's Practice. I can't recommend Mr. Little's books enough on this and any subject related to New World piracy. A link to his website is also on the sidebar.

Take care and keep up the great work at HG!

Charles L. Wallace said...

Aye... Cochrane: always one of my faves! (Well, with Nelson, of course, and Hull, and Preble, and Paul Jones... and Decatur!!)