Shipping Menu: Calf Brains and Dragons in 1938

It is far too long since my vintage shipping menu collection had some love, so today I thought I’d share a maritime story that includes calf brains, dragons and a famous blockbuster movie.

In the late 1920’s two new Dutch owned passenger liners arrived in Australia.  The T.S.S. Nieuw Holland and T.S.S. Nieuw Zeeland were the K.P.M’s latest and most impressive ships to serve on the Australia/Java route.  They were nicknamed the “Great White Yachts” and were the premium way to travel between Australia and places like Bali and Singapore.

TSS Nieuw HollandJohn Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

TSS Nieuw Holland
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Previously I’ve shared a menu from the Nieuw Zeeland, but today’s ephemeral delight is a dinner menu from the Nieuw Holland, dated May 26th, 1938.  Check out the cuisine that passengers enjoyed…

Menu from TSS Nieuw Holland, May 26th, 1938Lemuel Lyes Collection

Menu from TSS Nieuw Holland, May 26th, 1938
Lemuel Lyes Collection

It is amazing to see what dishes were made available to ship passengers in the early-mid twentieth century.  Those chefs must’ve been extremely talented!

As adventurous as my personal taste might be I don’t think I would order the Calf brains a la Monte Carlo or Larded Calf’s liver.  If you want to try the latter then here is a recipe.

I think my personal choice from this menu would be the Consomme Vermicelli (5), Lamb Cutlets a la Maintenon (11) and the Gateau Aida (35) – I’m not sure what that last dish is but sometimes I like to live dangerously.  Oh and some Barcelonanuts (39) – a Spanish variety of hazelnut.

That is me done – what would you order?

A little observation about menus from this ship, it appears that sometime around the mid 1930’s the style of KPM’s Great White Yacht menus changed from a more simplistic format to the more elaborate foldout one featured in this post.  The Australian National Library has copies of the earlier and later versions.   Here is the front cover of my example.

Menu from TSS Nieuw Holland, May 26th 1938Lemuel Lyes Collection

Menu from TSS Nieuw Holland, May 26th 1938
Lemuel Lyes Collection

The photo is of the ‘Amsterdam Gate’, which was part of the 17th century Castle of Batavia in Jakarta.  The gate was demolished in the 1950’s but there are plans to build a reconstruction.

The inside of the menu cover includes a typewritten description of the islands that passengers can expect to see the following day.

Menu from TSS Nieuw Holland, May 26th, 1938Lemuel Lyes Collection

Menu from TSS Nieuw Holland, May 26th, 1938
Lemuel Lyes Collection

That last paragraph is particularly interesting:

“One the Island of KOMODO, large lizards (the VARANUS KOMODOENSIS) are still to be found.  There are good specimens in the SOERABAYA Zoological Gardens”.

This is of course referring to the infamous Komodo Dragons.  What I’ve always found incredible about these amazing animals is that they were completely unknown to science until only a century ago!

Komodo Dragon© Chris Kugelman

Komodo Dragon
© Chris Kugelman

Komodo Dragons feeding© Chris Kugelman

Komodo Dragons feeding
© Chris Kugelman

Komodo Dragon© Chris Kugelman

Komodo Dragon
© Chris Kugelman

In the early twentieth century fishermen brought back stories of giant lizards on Komodo Island but little was known about them until the American Museum of Natural History sent an expedition to capture one in 1926.  It must’ve been quite the adventure – being sent via ship to a distant unexplored island to investigate fisherman’s stories of strange giant animals and attempt to catch a specimen for display back in the United States.  Does this story sound familiar?  It should do as it was part of the inspiration for the 1933 blockbuster ‘King Kong’.

It was only little over a decade after that expedition to Komodo that the Nieuw Holland menu in my collection was used.  I imagine that some passengers on that voyage read the description and fancied themselves as King Kong-esque adventurers while others were perhaps preoccupied with finding mints to rectify their calf-brain breath.

Commander J. Blaauboer held a retirement party upon his arrival in Melbourne.  It was the last of 14 voyages that he commanded in the Australasian trade during his 25 years in the service of the K.P.M.

The Nieuw Holland would continue on the Australia/Java route until war came to the Pacific.  K.P.M. lost over half its fleet to Axis forces and the two Great White Yachts became troop ships – transporting ANZACS into battle.  The other “Great White Yacht” Nieuw Zeeland fell victim to a mine in the Mediterranean (read more in this earlier post) but the Nieuw Holland survived the war to steam past Komodo Island once again.  She was eventually retired and broken up in 1959.  For more photos and information on the two K.P.M. sister ships check out this fantastic site.  Also check out this original advertisement which includes details of life on-board.

Thanks to former colleague, filmmaker and talented photographer Chris Kugelman for letting me share some of his fantastic photos of Komodo Dragons.

© Lemuel Lyes

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