09 July 2018

Club member Charles Thrower was speaker at our 9th July meeting and chose as his subject ‘Nutmeg’.

This proved to be a very interesting if unusual topic, ranging geographically far and wide - as well as covering history over several centuries. What came across very clearly was the extremely high value placed on this and other spices, certainly from the 15th Century in Europe. Perhaps from its value in enhancing the flavour of food - and covering up the smell and taste of food that was far from fresh! It was valued at the time as a food preservative and also thought to ward off the plague.

In 1492 Columbus set out to discover the spice islands - but had to make do with America! The other legendary explorers Vasco da Gamma and Magellan set sail on similar missions. And then there was  Sir Francis Drake, knighted by Queen Elizabeth 1 aboard his renamed ship the Golden Hind on his return from a successful expedition. History tells us that Piracy against ones enemies was actively encouraged by European kingdoms during these voyages.

We heard that nutmeg was once found exclusively on Run Island, part of the Banda Islands. The island was therefore of great economic importance at the time. In1616 Captain Nathaniel Courthope reached Run to defend it against the claims of the Dutch East India Company. A contract with the inhabitants was signed, accepting James I of England as sovereign of the island. 

However the island was fought over and, after Anglo - Dutch wars, the island was signed over to Holland in exchange for New Amsterdam, renamed as New York.

The Dutch monopoly on nutmeg and mace was later destroyed by the transfer of nutmeg trees to Ceylon, Grenada, Singapore and other British colonies in 1817 

Altogether a fascinating story and, following questions, John O’Neill proposed a vote of thanks.


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