With the Government revisiting our nuclear Trident program, should they also revisit the Royal Navy’s daily rum ration? I’ve never served in the military, and I think the last boat I was on was operated by Thames River Tours, so I’m going to have a hard time relating to the 17th-century navy guy who deemed that every sailor should be given half a pint (about 300ml) of rum at noon each day.
From 1655, sailors in the Royal Navy were entitled to a glass of rum every day they were on a ship. Every day. During wars. What I find even more perplexing is how the tradition lasted until 1970, when nuclear submarines had begun patrolling the seas. Then again, all swans in England belong to the Queen and I can’t wrap my head around that, either…
In the spirit of Black Tot Day (31 July, the final day rum was handed out in 1970) and our ongoing competition where you can win a bottle of the final consignment, let’s take a look at this English tradition.
In the mid-17th century, the Royal Navy handed out beer with lunch every day. The one issue? Beer is delicious when you pull it out of an ice bucket, but it doesn’t age too well after a two-month journey across the Atlantic in the hot hull of a swaying wooden ship.
Fortunately, in 1655 a British fleet captured the island of Jamaica, giving them access to a
ready-made supply of sweet rum that could withstand an Atlantic crossing. They were treated to a measure (‘tot’) of dark rum, congregating round the ‘rum bosun’ with their dedicated rum glass between 11am and noon for their daily measure. Seventy-six years later in 1731, the Royal Navy made it an official issue for every sailor.
Fearful of being short-changed, sailors would take small measures from their tot of rum and mix it with gunpowder; if the mixture still ignited, this was proof that the rum was of acceptable strength. This is where our current statement of ‘proof’ on rum bottles comes from: rum that is a minimum 57% ABV. In time, this tradition became diluted in the truest sense of the word – in 1850, the daily ration was limited down to just 75ml (a triple shot). And finally, in the second half of the 19th century, the UK Parliament officially abolished the practice on 31 July 1970.
In December of that year, the last remaining stocks of the Royal Navy’s consignment were decanted into stone flagons and placed in a Customs bonded warehouse where they would remain for 40 years until our friends at Speciality Drinks secured the last remaining stock of this and bottled a little piece of history; giving birth to the aptly-named ‘Last Consignment’. You can buy it here.