31st July 1970. Grog.

‘Nothing doth displease the seaman so as sour beer’. Lord High Admiral Charles Howard in 1588.

In 1831 the Royal Navy beer-ration was abolished and in 1850 the rum-ration was reduced to 1/8 of a pint, the evening issue stopped and ‘grog-money’ awarded to those ‘TT’.

By 1970 the First Sea Lord was saying that, ‘a large tot in the middle of the day was not the best medicine to handle ships’ electronic mysteries’ and the Great Rum Debate in parliament in January decided to kill off the daily rum.(1)

Grog being issued in 1956.

Grog being issued in 1956.

So it was Today in 1970 that the Royal Navy issued its last ‘Grog’, known as ‘Black Tot Day’, a tradition of issuing spirits going back to the 17th century. The sun had finally passed over the yard-arm and ‘pipe up spirits’ was heard for the last time.

Fresh water was always a problem on ships as it soon became contaminated with slimy algae so was replaced with beer. However with longer journeys as the Empire expanded, stowage became a problem so in 1650, Cromwell’s General at Sea, Robert Blake replaced the sailor’s gallon of beer with French Brandy Beer.

From the time of Queen Elizabeth Britain was trading in rum with the origins of a ‘rum ration’ going back to vice-Admiral William Penn and  his possession of sugar-cane and molasses rich Jamaica in 1655.(2)

He instituted half a pint or 2 gills of rum instead of beer and brandy, which was given straight, or neat.

However rum was not part of the Regulations and Instructions to His Majesty’s Service at Sea until 1731 and then was specific to the West Indies Station.

These Regulations compared a pint of wine or half a pint of brandy, rum or arrack as equivalent to a gallon of beer, necessary as nearer home ale was drunk, in the Mediterranean wine and brandy and in The Indian Ocean arrack.

It was vice Admiral Vernon commander of a naval squadron in the West Indies who in his Order 394 of 1740, to all captains made an attempt to reduce on-board intoxication and the incidence of ‘coppernose’ otherwise known as ‘rumbuds‘ and ‘grog-blossoms’.(3)

Now rum was to be ‘mixed with a quart (two pints) of water to half a pint of rum, mixed in a scuttled butt on deck supervised by the Lieutenant of the Watch’. Sugar and limes to improve taste could be added only if some salt provisions and bread were sacrificed. Present day Dacquiri!

Until Sykes’ Hydrometer of 1818 The ship’s Purser (‘Pusser’) determined the volume of the alcohol by ‘proof’ testing with wet gunpowder until it ignited. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!

(1) Commons Debate on 28th January 1970.

(2) The Quaker, William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania was son of the Admiral.

(3) Vernon was known as ‘Old Grogram’ from his oft-donned cloak made from grogram, a course, woollen fabric and some say from which Grog is derived.

Punishment for intoxication meant 6-water Grog for the offender and defined by John Camden Hotten’s Slang Dictionary (1887), as a ‘sea-term for the weakest grog possible-six portions of water to one of rum-hardly enough spirit to swear by’.




bbc.co.uk/Tom Collis. 30.7.2010. What did they do withe the drunken sailor?

millbanksystems.com/royal navy rum rations.





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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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