Rum Gubbins

Rum was unofficially adopted as the tipple of the Royal Navy in 1655. An expedition to the Caribbean, led by Admiral Penn, was unable to replenish supplies of beer, which, with water, was the only liquid available to ships. Local Commanders had to use their initiative when it came to any type of re-provisioning. This Penn did admirably. Having captured Jamaica, he ordered half a pint of rum be issued per man per day, a practice that spread throughout the Navy and continued until 1731, when it became official, and was refl ected in pay regulations.

By 1740, drunkenness had become a problem and, to combat this, Admiral Vernon ordered that the ration be split into two portions, one issued before noon, the other at end of the working day, both diluted with 4 parts water. The mixture became known as grog due to Vernon’s habit of wearing a grogram cloak. He also decreed that the rum should be mixed in a tub on deck and each man was to drink his tot at point of issue. The tub remained in use to the end, but no longer on deck. Eventually, each mess drew its ration in bulk, to be measured out at the mess table to each G member.

By 1824, the ration had become quarter of a pint with dilution continuing, at one stage reaching 1 to 5 parts water. Come 1850, it was 1 to 3 for junior rates while Petty Officers were issued one-eighth pint or half gill of neat spirit. The rate of Chief did not appear until 1893. By 1895, all POs were rated Chief.

Also, at this time, grog money, 1d per day, was paid to those who chose not to draw their tot and were marked T in the ship’s book. By 1919, the in lieu payment had risen to thruppence at which it remained until abolition. In 1875, the Navy was forced to introduce an age limit of 20 before becoming entitled to the tot. Those under age were marked UA on the books. The traditional 1 to 2 became the standard tot: one-eighth pint rum plus two-eighths water.

The abolition of the tot had been discussed in parliament in 1850 and 1881, but it was not until 1970 that recognition of the soporific effects of the tot, especially when operating complex systems, led to the final cessation of grog overseen by Admiral Peter HiII-Norton. Many training establishments had, well before this time, issued the tot at the end of the working day.

The savings from the purchase of rum and administrative costs led to creation of the Sailors Fund which was used to enhance fleet recreational facilities both ashore and afloat. Senior rates’ messes were allowed to install a bar for sale of beer and spirits. Bar books and bar bills were added to the list of monthly Captain’s books for inspection and signature.

When the Admiralty finally took charge of the procurement of the supply of rum, in about 1810, it came from various mainly Caribbean sources. These supplies were blended and diluted to acceptable levels of alcohol content at Deptford victualling yard before being issued in casks and one-gallon wicker covered stone jars. Clarence Yard at Gosport, and Royal William at Devonport, were the points of issue to ships and establishments. Once on-board, each cask and jar was recorded by the supply department and stowed in the spirit room, with keys held on the important keyboard.

At the pipe Up Spirits the duty officer drew the keys and went to the spirit room along with an entourage whose size depended on type of ship. The group comprised at least a supply rating, with that day’s victualling list of G-entitled ship’s company, a member of regulating branch, or coxswain, and butcher, or tanky. The appropriate amount of raw spirit was drawn into a transport barricoe, or fanny, and recorded.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2019 Issue
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