July 31, 2007

Gratuitous Royal Navy Geekery Posting

Pussers Rum.gif

(Take a swig o' this, me hearties!)

Today is Black Tot Day, the anniversary of the last day (in 1970) on which the traditional ration of grog was served out to sailors aboard H.M. ships. The Old Foodie describes the history of this now-dead tradition:

A centuries-old Royal Naval tradition ended on this day in 1970 at precisely 6 bells in the forenoon watch (i.e at 11 am), when the last rum ration was issued. A black day indeed.

Before rum, there was beer. The sailors ration before 1731 was a gallon of beer a day, which sounds like a lot, but trimming sails and doing things with yardarms was thirsty work. In 1731 for reasons which are unclear but which no doubt have some economic rationale, half a pint of rum was made equivalent to the gallon of beer, thus starting off almost a decade of rum-bliss for H.M’s sailors. The slide down to the dreadful day in 1970 began in 1731 when (for the cited reason of drunkenness) the ration was ordered to be mixed with water to the ratio of a quart of water to half a pint of rum, and doled out in two instalments each day; in 1740 the ration was further polluted with sugar and lime.

Naval men stoically made the best of it, as they still do, although one wonders what the officers now use for their traditional noontime toasts. The ritual was (is?) to toast first, the reigning monarch, and secondly:

on Monday “Our ships at sea”
on Tuesday “Our men”
on Wednesday “Ourselves”
on Thursday “A bloody war and quick promotion”
on Friday “A willing soul and sea room”
on Saturday “Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet”
on Sunday “Absent friends and those at sea”

Go read the rest of the linkied post for a description of rum pudding and other rum recipes.

Of course, in my book, anything that goes against the immemorial custom of the Service is to be regarded with deep suspicion and hostility. However, before one of you throws Winston's quote about "rum, sodomy and the lash" at me, I will say that given the difference in harshness between the average sailor's life back in the day and now, and given the different tasks which sailors must perform today which often emphasize brain-work much more than brute force, I'm not sure there isn't a logic to this move. Doesn't mean I approve of it, just that I understand it.

UPDATE: Here's a nice little honor. We Llamas have made it on to the blogroll of The Beagle Project, an enterprise devoted to celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin by building and sailing a replica of HMS Beagle (the ship that carried him on his scientific expedition in the 1830's) around the world. Very coo-el.

I plan to cross-post about this over at The Dangerous and Daring Blog for Boys and Girls as soon as I can find or remember my furshlugginer Google password, which I seem to have lost somehow. Drink, I suppose.

Posted by Robert at July 31, 2007 11:34 AM | TrackBack

I'm sure it's what kept the Georgian navy (mostly) free of mutiny. A fair few people must have falen from rigging, were mangled by recoiling guns because they were pissed. And maybe there were only 17 Frenchies at Trafalgar, not 34, but everyone was seeing double...to business. Thanks for the post on the Beagle Project, you are blogrolled on our new blogsite. And must join us aboard for a tot of rum once launched.

Posted by: Peter McGrath at July 31, 2007 12:07 PM

So now, to paraphrase Churchill, British naval tradition consists mainly of sodomy, the lash also having been outlawed a few years back.

Posted by: The Colossus at July 31, 2007 05:28 PM