Here’s an interesting ditty to pull out around the dinner table when you’re slurping on Hannibal’s wines…..! Wednesday 31st July marks BLACK TOT DAY – the name given to honour the last day that the Royal Navy issued sailors with a daily ration of rum.
Offering rations in the form of alcoholic drinks has been around since the 17th century, when English sailors received no less than a gallon of beer a day! This was soon replaced first by brandy (took up less space on board the ships) and then when Jamaica was captured by the Navy, with half a pint of Jamaican rum.
Unsurprisingly, drunkenness on board became a big problem, although it took another 90 odd years before anyone ‘dared’ to regulate rations. In 1740, it was ordered that water be mixed 4:1 with rum. But even then, the rum element still remained at a pint a day! But it took another 60 odd years before quantities were reduced by half.
Over the years, the reluctance to eliminate the rations continued, the Navy preferring to reduce and reduce rather than obliterate completely and it wasn’t until 1969 that the Admiralty conceded that offering daily tots of rum really didn’t sit comfortably within their ranks.
The debate went to parliament and on 31st July 1970, the last rum ration was poured at ‘6 bells in the forenoon watch’ (11am) to the sound of a piper playing ‘up spirits’. Grumpy sailors mourned their loss by wearing black armbands. Some buried tots at sea, whilst others put on a mock funeral complete with black coffin and accompanying drummers and piper.
Probably for the best…