Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Winning the battle but losing the war - Mark Anthony bids farewell, Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of Rum and Black Tot Day

On this day in 30 BC, the Battle of Alexandria was fought.  While Mark Antony would achieve victory over his opponent Octavian's forces on this day, his army was decimated by desertions.  Knowing he could not defend Egypt with his remaining forces, he commits suicide.  Cleopatra would follow a few days later.  Perhaps its true significance is that it signaled the last days of Rome as a great republic and the beginning of the Roman empire.


Today in 1970 was the last day of issue by the British Royal Navy of the official rum ration, it would be referred to as Black Tot Day.

Since the 1600's, one of the very few perks of being a sailor was the twice a day alcohol ration. It was a hard life, you lived in uncomfortable cramped quarters, the work was hard and the weather was harder. You had to leave your friends and your family, and there was a very good chance you would not return. So in lieu of a matching 401k, Dental or Life insurance you were given a daily ration of booze - called a "Tot".

Originally the Tot was beer and up until 1655 the Royal Navy would give you about 4.5 litres a day! Keep in mind, on a long voyage it was hard to keep pure drinking water, which often became contaminated - so beer was actually the healthier choice.  Although, on a large ship with 50 sailors at 4.5 litres of ale a day, you would need a lot of space just to store the booze. When England conquered Jamaica in 1655 and gained access to their cheap rum production a local captain started issuing a daily ration of rum instead. It was cheap, easy to store and would not turn on a long voyage.

sailor jerry tattoo

By 1740 The Royal Navy's official Tot became Rum with each sailor receiving half a pint of strong rum each day, half at noon, half at sunset. Rations were doubled before and after any battle.  After a few years is became apparent that some sailors were getting completely blotto on the stuff and by 1756 the navy started to issue "grog" rum instead.

Grog is 2 parts water to 1 part rum, mixed with lime or lemon juice, and cinnamon.  The story goes that the name “limey” (derogatory name for an Englishman) came from this practice of adding citrus juice to the rum, which enhanced the taste but also combated scurvy.

To insure that their rum had not been watered down too much, the sailors devised a test.  They poured it onto gunpowder and set a light to it, it the gunpowder still exploded it was "proof" the rum was strong.  This is where we get the current measurement of alcohol content called proof.


3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz grapefruit juice
3/4 oz honey
1 oz light Puerto Rican rum
1 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz Demerara rum
1 oz chilled club soda
Heat honey until liquid, then mix with juices in blender. Stir in rums and soda. Pour into a double old-fashioned galss filled with crushed ice.

It was a very somber day in 1970, The Portsmouth Evening News said:

…sailors said farewell to the last issue of Nelson’s Blood, (as rum was known in the navy), by conducting mock funerals and wearing black armbands…The annual Christmas pudding stirring ceremony in HMS Bellerophon was brought forward today so that the usual four pints of rum could be included in the 150lb mix.

Btw - Nelson's Blood (Slang for rum) is based on the story that Admiral Nelson was preserved in rum after being killed at Trafalgar, but he was actually preserved in brandy

As a side note:

The United States Navy abolished the rum ration in 1862.
The Royal Canadian Navy abolished the rum ration in 1972.
The Royal New Zealand Navy abolished the rum ration in 1990.

Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter,
Put him in the bed with the Captain's daughter,
early in the morning!
Way hey and up she rises,
Way hey and up she rises,
That's what we do with a drunken sailor
early in the morning!

For More information on Black Tot Day:

A litany of deadly fates that could befall a sailor, and what should be done in such instance:

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