‘Black Tot Day’

43 years ago today, on July 31st, 1970, the final rum ration was issued to sailors of the Royal Navy.  The Telegraph reports:

For over three centuries, until 1970, all Royal Navy vessels would ring out their ship’s bells just before noon every day. The famous call, ‘Up Spirits’ would go out, calling sailors to report to deck and receive their daily 70ml ‘tot’, or shot, of rum.

. . .

In early 1970, the Admiralty Board issued concerns over the safety of its sailors concluding that, in the face of technologically advanced machinery and weaponry, “the rum issue is no longer compatible with the high standards of efficiency required now that the individual’s tasks in ships are concerned with complex, and often delicate, machinery and systems on the correct functioning of which people’s lives may depend.”

On January 28, 1970 the House of Commons sat to discuss these concerns in a meeting now known as the ‘Great Rum Debate’. Mr James Wellbeloved, Labour MP for Erith and Crayford at the time and an ex-wartime sailor in the Royal Navy, argued that there was “no evidence readily available” to suggest that the rum ‘tot’ affected the operational efficiency of the Royal Navy, and that in fact the rum enabled the sailors “to face the coming action with greater strength and greater determination”.

However, evidence such as that provided by Dr David Owen, the Under-Secretary of State of Defence for the Royal Navy, opposed this view. He stated that if “to an individual’s naval tot, is added a proportion of another man’s tot, which happens all too frequently” then the individual has the same blood alcohol levels in which it is declared illegal to drive a car in Britain.

And so the end of the ‘rum ration’ was declared, and on July 31, 1970 the Royal Navy sailors boarded their ship’s decks to take their last ‘tot’ of rum, many wearing black armbands in tribute. ‘Black Tot Day’ was born and each year, on this day, the history of the British Navy is celebrated (and toasted, I am sure, with a ‘tot’ of rum).

There’s more at the link.

For those wanting to mark the anniversary in true nautical tradition, there are two ways to go about it – both expensive, I’m afraid.

  • British Royal Navy Imperial Rum is original Royal Navy issue rum, the last of the Admiralty’s stocks when the rum ration was discontinued.  It’s hard to find and frightfully expensive if you succeed, but for those who want the real deal, there’s simply no substitute.
  • Lamb’s Navy Rum and Pusser’s Rum both claim to be made to authentic Royal Navy recipes.  I’ve tried Pusser’s Rum, and it’s not bad (I’ve also had Royal Navy rum, the original stuff, so I can compare them from experience).  Either is also a whole lot cheaper than the original!

So hoist a glass, me mateys, to the sad day when jolly Jack Tar became a whole lot less jolly!



  1. OK, you can compare them from experience …

    Could you please do so? I'd love to know, as I've contemplated buying Pusser's rum several times in the past.

  2. I had Royal Navy-issue rum back in the 1970's, some of the Admiralty stocks that had been 'borrowed' by the Senior NCO's Mess aboard one of their frigates rather than returned to stores, as was supposed to happen. It was pretty good stuff, albeit far too powerful for an inexperienced teenage drinker!

    I find Pusser's Rum to be a little less strong, and a bit more flavorful. I suspect the age of the Royal Navy rum I tried had something to do with its strength – evaporation and all that.

    I'm not much of a rum drinker, though. I use it in cooking now and again, and as an ingredient with mixers, but I don't enjoy it straight.

  3. You are correct Peter, there were a 'few' bottles liberated in various corners of the world… I got to compare them at the China Fleet Seaman's Club. Pussers is DEFINITELY less potent!

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