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!