Ah, the life of a sailor. Long months at sea, possibilities of drowning in the passing storms, no women, and let's not forget the scurvy! However, it is a well-known fact that almost anything can be made tolerable, given enough alcohol. Enter the rum ration, the amount of rum allowed per crew member, per day, in the British Royal Navy.

Before using rum, rations were distributed in the form of beer, which was a bad thing because on the long voyage, the beer would sour and become quite unpallateable. William Thompson had this to say about the beer in 1761:

    It "stands as abominably as the foul stagnant water which is pumped out of many cellars in London at the midnight hour and the sailors were under the necessity of shutting their eyes and stopping their breath by holding their noses before they could conquer their aversion so as to prevail upon themselves in their extreme necessities to drink it". (1)

Before the 17th century each sailor was allowed 1 gallon of beer per day. Since the logistics of the storage of all this beer presented a problem, admirals introduced brandy instead of beer in the mid 1600's. In 1655, Vice-Admiral William Penn captured Jamaica and began use of the rum ration. Why? Well, the Jamaicans weren't exactly big on beer and wine, but had plenty of rum for the taking. In 1731, rum became part of the "Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea." The regulations specified that 1 half-pint of rum was equivalent to the 1 gallon of beer.

In 1740, Admiral Vernon (whose nickname was "Old Grog") introduced the watering down of the rum ration which became known as "grog." His instructions called for one quart of water mixed with every one pint of rum. The daily ration of grog for all men with ratings below petty officer was 1/8th of a pint of rum with 1/4th of a pint of water. However, don't forget to bring your ID, because men under the age of 20 were not allowed a rum ration. (Apparently, 19 is too tender an age to partake in spirits, but not to risk life and limb on a trans-ocean voyage.)

Another interesting rum ration fact:

    Rum aquired the nickname "Nelson's Blood" after Trafalgar (1805). To preserve Lord Nelson's body, it was placed in a barrel of rum. Legend has it that when the sailor's learned of this, they drank the rum. From that time on, grog was also known as "Nelson's Blood." (2)

The days of the rum ration ended in the American Navy in 1862, but not for the Brits until on January 28, 1970 when the "Great Rum Debate" took place in the House of Commons, rendering the Royal Navy free of the rum ration.


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