Royal Navy Rum – issued daily to sailors 1655 to 1970

By , February 8, 2010 2:01 am

Alcohol and the Royal Navy often seem to go together – there are the nautical phrases for the time in the evening when a drink is OK, “the sun’s over the yardarm”, and having one too many can lead to a person being described as “three sheets to the wind”.

And, of course, there’s the old sea shanty, “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?”

Even given all that, though, it might come as a surprise to learn that the Royal Navy was issuing daily rum rations to all enlisted men (even those in nuclear submarines) until 1970.

Up Spirit ceremony on HMS Endymion, 1905

Up Spirit ceremony on HMS Endymion, 1905

After “Black Tot Day”, the final rum ration was replaced – by 3 cans of daily beer, instead……

Before Rum – Beer to combat foul water

Like pretty much everyone else, before 1655, sailors drank mostly small beer, or ale.

It was healthier than drinking water which was too often contaminated. Casks of drinking water on board ship quickly got stagnant and nasty, and no-one wanted to drink it.

But on longer voyages, the stuff didn’t keep that well. So the Senior Service needed a better solution – what to give sailors to drink?

The Start of Rum Rations

Sailors being issued with rum in Portsmouth in 1933

Sailors being issued with rum in Portsmouth in 1933

England conquered Jamaica in 1655, and an enterprising local captain started issuing a daily ration of rum to his sailors, instead of the official Royal Navy beer ration of a gallon (!!) a day.

The Royal Navy took over officially in 1740. From that date, each sailor in the Service was issued with half a pint of strong rum each day, half at noon, half at sunset. Before and after a battle, double rations were issued.

It was issued neat for a few years, but (oddly enough) some sailors stored up their rations, and then got completely blotto on them.

So from 1756, the standard “grog” rum was issued – 2 parts water to 1 part rum, mixed with lime or lemon juice, and cinnamon.

It’s thought that the nickname “limey” comes from this practice of adding citrus juice to the rum, a habit which combated scurvy.

In 1850, the ration was reduced to 1/4 pint (5 fluid ounces) and then to 1/8th pint (2.5 fluid ounces).


The Up Spirit Ritual

The issuing of the rum ration became an elaborate ceremony. At 11am, the boatswain’s mate piped the tune “Up Spirits”, and a procession ladled out the rum, into portions for more senior NCOs, and the rest mixed with water (etc) for the ratings.

At midday, the boatswain’s mate piped the tune, “Muster for Rum”, and the crew came and got their half-pints of grog.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the officers’ rum rations were accompanied by toasts – first the Loyal Toast (to the King or Queen) followed by a different toast for each day of the week:

Monday, “Our ships at sea”

Tuesday, “Our men”

Wednesday, “Ourselves”

Thursday, “A bloody war, and quick promotion”

Friday, “A willing soul and sea room”

Saturday, “Sweethearts and wives, may they never meet”

Sunday, “Absent friends, and those at sea”

See the HSM Hood website for more pictures of the daily Up Spirits ritual in the 1930s

Black Tot Day – the End of the Rum Ration

 Black Tot Day on board HMS Phoebe

Black Tot Day on board HMS Phoebe

On 31st July 1970, the last rum was issued to ratings – on a day known as “Black Tot Day”.  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

Different ships carried out different farewell ceremonies. One ship in the Arabian Gulf buried their last barrel, and erected a headstone which said, “Good and Faithful Servant” on it.

HMS Dido put the last tot in a bottle with a note inviting the finder to drink to the health of the Royal Navy, and threw it overboard.

British Navy Pusser’s Rum, on sale since the 1970s, is the Admiralty’s mixture of 6 different rums, as served on board ship for centuries.

American and Empire Soldiers in England during the First World War – Picture Gallery

By , February 7, 2010 4:29 am

As well as British, French, German, Italian and Russian soldiers, men from all over the world fought in the First World War.

This collection of photographs (all in the public domain) show troops from America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and India, in the UK before leaving for the fighting front – mostly in France, but others went to the other fronts, too.

Jewish Blood Libel: Persecution & Greed in Medieval England

By , February 2, 2010 1:29 am

The English origins of the blood libel

“Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln” was a popular medieval saint, supposed to have been the victim of a ritual, Jewish murder in the 12th century.

The terrible medieval blood libel against Jews, which started a wave of persecution, torture, death, and exile, got off to a less than glorious start in Norman England.

In later times a blot on Russia and Eastern Europe, and in modern times, also shame on the Muslim World, this long-lasting accusation, born from anti-semitism, started in Norwich and Lincoln, in the mid 12th century.

What is the Jewish Blood Libel?

A 16th century French woodcut, showing a Jew calling the devil forth from a vat of Christian blood

A 16th century French woodcut, showing a Jew calling the devil forth from a vat of Christian blood

The exact details varied from case to case, but there were many elements common to all or most of the blood libel allegations.

They involved the ritual human sacrifice, and slaughter for religious Jewish practice of a Christian, in sadistic ceremonies.

In general, a child, usually a pre-adolescent boy, was said to have been abducted or seduced and  coxed into a Jew’s house.

He was then tortured, often circumcised, sometimes with a parody of cruxifiction, and had his blood drained for, use in ritual religious foods.

The accusations were often followed by an orgy of violence against Jews who lived anywhere near the town where the death occurred.

It was a rather handy way for Kings and local power-brokers to get their sticky fingers on Jewish money and assets – either by taking over the estates of the “criminals”, or by demanding what was, in effect, protection money.

The fact that Jews are particularly careful to avoid eating even animal blood – draining it from animals as they are killed, and soaking meat cuts to remove it – appears to have passed the blood libel mobs by.

After the first blood libels circulated in England, the practice spread all over Europe, and to Russia and the Muslim world.

The First Accusation in England – William of Norwich

A 15th century painting depicting William of Norwich

A 15th century painting depicting William of Norwich

William of Norwich was born in about 1132AD. He lived in the town for his whole life, and died at the age of about 12, in 1144.

William was an apprentice tanner, and had business dealings with Norwich’s Jewish population. Shortly before he vanished, he was seen visiting the house of a Jewish family with whom he was acquainted. He was murdered, and his body later found and buried in a local graveyard.

There followed accusations against Norwich’s Jews, and Thomas of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk in Norwich, wrote a book called The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich in 1174.

He was encouraged in this by the Bishop of Norwich, William De Turbeville, who seems to have seen great potential in establishing William’s tomb as a pilgrimage site. Places which became popular with pilgrims could rake in substantial amount of cash, and other valuables, left as offerings to the saints.

It doesn’t appear that William was ever actually made a saint by the Church, although he was referred to locally, in Norwich and Norfolk, as Saint William.

Blood Libel leading to Sainthood – Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln being enticed in Copin's house

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln being enticed in Copin's house

This blood libel was a grander and far more damaging affair. Hugh of Lincoln was an 8 or 9 year old boy, the son of a local woman called Beatrice.

Hugh vanished at the end of July, 1255. His body was found roughly a month later, in or near the property of a Lincoln Jewish man, called Copin, Kopin, Joscefin,or Jopin.

A local priest called John of Lexington saw an opportunity, and under threat of torture, Copin “confessed” that he and a group of other Jews from both Lincoln and other towns had gathered together for the ritual torture and sacrifice of a Christian boy.

Copin was promised a pardon for his confessing and implicating other Jews, but King Henry III arrived in Lincoln in October, and ordered that Copin be dragged around the city tied to a horse, and then executed.

The Kings of England “owned” all English Jews, and could tax them freely and more heavily than non-Jewish, Christian subjects.

Earlier in 1255, King Henry III had sold the English Jews to his brother, Richard Earl of Cornwall. But he realised that, as King, he was still entitled to the proceeds of the estates of those Jews convicted of serious crimes.

About 100 of Lincoln’s Jews were dragged off to the Tower of London.  At least 20 of them were executed, and their property forfeited to the Crown, before the rest were pardoned and allowed home.

Lincoln Cathedral (West Front) This photo is in the public domain

Lincoln Cathedral (West Front) This photo is in the public domain

Unlike William of Norwich, it appears that Hugh of Lincoln did actually become a Catholic Saint. His feast day was on 27th July each year.

Not long after his death, his body was translated to Lincoln Cathedral. Above the stone tomb, a shrine was put up to Little Saint Hugh. Miracles were attributed to the intercession of Little St Hugh, and he was a popular saint.

The coffin was opened during restoration work in 1790, and found to contain a boy’s skeleton, approximately 3.5 feet long.

St Hugh of Lincoln was also a popular saint, but a different man. He was an adult when he died, and was Bishop of Lincoln.

Unless I’ve missed it, Lincoln Cathedral’s otherwise interesting website doesn’t mention the whole Little Saint Hugh thing at all, but there are lots of references to the (adult) St Hugh.

Little Saint Hugh’s legacy

The shrine above Little Saint Hugh's tomb, in a 17th century illustration

The shrine above Little Saint Hugh's tomb, in a 17th century illustration

The story was widely-known and repeated. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about Little St Hugh in The Prioress’ Tale, one of the Canterbury Tales. The passage reads:

O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also

With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,

For it is but a litel while ago,

Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable

A (rough) translation into modern English, by me and not to be relied upon as gospel:

Oh young Hugh of Lincoln, also slain

By accursed Jews, as is known well,

For it was but a little while ago

Pray also for us, we unstable, sinful folk

In 1955, the Lincoln Cathedral (since the Reformation, an Anglican foundation) put up a sign next to Little St Hugh’s tomb, which says:

Trumped up stories of “ritual murders” of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.

A medieval blood libel fresco in St Paul's Church in Sandomierz, Poland

A medieval blood libel fresco in St Paul's Church in Sandomierz, Poland



Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:

Lord, forgive what we have been,
amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be.

Other Examples of Medieval English Blood Libels against the Jews

There were other, similar accusations in towns and cities across England:

  • Saint Harold of Gloucester – killed in a blood libel incident in Gloucester in 1168. His feast day was March 25th
  • Robert of Bury -the supposed victim of Jewish ritual sacrifice in Bury St. Edmunds, in 1181. On Palm Sunday in 1190, there was a mob attack on the town’s Jews. 57 were killed, and the rest banished from Bury.
  • Unknown boy – another blood libel accusation, in Devizes, Wiltshire, in 1892.

Panorama theme by Themocracy