No. 11 AREA

 Pussers Rum

Nelson's Blood

Rum was issued to sailors of the Royal Navy for over 300 years, going back before Lord Nelson’s time. That rum was Pusser’s Rum blended to the specification laid down by the Admiralty. Pusser’s is a corruption of the word ‘Purser’ who was responsible for issuing the daily rum tot.

In the 17th century the daily drink ration for English sailors was a gallon of beer. Due to the difficulty in storing the large quantities of liquid that this required in 1655 a half pint of rum was made equivalent and became preferred to beer. Over time drunkenness on board naval vessels increasingly became a problem and the ration was formalised in naval regulations by Admiral Edward Vernon in 1740 and ordered to be mixed with water in a 4:1 water to rum ratio and split into two servings per day.

In the 19th century there was a change in the attitude towards alcohol due to continued discipline problem in the navy and in 1824 the size of the tot was halved to a quarter pint in an effort to improve the situation. In 1850 the Admiralty's Grog Committee, convened to look into the issues surrounding the rum ration, recommended that it be eliminated completely. However rather than ending it the navy further halved it to an eighth of a pint per day, eliminating the evening serving of the ration.

On 17 December, 1969 the Admiralty Board issued a written answer to a question from the MP for Woolwich East, Christopher Mayhew saying "The Admiralty Board concludes that 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". This led to a debate in the House of Commons on the evening of 28 January, 1970, now referred to as the 'Great Rum Debate'. The debate lasted an hour and 15 minutes and closed at 10:29pm with a decision that the rum ration was no longer appropriate.

31 July, 1970 was the final day of the rum ration and it was poured as usual at 6 bells in the forenoon watch (11.00am) after the pipe of 'up spirits'. That day has become to be known as 'Black Tot Day' and has been mourned by many serving and former sailors. Some sailors wore black armbands, tots were 'buried at sea' and at HMS Dolphin there was a mock funeral procession complete with black coffin and accompanying drummers and piper.

Pusser’s was the only rum ever served in the Royal Navy and nearly disappeared after Black Tot Day. Fortunately Canadian entrepreneur, Charles Tobias, a keen ocean going sailor, obtained the Admiralty’s consent to produce Pusser’s Rum to the original specification. It is a blend of five different pot-stilled Caribbean rums.

He started distributing Pusser’s Rum in 1980. In return he donated a royalty to the Royal Navy Sailors’ Fund, known as the Tot Fund, which provides amenities for serving personnel. To date Pusser’s donations have topped well over £1 million.

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