Royal Marines

Pussers Rum

The 'Tot' also known as 'Grog'

The traditional rum ration issued to all seamen on board Royal Naval ships, at midday (every day) became known as 'Pusser's Rum'.
On board every Royal Navy ship, the Purser was responsible for the ship's stores that included the rum issue to the crew. Everything that came from the Purser was called 'Pusser's', and still is to this day. Hence the name 'Pusser's Rum'.
Any Royal Marine who served onboard a Royal Naval ship was also allowed his ration of rum.
The rum ration was often served from one particular barrel, also known as the 'Rum Tub', which was often ornately decorated and sometimes reinforced with brass rings. Containers taking the rum below to the mess decks has another name, that of Rum F---y.
When boarding their ship sailors were asked if they were members of the Temperance Movement (non drinkers). If they said yes, it was noted in the ship's records and they were given three pence a day instead of the rum ration. The time of day when the rum ration was distributed was called 'Up Spirits', which was between 11 am and 12 noon (usually 12 noon). However, Sailors under the age of 20 were not permitted a rum ration.
A standard Naval Tot of rum consisted of an eighth of a pint, which was over 50% proof, and was traditionally named 'Overproof'. Normal spirits are usually around 40% in comparison.
Labelling spirits today as overproof or underproof is derived from the early method of treating Jamaica rum in the Naval victualling yards before it was issued to the warships. The rum used to arrive in England at 140 degrees overproof after which it was reduced to 95.5 degrees underproof by having water added to it. A small amount of the mixture was then poured over some grains of gunpowder and then a magnifying glass was used to ignite it. If the burning alcohol managed to stay alight then it was said to be 'Proof'. If it didn't light then it was 'Underproof'. If it exploded then it was 'Overproof'.
The history of rum in Great Britain's Royal Navy ships was largely that of social change, both in England and the Royal Navy. From 1650 to the 18th century, shipboard life was incredibly difficult. The daily issue of Pusser's Rum was the highlight of the day. Battles were fought 'eyeball-to-eyeball'. The mental alertness and courage required to pack a cannonball into a muzzle loader were far different from that required to operate the modern weapon systems of today.
A 'Tot' of Pusser's Rum was issued to the crews of their ships daily, and usually a double issue before battle and after a victory. It was first introduced into the Navy in 1655 as a substitute for beer. However, by 1731, it was in general use.
Because of the strength of the Tot it often caused problems amongst the crew that included drunkenness. There were attempts to curb this disruptive behaviour.
On Sunday 21st August 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon ordered the daily rum ration to be diluted to three parts water, one part rum, which would be issued to his fleet only twice a day. The mixture also became known as ‘Grog’ and, despite the addition of other ingredients such as lemon, lime, sugar and cinnamon, it was met with much disdain by its drinkers. Yet the intoxicated behaviour continued, leading to the rum being diluted even further.
Prior to Sunday 24th of March 1743, the Royal Navy issued beer, wine and spirits in place of tea, coffee and cocoa and even water on all shifts.
On the Saturday 16th of January 1745, beer and spirits were issued on alternative days.
1805. After the battle of Gibraltar the rum issue acquired the nickname 'Nelson's Blood'. The legend is to the effect that, by his own wish, Nelson's body, if he was killed in action or died when away from his beloved England, was to be conveyed home preserved in a barrel of rum. The legend goes on to say that the cask and Nelson's body arrived intact, but that the rum had disappeared. The cask having been tapped and the rum drunk by the sailors of HMS 'Victory'. From that time on, rum was also known as 'Nelson's Blood.'
1831 and all liquids issues except rum were ceased on board ships.
1824 saw the rum issue reduced from half a pint to two and a half ounces, being the official 'Tot' of rum.
1850 and the 'Tot' issue was reduced to once a day at Noon.
'Splice the Mainbrace' is an order given aboard naval vessels to issue the crew with a drink. Originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorised celebratory drinking afterward, and then the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog as it was also known. The Main Brace was the largest and heaviest of all the running rigging of sailing vessels, and it's splicing particularly when a ship was underway in heavy weather, was one of the most arduous tasks onboard, and on completion, merited the issue of a double ration of rum. It was also ordered to mark a royal birth, or a visit to a ship by a Monarch, or a victory, or, in days of yore, before a battle.
The daily rum Tot as well as being a social aspect of life on the lower deck also had utilitarian uses, becoming a means of barter, a way of paying favour or paying off a bet. Like standing a watch, doing a shipmates dhobie (laundry), loaning tailor made trousers or a jumper instead of Pusser's issue for a run ashore. These were all items for which rum was used as a pay-off.
There were standard currencies to the Tot for such occasions. 'Sipper' was the least bring a small sip from a Mate's issue; 'Gulpers' was one, but only one, big swallow from another's Tot. 'Sandy Bottoms' was to drain off what was left of a Tot offered by a shipmate. 3 Sippers = 1 Gulper, while 3 Gulpers = 1 Tot.
By 1950 sailors were allowed just an eighth of a pint.
However, in 1970, the Admiralty Board decreed that there was no place for the daily issue of rum in a Modern Navy. The daily issue of Pusser's Rum in the Royal Navy ended on Friday 31st July 1970. This date has since been referred to as 'Black Tot Day'. The rum issue, one of the longest and unbroken traditions in seafaring history, ended as the last Tot of Pusser's was drunk on board their Majesties Ships. Round the world in every ship of the Navy, glasses were raised in their final salute. "The Queen", they said, and it's no exaggeration to say that at that moment many a strong man shed a tear at the passing of a tradition so old and fine, that was to be no more.
Royal Marines History & Traditional Facts. RMHS.