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Captain's Log

July 2012

31 July - Black Tot Day

31 July - Black Tot Day

31 July - Black Tot Day

31 July 2012 marked the 42nd anniversary of Black Tot Day - the day when sailors in the Royal Navy were issued with their final daily ration of rum, ending a tradition of more than 300 years.

Spirits were first introduced for crews working in the tropics (where traditional English ale spoilt rapidly) and in 1655, following the British capture of Jamaica, rum became standard issue across the fleet.

However, the daily ration of half a pint of rum led to drunkenness on board naval vessels, despite the harsh punishments issued. The first attempt to regulate the issue of rum and the problem of drunkenness aboard was made by Admiral Edward Vernon in 1740, who ordered rum to be mixed with water in a 4:1 water to rum ratio as Navy “Grog” and split into two servings per day. The discipline problem continued and, in 1824, the size of the tot was reduced to quarter of a pint, followed by a further reduction to an eighth of a pint in 1850.

As naval vessels, and the individual’s tasks aboard ship, became more complex, with delicate machinery and sophisticated weapons systems, The Admiralty and government agreed that the daily issue of rum was no longer appropriate, and that it should rather be made available on a more normal social basis.

On 31 July 1970, the final day of the rum ration, it was poured as usual at 6 bells in the forenoon watch (11am) after the pipe of 'up spirits'. Some sailors wore black armbands, tots were 'buried at sea' and in one navy training camp there was a mock funeral procession complete with black coffin and accompanying drummers and piper.

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