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The Navy Rum Issue



Before the XVII century, the ration of drink in the Navy was one gallon of beer or wine a day. Owing to stowage difficulties, Admiral Blake introduced brandy instead of beer in about 1650; rum replaced brandy in 1687 following the conquest of Jamaica. The ration then was half a pint of rum twice daily - half that quantity for Boys. Before brandy or rum were drunk by the sailors, beer was the accepted ration drink provided. In their days, Hawkins and Frobisher said they could cruise as long as the beer lasted.


But the beer must been terrible stuff - according to William Thompson, who addressed an "appeal to the public to prevent the Navy being supplied with pernicious provisions" (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". In 1634 Nathaniel Knott, in his "Advice of a Seaman" wrote that "The brewers have gotten the art to sophisticate beer with broom instead of hops, and ashes instead of malt, and (to make it more lively) to pickle it with salt water so that, whilst it is new, it shall seemingly be worthy of praise, but in one month wax worse than stinking water".


In 1740 Admiral Vernon (commonly known as "Old Grog" because of the cloak he habitually wore which was made of a coarse kind of taffeta called Grogram) introduced the watering-down of the sailors' rum


The watered rum accordingly soon achieved the name of 'Grog'. In 1740 the issue was 1 pint of rum mixed with 1 quart of water, issued in the forenoon and again in the evening; the evening issue was stopped in 1824 and the ration of rum reduced to one gill (eighth of a pint) per man per day in 1850.


Above: Admiral Vernon (Old Grogam)


Admiral Vernon's actual instruction about grog is contained in a letter dated from HMSBURFORD at Port Royal, Jamaica, 30 August, 1740; it directs that the daily allowance of 1 pint of rum per man is to be mixed with a quart of water `in one scuttled butt kept for that purpose, and to be done upon deck, in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch, who is to see that no man is cheated of his proper allowance'. (A 'scuttled butt' is a barrel with one end removed)


Grog is the mixture of one-eighth of a pint (1 gill) of rum with one quarter of a pint of water (i.e., 1 part rum, 2 parts water) issued as a daily ration to all ratings below Petty Officer of and over the age of 20 years who desire it. CPO's and POs draw their rum neat.


Two-water grog replaced three-water grog early in 1937. (i.e. 1 part rum to 1 part water) Men entitled to the rum or grog issue who do not draw it receive Grog Money in lieu. Officers are not entitled to the daily ration of rum or grog. Grog money was increased to 3 pence per day in 1919; prior to then it had been 1 Shilling and 7 pence per month.



A rating below the age of 20 years is not allowed to receive the daily rum ration; he is accordingly marked in the ship's books with the letters U.A. (= Under Age). He is similarly debarred from drawing grog in which to splice the mainbrace. The expression is sometimes used offensively by an older rating to a youngster to emphasise his youth. Twenty years as the minimum age for drawing the spirit ration was introduced in November, 1881.




Naval unofficial name given to the residue remaining in the grog tub after the daily issue has been made, or in the mess fanny after each man has had his share; from the French "Plus". That which remains in the grog tub is required by the regulations to be thrown overboard.




An extra issue of one-eight of a pint of rum to each officer and man of an over the age of 20 who desires to take the rum, lemonade for others. The rum is mixed with water into grog for all ratings below the rank of Petty Officer. Ratings marked "T" in the ship's books may draw rum or grog or lemonade when the main brace is spliced; no money payment in lieu is allowable. The order to make this extra issue may be given only by the Sovereign (or a member of the Royal Family) or by the Admiralty. Splicing the main brace is the only occasion when officers may be issued with service rum.

The name arose from the reward customarily given in sailing ships to men who carried out the task of splicing the main brace. As the main brace had to be led through blocks, a long splice (as opposed to a short splice or a knot) had to be made in it when repair was necessary, and the ship had to remain on the one tack until the job was completed. Thus the work had to be done at great speed and in whatever conditions prevailed at the time since the ship could not be steered effectively with a broken main brace. The ship's best Able Seamen normally were chosen to do the work under the supervision of the Boatswain. The VICTORY's main brace was of 5" hemp.