Black Tot Day


On July 31, 1970, the Royal Navy served the last daily ration of rum, known as a tot.

A very sad day indeed for sailors.

Le Pirate in Gatineau, Quebec

In the 17th Century, English sailors were issued a daily ration of one gallon of beer. This amounted to a large quantity to store and took up plenty of space on board the ships.

The Navy decided a half pint of rum would be the equivalent and switched from beer to rum.

Eventually, drunkenness became a huge problem.

In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon ordered a new rule to water down the rum’s ration 4:1 and issued half of the ration early in the day and other half in the evening.

This did not curb the drunkenness. Discipline issues continued into the 19th Century. Officials cut the ration in half so that sailors received a watered down quarter pint.

El Dorado Rum Made in Guyana

In 1850, the Admiralty Grog Committee – yes, they had official meetings regarding their rum! – they recommended eliminating the ration altogether.

The sailors behaviour still remained a concern.

Instead of eliminating the daily ration, The Committee, yet again, cut the diluted ration in half and eliminated the evening ration. They received an eighth of the original ration.

Rations for Officers did end in 1881 and Warrant Officers in 1918, probably to set an example.

In 1921, the Australian Navy discontinued rations.

In 1969, Christopher Mayhew, an MP for Woolwich East, wrote to the Admiralty Board inquiring about the rations.

The Board responded: “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”.                                                                                          – From Wikipedia

On the evening of January 28, 1970, deliberations were started by James Wellbeloved, an MP for Erith and Crayford. He took the stance of continuing the rations.

An hour and fifteen minutes later, the debate, known now as the Great Rum Debate, concluded with a decision: Rations are no longer appropriate.

Here we are again at July 31, 1970. The day the last ration was served at the usual 6 bells at 11 am, to the sailors on board. Some of the men wore black armbands who buried their ration At Sea.

The HMS Collingwood performed a mock funeral service with a black coffin, drummers and pipers.

The Fish Market in Ottawa Byward Market

The Royal Canadian Navy followed suit and stopped rum rations on March 31, 1972.

As late as 1990, the New Zealand Navy discontinued their daily ration.

In England, visit Portsmouth for more local history of the Royal Navy Dockyard where you will find plenty of things to do.

Salute your sailors today and raise a tot of rum!

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on July 31, 2017