31 July 1970: the Royal Navy ends daily rum ration

One of the Royal Navy's most popular traditions came to an end on this day in 1970 when the last of the rum ration was doled out.

Until the 17th century, sailors in the Royal Navy were given a daily beer ration of five pints, partly to compensate for the harsh physical demands of life on board, and partly because ordinary water quickly spoiled.

However, the growth in long-haul voyages made even beer impractical, so it was gradually replaced with a half-pint of the newly discovered rum. Rum's much higher alcoholic content (58%-95% versus 5%) meant it lasted longer, and far smaller quantities were needed to produce the same level of inebriation.

This kept morale up. It also meant sailors were frequently drunk. To preserve order on board, and ensure that sailors were fit for duty, punishments for outrageous drunkenness were severe, including public flogging with a braided rope known as the 'cat-o-nine tails' (only banned in 1879).

In 1913, the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, famously said that the chief traditions of the Royal Navy were "rum, sodomy and the lash". Sailors who declined the ration were paid nine pence (roughly £3.63 in today's money).

Over time the ration was scaled back. In 1740 it was diluted to produce "grog", with the ration split into two servings. In the 19th century it was cut to the equivalent of a quarter of a pint (1823), then an eighth (1850). The reduction in physical labour and the need to be sober while operating complex machinery meant the "daily tot" was finally phased out in 1970.

Today, all Royal Navy sailors must be under the drink-driving limit while on duty, while some personnel (such as those operating weapons) are effectively banned from drinking alcohol.

Recommended

How long can the good times roll?
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
28 October 1886: Wall Street's first ticker tape parade
This day in history

28 October 1886: Wall Street's first ticker tape parade

On this day in 1886, the office boys of Wall Street celebrated the dedication of the Statue of Liberty with the first ticker tape parade.
28 Oct 2020
28 October 1971: Britain’s only independent satellite launch
This day in history

28 October 1971: Britain’s only independent satellite launch

This day in 1971 saw the launch of Britain’s only independently launched satellite, when the Black Arrow rocket deployed the ‘Prospero’ satellite in o…
28 Oct 2020
27 October 1662: England sells Dunkirk to France
This day in history

27 October 1662: England sells Dunkirk to France

Strapped for cash, King Charles II agreed to sell Dunkirk, England's port town on the Channel to France, on this day in 1662.
27 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express
Trading

Don’t miss this bus: take a bet on National Express

Bus operator National Express is cheap, robust and ideally placed to ride the recovery. Matthew Partridge explains how traders can play it.
19 Oct 2020
Three stocks that can cope with Covid-19
Share tips

Three stocks that can cope with Covid-19

Professional investor Zehrid Osmani of the Martin Currie Global Portfolio Trust, picks three stocks that he thinks should be able to weather the coron…
12 Oct 2020