RUM SETS SAIL ON THE SEVEN SEAS
Since the first fleets set sail, the Royal Navy had carried alcohol on its ships for both crew and commerce. Water was impure and unsuitable for long voyages in wooden barrels - wine and beer also did not keep well and took up space – spirits were the perfect alternative. And as the focus of the high seas turned towards the Caribbean in the early 1600s, a new sugarcane spirit emerged that over the next 100 years would become the preferred spirit of the seas.
This spirit made from the waste product of the sugar-making process was at the time known as ‘Kill-Devil’, owing to its fiery properties. Indeed, as the first ever account of rum-making shows, it was not at the time thought worthy for general consumption. The privateers and the sailors in the Navy didn’t mind. This new spirit, this kill-devil, may have been rough to taste but it had many functions on board: it emboldened spirits, it acted as a medicine, it seemed to take away tiredness... and it was the only liquid to drink.
In fact, in 1699, a British observer commented that rum was “much ador’d by the American English” as “the Comforter of their Souls, the Preserver of their Bodies, the Remover of their Cares, and Promoter of their Mirth.” One can imagine that the Royal Navy viewed it as such too. And thus, their centuries-long relationship with the spirit began...
You may also like
Tales of the Tot
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS
James Lind discovered the effects of citrus fruit on warding off scurvy in 1747, but it wasn’t until almost 50 years later in 1795 that the Navy issued a daily ration of lemon juice to prevent this disease. However, due to prevailing myths surrounding alternative cures, it wouldn’t be until 1928 - and the discovery of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) - that scurvy was fully banished from the fleet.
Long Live the Tot!
Black Tot Day in 1970 ended a relationship between the British Armed Forces and their favourite drink and the sailors of the of the time mourned the loss of their rum. But this loss led to society’s gain...
THE DAY THE RUM DIED
1970 marked the end of the navy rum ration on ‘Black Tot Day'. But eventually, the fate of the last of the liquid crossed our path.