In Newshistory

This Sunday, 31st July is known as Black Tot Day, but why and how? Sit back, relax and pour yourself a tot of rum and let us tell you…

As far back as anyone can remember sailors have drunk rum. In fact, one of the most memorable lines from pirate lore is about bottles of rum and it wasn’t just the privateers who were enjoying spirits while on the high seas. The tradition of drinking rum dates back to 1655 when the Royal Navy began to issue sailors a daily ration of rum, something that would become known as the Daily Tot. Until 1740, the ration consisted of a half pint of neat rum taken twice a day.

You might wonder why rum became the drink of choice, particularly when maritime centres like Plymouth were famous for their gin, but the answer comes down to money. Rum was cheap to source, kept well and didn’t spoil like other dinks, beer, the next cheapest alcohol around at the time was known to spoil – as did water, which would grow algae during long voyages. The daily rations became a highlight of life on the sea and carried on until 31st July 1970, when the practice ended.

Ok, so that explains the tot, what about the black? Well, on 31st July 1970 when the final tot of rum was served onboard Royal Navy Ships, there was a resounding disappointment from the sailors. So much so that many sailors began to wear black armbands in mourning for their daily dose. It would appear that the tradition was ended mainly because of concerns about the sailor’s safety. There was a real worry about letting people who had been drinking being in charge of complicated machinery and weapons. The final tots were taken in 1970 and has been mourned ever since.

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