Maritime Manners

The rum and its daily issue had its own litany around which colourful terms and rituals evolved for over 300 years.

And the name Pusser’s? Nothing more than a corruption of the name “Purser”—the officer on board ship who was responsible for the daily issue of rum. Thus the name Pusser’s Rum.

Black Tot Day

July 31st, 1970, is when the last “tot was drawn in the fleet around the globe; a rather touchy subject with the old and bold!” Black Tot Day was officially the last day that the daily ration of rum was issued on board ships in the Royal Navy.

Grog

This most traditional of all rum drinks is a rich part of the early history of Pusser’s Rum. There was an admiral by the name of Vernon who was the hero of the Battle of Porto Bello and the Commander-in-Chief of the West Indies Station, the prime area for Spanish trade in the Caribbean. He had selected Porto Bello for attack because he learned that a large assignment of gold and silver had been sent there from Panama. The remarkable sequel, which followed the town’s capture, was Vernon’s decision that all public money found was to be divided fairly as prize money among those British crews that took part in the engagement. This was a brave step in defiance of the regulations, but general delight at home in England over the victory caused it to be overlooked. No act could have done more to win the sailors’ hearts that on most occasions received nothing. The men had affectionately nicknamed Vernon Old Grog on account of the old grogram cloak (a rough fabric of mohair and silk) that he often wore when the weather was bad.

Admiral Vernon

Admiral Vernon

In Vernon’s time, the men received one-half pint of rum a day, which they drank neat, that is without water. Thus there was a lot of drunkenness and disobedience on board for which many of the men were brutally disciplined. He was much concerned with what he called, “the swinish vice of drunkenness.” He believed that if the rum was diluted with water that its effects on the senses would be reduced–even though the men were to receive the same amount of rum. Thus Admiral Vernon issued his infamous Order to Captains No. 349 on August 21, 1740. (Pictured at left) His order refers to the “unanimous opinion of both Captains and Surgeons that the pernicious custom of the seaman drinking their allowance of rum in drams, and often at once, is attended with many fatal effects to their morals as well as their health … besides the ill consequences of stupifying [sic] their rational qualities … You are hereby required and directed … that the respective daily allowance … be every day mixed with the proportion of a quart of water to a half pint of rum, to be mixed in a scuttled butt kept for that purpose, and to be done upon the deck, and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch who is to take particular care to see that the men are not defrauded in having their full allowance of rum… and let those that are good husbanders receive extra lime juice and sugar that it be made more palatable to them.”

The men were incensed that he should have ordered that their rum be diluted, and named it contemptuously “grog” from the name they had given him. Thus, a real grog is Pusser’s Rum with water, lime juice, and brown cane sugar. Unwittingly, Vernon had created the world’s first cocktail – grog!

The Grog Tub

Sailors had a way of embellishing their surroundings during their long stints at sea. The “Scuttled Butt” in Vernon’s orders was a simple cask with a lid. Soon after he issued his orders, the entire British Fleet adopted his procedures for watering the rum. Eventually, the”Scuttled Butt” gave way to the “Grog Tub,” an oak cask banded with polished brass or copper hoops and covered with a fancy lid. On the side of the cask were the brass letters THE KING GOD BLESS HIM. The grog tub was naturally the daily gathering place. While the men stood in line for their grog, rumors were exchanged so that in time the word “scuttlebutt” became synonymous with the word gossip.

Gulpers / Sippers / Sandy Bottoms

At sea, rum was a kind of currency, just like money. To offer a shipmate a portion of one’s tot, no matter how small, was deemed to be the apotheosis of generosity. The men purchased articles from one another using rum as the currency; they played cards and other games of chance for the rum, and it was used to repay favors. Rum had a value, and like money, it came in different denominations defined by how much one might take or be given from another’s tot. A “Wet” was just enough on the lips to cover them thoroughly with rum. A “Sipper,” a gentlemanly sip when offered; a “Gulper,” one, but only one, a “Big Swallow,” usually given as a favor, and “Sandy Bottoms,” a rare privilege (in some cases, a settlement of a debt) involving drinking the entire contents of another’s tot.

The currency of the tot went like this:

Jack / Jack Tar

Jack / Jack Tar – Jack is a generic name for all British sailors, derived from Jack Tar in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sailors in those years used high-grade tar in their clothing and hair for waterproofing. And the term “Jack-of-all-trades,” describes a sailor who could turn his hand to anything, which is widely used today.

Jack Dusty and the Tanky

These two men, under the “Pusser,” were responsible for doling out the daily tot of rum – or “grog” – to sailors on board ship. “Jack Dusty” comes from “Jack of the Dust” who was once the Pusser’s steward employed in the bread room working with flour. In later years, the Jack Dusty was assigned the task of meticulously maintaining daily book-keeping and inventory records for the ship’s rum. The “Tanky” was the Jack Dusty’s assistant, whose job it was to tend the fresh water tanks and to mix the Pusser’s Rum with the correct amount of water for the grog issue. The selection of the Tanky required discrimination since Tanky could develop into the biggest “Rum Rat” of all if he was inclined that way and not someone to be trusted.

Neat / Dram

Rum served without water. Dram is an older term for a “neat” rum ration, similar to a “neater.”

Nelson's Blood

Nelson’s Blood – Another name for Pusser’s Rum, and still in use today by old salts – especially in Great Britain’s Royal Navy! At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, 1805, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson engaged the combined fleets of Spain and France. His flagship was HMS VICTORY. Although outnumbered, he sank or captured 17 of the enemy’s ships to not a single loss of his own. This victory still lives as one of the greatest in the annals of naval warfare. Unfortunately, Nelson was mortally wounded and died knowing that victory was his. Legend has it that to preserve his body for the long passage back to England, it was placed into a large cask of Pusser’s Rum. Upon arrival, when the cask was opened, his pickled body was removed, but the Jack Tars had drilled a small hole at the base of the cask through which they drained most of the rum, thereby drinking “Nelson’s Blood.” Since then, the term Nelson’s Blood has become synonymous with Pusser’s Rum, and is still in wide use today.

The "Pusser" and Pusser's Rum

The word “Pusser” is nothing more than a corruption of the word “Purser“—the officer responsible for the daily issue of rum on board navy ships. The Admiralty blend became knows as “Pusser’s Rum.”

Rum Names

Rum derives its name from the Latin “saccharum” meaning sugar, but it was also known in an early form as “Rumbustion” – a seventeenth century word believed to have originated in the sugar cane plantations. Other ancient names for rum include “Rumbullion,” “Kill Devil,” “Barbados Waters,” “Red-eye,” and “Nelson’s Blood” (see above).

Rum Rat

Describes one in the older days of wooden ships who had a good nose for where extra rum might be on board ship, and who was seeking an extra tot or two.

Scuttled Butt / Rum Tub

In earlier years, the “scuttled butt” was an open (scuttled) fresh-water cask (or butt) on ship decks from which issues of the daily tot of grog were served. (As it served as a gathering point to exchange daily rumors, the term also turned into “Scuttlebutt” meaning gossip.) The Grog Tub became the officially designed container from which to issue the daily tot.

Splice the Main Brace

Splice the Main Brace – The great sailing ships were propelled only by the wind in their sails which were attached to spars called yards. The lines to trim the sails were called braces and ran from the ends of the yards to the deck. The main brace was the largest and heaviest of all the rigging being up to 20″ diameter on the big ships. To splice it was one of the most difficult tasks on board ship. Sometimes in the heat of battle, the braces were shot away making the ship unmanageable. To those that “Spliced the Main Brace” went a double issue of rum. It became customary to always “Splice the Main Brace” before battle, after victory, and to reward a ship’s crew, or sometimes the entire fleet, with the order to “Splice the Main Brace!” which meant a double issue of rum for a job well. The ritual was always preceded by hoisting the flag signal to “Splice the Main Brace!” In recent times, to say to a friend, “Let’s ‘Splice the Main Brace’!” is akin to saying “Let ‘s have a drink!”.

Sucking the Monkey

An unlawful prank and a violation of Admiralty Regulations undertaken by “Jack” in older times in the West Indies when he would fill empty coconuts ashore with rum and then bring them back on board ship filled with the illegal rum.

Up Spirits!

The “Up Spirits” call was piped by the bos’n every day at noon throughout the ship. It was the call to muster for the daily issue of rum. Today, many of those familiar with this call, sign their correspondence with the closing salutation “Up Spirits!” followed by their signature.