On the 31st July 1970, the British Royal Navy issued the last daily rum ration, or “tot”, to sailors. The end of the daily ration became known as “Black Tot Day”.
A daily ration of rum, sometimes referred to as ‘grog’, had been part of the ratings – or enlisted sailors’ – day since 1655 when a half-pint ration of rum was introduced in order to reduce the amount of space needed to transport pint rations of beer. The drink was issued at 6 bells in the forenoon watch, or 11am, and was marked by the call ‘Up Spirits’. Due to its alcoholic content, the size of the ration did gradually decrease to an eighth of a pint of rum – or 70ml – per day by 1850.
As the technological systems and equipment on board ships became more and more complex, concerns over sailors drinking alcohol were raised. In December 1969 the Admiralty Board, which meets in order to administer the Royal Navy, published a written statement that said issuing rum was “no longer compatible with the high standards of efficiency required”.
The following month, the ‘Great Rum Debate’ took place in the House of Commons and concluded that the rum ration should end despite the impassioned argument of the MP James Wellbeloved that rum helped sailors to “face the coming action with greater strength and greater determination”.
On Black Tot Day itself the last pouring of rum was marked with funerary significance as some sailors wore black armbands or – in the case of the Royal Naval Electrical College – by conducting a mock funeral procession.