Grog, first introduced to the Royal Navy by Admiral "Old Grog" Vernon

Grog issue in the Royal Navy
Chrono date: 
1740 Aug 21

EVERY one in this country, whatever may be his or her general ignorance of affairs Naval, knows at least that our sailors get "grog”, they also know that grog is rum. The knowledge is forced on them year after year by discussions on this subject in Parliament, for as soon as Vote 2 (Victualling and Clothing for the Navy) comes along, up comes the question of the sailor's grog.

When rum was first introduced into the Navy there is no record to show. Beer, which was the official beverage in home waters, had never been supplied to ships on foreign stations, for a fortnight at sea was the longest it would keep. As men in home waters, however, were allowed four quarts of beer a day, and hard drinking was a national characteristic, it was left to Captains in command of ships or Admirals in command of fleets to find the best substitute for beer they could when abroad.

In the Mediterranean there was never any difficulty, owing to the quantities of cheap light wines. In the East Indies arrack was the substitute, and in the West Indies rum. Whatever may be the special virtue of rum as a spirit, it most certainly has virtues from a ship's storage point of view, and was probably the least harmful of all the substitutes for beer, beyond which the men themselves took kindly to it, and so it gradually ousted all competitors, even beer itself, and in 1831 became the established and official beverage of the Navy.

When first introduced the quantity allowed was two gills (half-pint) daily, one gill at noon, the other at night. About 1740 Admiral Vernon, who was in command of the West Indies Fleet, having cause to complain of the drunkenness of the men, who used to save the midday ration and have a carouse in the evening, gave orders that in future instead of the rum being served out neat, it was to have water mixed with it, which would, of course, prevent it from keeping. Now Admiral Vernon, owing to his wearing clothes made of a species of coarse cloth called grogram, was nicknamed "Old Grog," and the mixture of rum and water was first called "Old Grog's tonic," and after was reduced to grog, by which name it has gone ever since, in fact grog has passed into the English language, and can be found in any standard dictionary to-day defined as "a mixture of spiritsand cold water without sugar."

By 1831, when it became the established drink of the Navy, the daily quantity had been cut down to two half-gills daily, one at noon, the other in the evening. In the "seventies" of last century this was further cut down to one half-gill daily, the established time of issue being "One Bell," 1.30 p.m. Up till the time he is eighteen a young man in the Navy is officially a "boy," on his eighteenth birthday he also officially becomes a "man," and up till the early "eighties" his official elevation from boy to man also ushered in his right to draw his rum and smoke. In the early "eighties" a further encroachment was made on the rum issue, and an order passed that in future no one under the age of twenty should draw rum. At the same time all issues to officers were prohibited. Prior to this officers could purchase rum from the ship's Paymaster, at a charge of one shilling a pint !

Having discussed to whom grog is issued, the quantity issued daily, also the time of issue, we will now enquire into the method of issue and the restrictions surrounding it. Every ship has a spirit room, in which the rum is stored, and this is guarded as carefully as the magazine. It is kept locked, and the key is hung up outside the Captain's cabin door,

where it is under the charge of the sentry on duty at that spot, so can only be obtained by a properly authorised official. At six bells, 11 a.m., every day there assemble outside the spirit room the ship's steward, one of the ship's police, sergeant of Marines, petty officer of the day, and the cooper, known to the lower deck as "Jemmy Bungs." The officer in charge of the issue, invariably a Warrant Officer, appears on the scene with the key, the spirit room is unlocked—there is also a sentry here—a cask of rum is taken out, the bung extracted by the cooper, who then inserts the special pump for extracting the rum. The ship's steward reads out the number of men "victualled for rum," the officer present verifies this by inspecting the book, and the petty officer of the day and sergeant of Marines hold the measures while the exact quantity is being measured off. These two are present to look after the interests of the ship's company and see that the proper quantity of rum is issued from the spirit room.

As the rum is extracted from the rum cask it is placed in the ship's company's rum barrico (pronounced " breaker "). When the exact quantity is drawn off the cask is replaced in the spirit room, which is then locked, and the key returned to its proper place. The rum breaker is also locked by means of a flange which fits over the bung hole. The petty officer of the day and sergeant of Marines then take this away and deposit it on the half-deck under the sentry's charge, the officer taking the key and depositing it in its appointed place.

At a quarter-past twelve the same people, minus the cooper, assemble at the grog tub, and measure off the proper quantity of water—three half-gills of water to every half-gill of rum, making one half-pint of grog for each man. When "one bell" strikes, the bugler sounds off "grog," the petty officer and sergeant of Marines fetch the grog breaker from the half-deck, the officer unlocks it, the rum is poured into the water, and the whole well mixed. Before issuing it to the messes each of the officials present is offered a measure to taste, and see that it is as it should be, and the issue then commences. This is done by messes, one man from each mess appearing at the grog tub to draw his mess's allowance. Men between the ages of eighteen and twenty draw in lieu of grog a money allowance of roughly a halfpenny a day, or, to be exact, Is. 5d. a month, or 4s. 4d. for a quarter of 92 days, or, if they wish, tea and sugar to that value. This also applies to any man who is entitled to his rum, but does not wish to draw it. That, then, is the full and complete history of Jack's rum!




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