The Rum Bosuns from each mess line up in front of the
grog tub, the first steps forward, places the rim of his
fanny on the rim of the grog tub and states his mess
One of the Victualling ratings checks the Spirit Issue
book for the mess concerned and shouts out the
entitlement. Then with lightning speed and a fair degree
of accuracy, the amount required is measured into the
Rum Bosuns fanny.
Once all Rum Bosuns have received their allowance,
there may be grog left over in the tub, the leftovers are
known as 'ullage'. the Victualling ratings will ask the
Witnessing Officer for "permission to ditch the ullage",
meaning that it is poured over the side!
The Witnessing Officer will then sign the Spirit Issue
book to confirm that the correct quantity has been
issued. A small quantity of fresh water is then placed in
the tub before it is stowed ready for the next days issue.
A site reader told how he was the Duty PO supervising the rum issue for a number of years, but never really understood the interchange of jargon between the Victualling ratings - the Spirit Issue book checker and the spirit measurer.
An Ex Victualling colleage kindly gave the explanation below.
Naval issue Sykes Hydrometer.
The gate to Royal Victoria victualing yard, Deptford.
ED&F Man was established by James Man in 1783 as a sugar brokerage and barrel maker. Within a year of starting his business, he had secured an exclusive contract to supply rum to the Royal Navy. The firm continued its expansion with his grandsons, Edward Desborough & Frederick, trading sugar, coffee, cocoa and a variety of other commodities.
ED&F Man held the Royal Navy rum brokerage contract continuously, from 1784, until the RN rum issue abolition, in 1970. 186 years all told. In the early years, rum for the Admiralty was purchased from Jamaica, in later years, from various origins, as specified by the Admiralty for their blend, always under bond. When the R.N. terminated the rum issue, in 1970, Mans closed their rum department.
Man's stored rum under bond, prior to delivery to
the victualling yards. Captain James Pack's book,
Nelsons Blood, has an appendix that describes the
process of rum being obtained from Man's bonded
warehouses and 'started' in the vats at the
Deptford Victualling Yard, later called Royal
Victoria Yard, Deptford.
Royal Victoria yard closed in 1961, it was then
developed for housing etc, I therefore assume that
the rum blending and issuing facilities at Deptford
were closed at the same time. ( Anyone who has a
wicker jar with a wax seal from Deptford after 1961
can prove me wrong! ).
It is not known to me whether Clarence Yard in
Gosport and Royal William Yard in Plymouth were
also blending and issuing rum at the same time as
Royal Victoria Yard, Deptford. They certainly were
once Deptford had closed, as Man's continued to
deliver to both Clarence and Royal William yards
Rum was not blended by Man's, Man's supplied rum
direct from the still, clear, at around 40% overproof.
When 'started' into the storage vats, the rum would be
reduced in strength, as close as possible to issuing
strength - 4.5% underproof, by the addition of water.
Blending of the rum to the Admiralty specification was
carried out by civilian staff in the Victualling Yards. In
certain quarters, the blend is advised as being 'secret',
however, anyone who attended PO's Leadership
Course in the 60's will know differently. 'Trainees' were
advised that the blend of Royal Navy rum is:
60% Demerara 30% Trinidad 10% Australia & Natal
If there is indeed a secret, I think it likely that it has more
to do with how the rum obtained it's distinctive colour,
which clearly adds to the flavour also. The Admiralty
Victualling Manual - BR93, advises that caramel was added,
some even believe that light treacle was also an addition.
In the last decade of issue, there were two 'Yards' blending rum, Clarence Yard and Royal William Yard. Even though blending was being carried out at both yards, the rum from both was remarkably similar!
Rum Bosun's line up at the grog tub.
The method of delivering the daily issue was not standardised across the entire fleet, the method used depended on several factors, the size of the vessel / establishment, the routine desired by the Captain, XO etc.
The image far left shows the issue on a County Class Destroyer. The grog has been mixed in the 'canteen flat'. The victualing ratings are pouring out individual tots and placing on a table.
Those entitled show their 'tot card' to the regulating PO, he clips their card and they pass through, take a glass and drink it in the regulating PO's sight. Not a popular method of issuing the tot as you can only drink your own, no 'sippers' etc.
Grog tub, 'round' copper measures and fannies of fresh water
Grog issued to rum bosuns at the tub was measured out to each mess as such:
AnnouncedAmountNumber & type of copper round measures to
fromthe Spirit Bookfulfil announced amount.
0.3= 3 x half gills = 1 tot of grog 1½ Gill Measure
0.6= 6 x half gills = 2 tots of grog ½ Pint + Gill Measures
1.1= 9 x half gills = 3 tots of grog 1 Pint + ½ Gill Measures
1.4= 12 x half gills = 4 tots of grog 1 Pint + ½ Pint Measures
1.7= 15 x half gills = 5 tots of grog 1 Pint + ½ Pint + 1½ Gill Measures
2.2= 18 x half gills = 6 tots of grog 1 Quart + Gill Measures
2.5= 21 x half gills = 6 tots of grog 1 Quart + ½ Pint + ½ Gill Measures
3.0= 24 x half gills = 8 tots of grog 1 Quart + Pint Measures
3.3= 27 x half gills = 9 tots of grog 1 Quart + Pint + 1½ Gill Measures
3.6= 30 x half gills= 10 tots of grog 1 Quart + Pint + ½ Pint + 1 Gill Measures
4.1= 33 x half gills = 11 tots of grog 1 Half Gallon + ½ Gill Measure
Considering the case where the Spirit Book checker announces a
required amount is "3.6" - this is 10 tots, or 30 half gills - to measure
out 30 half gills from the tub requires 1 Quart, 1 Pint, 1 half pint and
one gill measure.
To save time, a single half gallon may be measured into the Rum Bosuns
fanny ( 32 half gills ), and then a gill measure removed from his fanny
( two half gills ) - leaving the required amount - 30 half gills.
'Tot time' was an important 'lower deck' event, it was when the tot was issued and favours arranged and paid for. Grog was an unofficial currency, giving rise to a loosely defined payment system - 'sippers', a small sip from someone's tot, for a small favour. 'Gulpers' one mouthful from someone's tot, for a favour of increasing worth/trouble, and 'sandy bottoms', drinking someone's entire tot, for a very big favour indeed. Finishing off someone's tot for a 'sandy bottom' was very much frowned upon, it was considered the right thing to do for the recipient to leave the giver with a 'sippers' for himself!
Wicker covered, gallon rum jar and wax seal.
Another alternate rum issue method is shown in the image right.
Rum for mixing the grog will have come from the 1 gallon wicker covered jar and measured into the 4 gallon aluminium fanny.
With the grog being issued from the fanny this could possibly be a mismuster for quite a large number of people.
The issue is also being undertaken out doors.
The image below, also outdoors, could very well be a mismuster too. The tub is inverted and the issue being measured out using lipped measures.
A 'Boatswains Call'. 'Pipe' 'timing diagram' for the The spoken order - 'Up Spirits'
Rum filled into casks at Royal William Yard. Plymouth. Rum filled into gallon wicker jars at Royal Victoria
Once the days ration had been issued to the Senior Rates messmen, the quantity of neat rum required for the Junior Rates issue was poured from lipped measures into a barricoe. ( To avoid spillage, a funnel was inserted into the barricoe ).
The barricoe's bung was then inserted, a brass hasp brought down over the top and padlocked shut, the Witnessing Officer retaining the key, until the time arrives for mixing the grog.
The Victualling Department ratings, from the Issuing Party, then clean and stow the pump, lipped measures and funnels etc, which remain in the Spirit Room, ready for the next days issue.
The barricoe is then carried to the grog issue location, the Spirit Room is locked shut and the key returned to the 'Important Keyboard' stowage.
The image left shows the 'lipped' measure ready to pour the rum into the 'barricoe'.
Issue of grog to those entitled in the canteen flat. Tot card.
Barricoe, funnel and one gallon lipped measure.
Before a daily issue could take place, the quantity of neat spirit required for the day's issue needed to be ascertained. A list of the spirit ration due to each mess needed to be complied.
The list was compiled by counting the numbers borne for victualing in mess books and subtracting the number who are checked ( not entitled ) for spirit: for example officers, "T" ratings ( temperance ) and "UA" ( under age ).
Once a preliminary total for each mess had been ascertained, further deductions were made for those who's spirit ration has been 'stopped', for example absence from ship, under punishment and sickness etc .
The final figure for each mess was recorded in the 'Daily Issue Spirit Book'. Adding the final figure for each mess together gives the number of half gill measures required to be drawn from the spirit room for the days issue.
The spirit ration was normally issued daily, at dinner time, but the issue may be postponed until later in the day by the Captain.
I have seen much written about the next stage of the process - those with a yearning for days of sail advise that the 'up spirits' pipe was made at 'six bells in the forenoon watch', the reality was that the up spirits 'pipe' ( the 'General call', blown on a 'Boatswains Whistle' - followed by the spoken order 'Up Spirits' ) was normally at the same time each day, however, at a time between 11am and midday, dependant upon the size of vessel or establishment.
The 'pipe' was made via the main broadcast system, it would therefore be heard throughout the ship / establishment.
The image above left shows a Boatswains Call, the centre image shows the timing diagram for the 'General Call', followed by the spoken order 'Up Spirits'.
The order 'up spirits', was the command that triggered the 'Witnessing Officer'
and the 'issuing party' to go to the spirit room. The issuing party 'make up'
was dependant upon size of vessel, but would broadly contain a Petty Officer
or Royal Marine equivalent, for regulating duties, and if available, two members
of the Victualling Department, one with the 'spirit issue book' with details of
quantities of rum per mess, the other to assist in mixing the grog and making
The 'spirit pump' would be inserted into a cask and rum pumped from the cask
into lipped measures, until the quantity required had been removed from the
cask. Such quantity would be recorded in the 'stock ledger'.
Should a new cask need to be broached, then the procedure described earlier
would be observed.
The issue of neat spirit to the messmen of Chief Petty Officers and Petty
Officers was made first, the messman stating the entitlement for the mess, the
quantity verified, issued and ticked off in the spirit issue book by the Victualling
Department rating. The messmen then taking the rum back to their respective
Senior Rates messes for issue.
( Senior Rates were entitled to draw their tot neat ).
The image right shows how a spirit pump would have been placed into a cask
to pump out rum. The more accurate ( compared to 'round measures' ) lipped
measure used for measuring the neat spirit. This process would have taken
place inside the Spirit Room.
Spirit pump ready to remove and
measure rum from a cask.
With the grog ration for his mess in the fanny, the Rum
Bosun now makes his way back to the mess. The mess
table will have been cleared, the grog issue glasses
and 1½ Gill Bakelite measure will already be set out,
awaiting his return. The mess members will be waiting
with keen anticipation.
The Rum Bosun takes an empty glass, fills it from the
fanny and pours the rum into the 1½ Gill bakelite
measure, the excess overflowing into the fanny.
The full 1½ gill measure is now poured into the empty
glass, the Rum Bosun gives the tot to the first mess
member, he gives it back to the Rum Bosun, as he is
entitled to a 'sippers' from everybody's tot. Should the
mess be using a 'ticker off board', then the 'ticker off' is
offered 'sippers' as well, what is left is 'drank', never
sipped, by the recipient.
The process continues until all those entitled have had
their tot - there may be mess members on watch who
are not able to attend 'tot time', their 'tots' are put aside
Any grog remaining is termed 'Queens', the Rum Bosun places this in a glass and offers it around for all to take 'sippers' until it is gone.
The glasses are wiped on the outside and stowed away for the next days 'tot time', as is the mess 'rum fanny'. The rum fanny will never be cleaned on the inside, as the gradual build up of rum deposits adds to the flavour!
After having had their tot, the mess heads off for 'hands to dinner'.
Both of the images above show rum supplies being prepared for issue. The image left shows casks being filled at Royal William Yard, Plymouth, the image right, wicker covered gallon jars being filled at Royal Victoria Yard, Deptford.
Rum was supplied by the Victualling Yards to
the larger ships and fleet shore
establishments in half hogsheads ( 27
Gallons ), kilderkins ( 18 gallons ) or small
casks ( 9 gallons ) ( firkins ).
Rum casks ( of all sizes ) have their chimbs
( ends ) painted red. Rum casks are marked by
the victualing yards with a serial number, the
date of filling and their actual contents of spirit
( not with their gross capacity ).
The image far left shows a kilderkin cask, the
image near left, the end of the same cask,
showing it's markings.
'REY' denotes filled at Royal Elizabeth Yard.
10 3/8 denoted it contains 10 gallons & 3 pints.
6/68 advises filled in June 1968 and 79
denotes it is cask number 79.
Once the yard has received a demand for rum, the quantity required is drawn off into casks. The bungs are left loose for several days, as some of the rum will be absorbed into the oak cask. Before shipping, the casks are topped up to the required quantity and the bungs correctly fitted and shived off, then scribed across.
In filling casks, it is necessary to displace a certain quantity of spirit to provide for expansion due to any rise in temperature. Exclusion amount depended on size of the cask and varied from 3 gills to 3 and 3/4 gills. Rum jars were always filled with one gallon of rum.
The method used by victualing yards to ensure that rum casks contain the correct quantity is to weigh the cask carefully, before and after filling, and to calculate the volume of spirit from the weight. This gives more accurate results than measuring.
Small vessels are supplied with rum
in one gallon stone jars bound with
Rum jars have a red band painted on
the wicker, to show that they contain
rum, as vinegar was also supplied in
wicker covered jars.
After filling, rum jars were sealed with
the Admiralty or victualing yard seal
before leaving the yard.
The image near right shows a red
banded, one gallon, wicker covered
rum jar. The image far right, shows
the victualing yard seal, applied after
the jar had been filled.
Hot red wax is ran over the cork
stopper and the yard seal applied -
In this case 'Southern Area' 12-70.
( Royal Clarence Yard, filled in
December 1970 - after abolition ).
The original intention for this section was to write about the history of rum in the royal navy - it's importation, distribution and eventual consumption.
Regarding the history of rum in the RN, I decided that there was little point in trying to re-invent the wheel ... Captain James Pack did such a good job with his book, Nelson's Blood - the story of Naval Rum.
I highly recommend Captain Pack's book to anyone who has an interest in the history of rum in the Royal Navy.
There are also a number of online articles that cover the history of rum in the Royal Navy very well.
Once a cask was open and in use, a process existed that allowed for small losses that may occur during opening or topping up a cask and in withdrawing and measuring the quantities required for the daily issue. Such losses were termed 'loss on issue'. It is the quantity of rum missing when comparing the marked contents of a cask to the total quantity actually withdrawn from the cask and issued as spirit rations.
Loss on issue was carefully noted when a cask became empty and recorded in the stock ledger, it should not exceed 1.5% of the marked contents of the cask
Rum casks delivered to a warship.
Bung hole cut into the 'bung Stave' - hoop rivets in line with the bung hole.
The rules for opening a cask were quite specific. Care was to be taken that rum casks are opened strictly in the order of date of receipt on board, unless one may be found to be leaking or under/over strength. In which case, it could be used first. The number of the cask, the marked contents, the date received and the date of opening are to be recorded in the 'provision account'.
The procedure to follow for the removal of the bung is
described as such: The bungs of rum casks are to be
extracted by use of an iron 'pricker'. The cutting edge
of the pricker is to be placed in line with the grain of the
wood, between the centre and edge of the bung, and
then driven in diagonally, thus breaking out the bung.
The pricker was not to come in contact with the bung
stave, as this may render the cask unserviceable.
The rivets of hoops of tight casks are placed in line with
the bung to readily indicate it's position, as shown in the
All rum casks supplied to ships/establishments had the
measured contents scribed into the barrel end, ( the
amount of rum that the victualling yard had put into the
cask ). The 'marked contents' was the quantity of rum that the
receiving ship/establishment would take on charge into
it's stores account ledger - without having to open the
barrel and physically measure the volume supplied at
the time of receipt (an impossibly time consuming and labour intensive task). Additionally - at each stocktake, the
'marked contents' as they were shown on the cask end, were accepted as a true record of the volume within the
barrel, negating the need to open and measure the contents of every barrel in the spirit room at every
The image below shows the marking on the end of a cask filled in SWA ( South Western Area - Plymouth ). The cask was number 8 to be filled in October 1968. It's marked contents are 10 gallons and 1 pint.
Bearing in mind that the recorded volume of rum in the barrel
was the volume accepted as being true, when the barrel was
eventually opened, and before any rum was removed from
the cask - the volume was measured using a 'notched broom
stick' style measure. ( The notched broomstick was not a
naval stores supplied item and was 'made on board' ).
It was used to determine how much rum was in the barrel as
soon as it was opened.
Inserting the stick into the barrel wet the stick up to the fill
level, which could then be read off.
In a Kilderkin cask, it was not uncommon to find a difference
of 2 pints between the marked contents and the actual
contents. The difference likely due to evaporation and
absorption into the cask. Such a case would mean that the
physical stock, from the marked contents, as shown in the
ledgers, was down by 2 pints. The Victualling
Department were then permitted to write off those two pints
asR.T.F. (Required to Fill). i.e. It would have taken those 2
pints to bring the barrel back up to it's marked content.
An 'Officer Of The Day' or Supply Officer Certificate would authorise the RTF. Incidentally. The bung hole needed to be perfectly perpendicular, the broomstick vertical - and touching the bottom of the barrel, in order to exact a true measure.
The Naval Victualling Manual ( BR93 ) advises that any cask needing an excessive quantity to fill should be the subject on an enquiry and the results communicated to the victualing yard from where it was received.
Kilderkin cask and end markings.
A mismuster issue using lipped measures.
Converted rum store at Royal Victoria Yard, Deptford.
Supply of rum to the Royal Navy.
The daily issue.
The Supply Officer, ( or officer responsible for victualing duties ) had responsibility for administration of the rum stock. With true military precision, every drop that comes aboard, either a vessel or shore establishment, needs to be accounted for, and the 'books' must balance.
When a delivery of casks is received, the bungs are inspected. When a cask is prepared for shipment at the victualing yards, the bungs are driven into the casks and shaved off, lines are then scribed across the bung stave and the bung, any misalignment when the cask is received at destination shows that the bung has been tampered with.
Rules and regulations laid down in the Victualling Manual
dictate how every aspect of the supply and issue of rum
should be carried out. Procedures for bringing rum found
to be below issuing strength ( 4.5% underproof ) back to
the required strength, and also the reverse, bringing rum
found to be over strength back to issuing strength. The
latter could arise if a local purchase of rum was required
( overseas ).
The actual strength of the rum was ascertained by use of
a Sykes Hydrometer, shown in the image left.
Rum being drawn from a cask using a spirit pump - measured into a 'lipped' type measure.
Marked Contents 10 gallons and 1 pint.
Out doors issue from a 4 gallon fanny
Once rum has been delivered to a warship, either in casks or wicker covered jars, it needs to be stored in the 'spirit room' - under lock and key. Because of the flammable nature of the spirit, and it's fumes, the spirit room is fitted with forced ventilation and emergency flooding arrangements - in event of a fire.
No naked lights are allowed in the spirit room.
The keys to the spirit room are required to be kept on the 'Important Keyboard' under a sentry's charge. Each time the key is issued and returned, it is to be recorded in the 'key book'. The 'important keyboard' sentry will have a list on those persons who may draw the key and specimens of their signatures.
A member of the regulating staff ( naval police ) is always to be present when the spirit room is opened, and to remain until it is closed and locked.
The image left, shows the inside of a spirit room, rum being drawn from a cask using a spirit pump, directly into a lipped measure. Other casks are stored in the lattice framework behind and in front of the man drawing the rum.
Hardback (left) and paperback (right) editions of Captain James Pack's book - Nelson's Blood.