WRITTEN IN 1895 BY F.H. MILLER and retyped from a journal of that time.

"Grog aboard and a girl ashore" have been from time immemorial all the solace that Jack asks for.  "Blest with a smiling can of grog", he laughed dangers to scorn and forgot his toils, nay, has even been known to drink the health of his natural enemy, the "Purser."  He even considered a taste for grog as an essential qualification in a sailor's wife:-

"A butcher can provide her prog
Three threads to drink, a tailor;
What's that to biscuit and to grog
Procured her by her sailor?

 

 

 

Whatever may have been the dangers and toils of the week, on Saturday night "the ample can adorned the board" and the toast of "sweethearts and wives" duly honoured.

 

"Each gave the girl that he adored
And pushed the grog about",

 

 

and to such an extent that even when the can was empty

 

"In soft visions gentle sleep
Still pushed the grog about."

 

For many years Jack drank beer in lieu of spirits, and plenty of it, the allowance being a gallon per man per diem, which is, however, not so excessive as it looks when it is remembered that it took the place, not only of spirits, but of cocoa, tea, and even to a great extent of water, the facilities for the preservation of which were limited in the extreme. One some stations wine was often served out in lieu, especially when captures were made of wine-laden ships.

Lord Dundonald gives a curious instance of the fate of one of these captures.  As captain of the "Pallas" he had taken a considerable number of chasse-maree's {French coastal vessels} some of them laden with the finest vintages of the South of France.  After a liberal supply to Admiral Thornborough's squadron there still remained a large stock on hand, which it was found impossible to dispose of by sale.  The Victualling Board, for some inscrutable reason, declined to take over the wine even at the price of the miserable small beer of the day, so that Jack lost a treat, as in the end, to avoid Customs' dues, it became necessary to start the wine overboard with the exception of a small quantity reserved by Lord Dundonald for his personal friends.  "Picture it, think of it," ye lovers of the "finest vintages of the South of France."

The beer supplied was of two descriptions, one a strong ale, issued in iron-bound casks for foreign service, and another of a milder description for the home station, but both seem to have been hopelessly bad.

For some time the supply was entrusted to contractors, but in spite of the most rigid rules laid down - on paper - the quality got worse and worse, then porter was tried, but, apparently without success, as 1800 out of the 3000 butts purchased were resold  by the brewers; as a last resource, Government breweries were established.

The importance of issuing beer of good keeping qualities was enormous.  Ships kept the sea for very much longer periods than at present, fresh provisions were hard to get, scurvy raged, and a good sound beer was an excellent anti-scorbutic.

Even, however, with Government breweries, although the quality improved, good beer for sea-going purposes was not to be had; corruption was rife; the master brewers waxed fat and ships' companies were buried by scores.

Moreover, the difficulty of stowage was enormous, and gradually wine mixed with water and spirits, at first brandy and subsequently rum, were introduced as, at any rate, an alternative ration, that is to say, ships were only supplied with beer while in harbour or for the first few days at sea.

In 1833 brewing finally ceased, and after some slight skirmishing with its rivals - brandy and wine - rum reigned supreme.

At first the allowances - half-a-pint-a-day - in two servings was issued neat, but the evening serving gave rise to so much quarrelling and insubordination, that Admiral Vernon, familiarly known as 'Old Grog' from a grogram coat he wore in dirty weather, instituted the practice of diluting it with water, a practice which it is scarcely necessary to say, earned for the mixture the name it still bears today.

Had he taken the advice of the late esteemed Mr. "Ben the Boatswain," he would surely not have made such a fatal blunder, for Mr, Ben Backstay, in addition to being a good seaman all round, was -

"A very merry boy,
For no one half so merrily could pipe all hands ahoy
And when it chanc'd his summons we didn't well attend
No lad than he more merrily could handle a rope's end"

 

But in an evil moment the Captain, probably as a reward for some deed of "derring do," ordered a double allowance of grog, and "Ben Backstay he got tipsy, all to his hearts content
And being half-seas over, why overboard he went"

and unfortunately, met a shark, who promptly bit off his head.

This would have settled most men, but Ben, with the rare devotion to duty that had distinguished him through life, sent up his ghost, all headless, to implore his comrades to take warning of his fate.

"By drinking grog I lost my life; so lest my fate you meet
Why, never mix your liquor, lads, but always drink in neat"

In spite of this opinion from an expert, it is difficult to exaggerate the evils that resulted from the ration, diluted as it was, especially in the case of the evening serving - drunkedness was the rule rather that the exception, and accidents and offences became innumerable.

Even the lavish use of corporal punishment failed to check the evil.  Lord Nelson and his flag captain Hardy, though humane and generous to a degree, were compelled by their sense of duty to use the utmost rigour to suppress intemperance, and very many corporal punishments for drunkedness are recorded as having taken place on board the "Victory" between August 1st 1803, and October 31st 1804, but without any apparent effect.

It was not so much the quantity, if each man had taken his share, but the practice was - especially after the introduction of tea - for many men to refuse their evening ration, which, in consequence, went to the cook of the day; and there are instances on record of this individual getting the grog of 32 men. A boatswains mate, in giving evidence before a committee in 1850, on being asked what the cook did with it, replied, "He sat down between him and another one [i.e., his mate}, and drank it - with results that need not be stated.

Moreover, it was a common practice to make payments for small services, such as making-up clothes, etc., with rum, so that any man who has a taste that way had plenty of opportunities of satisfying the desire of his heart.

And yet the punishments were severe enough; for instance, Sir, C. Napier in the "Powerful" gave two or three dozen  lashes for the first offence, and four dozen for the second.

Some first lieutenants in their anxiety to save a good man had recourse to expedients not generally recognised in the Service; as for instance, one who as soon as he got into harbour hired a cell on shore and clapped into it a man who though a smart hand, otherwise was an incorrigible drunkard.  This so astonished Jack that he came on the quarter-deck on being released and asked whether the treatment would be repeated every time the ship came into harbour;  on being assured that this would be so, he went sadly away and ruminated, with the result that in a few days' time he requested that his grog might be stopped, after which he rose rapidly and the cells knew him no more.

"Drinking at the tub" was also tried, i.e., instead of grog being served out to the cooks of messes for conveyance to the lower deck, the mess basins of the whole ship's company were arranged in rows by the tub, and each cook got the allowance for his mess in the "Monkey," and divided it into the basins.  Then the men came up and each picked up his basin and drank his grog, passing over the empty basin to the opposite side.  Although this practice acted as an effectual check on drunkedness and found high favour in the eyes of the medical officers, it was generally regarded as contrary to the habits of the Service, and, moreover, seriously interfered with the time allotted for dinner - the Issue, in a large ship, occupying 25 minutes - it was, therefore, seldom adopted except as a mode of punishment.

The evil soon became intolerable, although the ration of spirit had been reduced in 1824 from half-pint to one gill, a reform which was, however, largely neutralized by the substitution of the imperial for the wine measure, a change which added one-fifth to the ration.  After the evening serving quiet men could not go about the ship safely.  To the Committee appointed to enquire into the subject in 1850, it was stated by witness after witness that the great bulk of the crimes and offences committed on board were attributable to the second "tub," and the result was a recommendation to reduce the allowance by half, abolish the evening serving, give no allowance to midshipmen and boys, and to stop the issue of neat spirit altogether.

In 1881 the issue of the spirit ration to officers, other than warrant officers, ceased altogether, while in the case of the ship's company the issue was limited to men aged over twenty.

And here it may be interesting to state the method adopted in serving out the grog, shorn as it is of its former glory as regards its fuddling capacity , but none the less a useful and not un-interesting episode in the life of many a Jack who has not yet adopted teetotal principles.

As, in addition to evaporation and absorption, rum has a peculiar facility for diminishing in bulk from other than strictly natural causes, great precautions are taken as regards the custody of it.  Every forenoon at eleven the quantity required for the day is hoisted up from the spirit room by the cooks of the messes, the allowance for each mess being measured off into the grog beaker or "barricoe" in the presence of an officer and the petty and non-commissioned officers of the day, and placed under the sentry's charge until 12.30.  The rum thus measured out is about 5 percent under proof, but before the bugle sounds "grog" it is mixed with the due proportion of water, i.e., two-thirds of water to one-third of rum.

At the sound of the bugle, the mixture is measured out by the petty officers of the day into the mess kettles brought to the tub by the cooks, who take it to their respective messes and pour half-a-pint into as many basins as there are men in the mess - boys under 20 years of age having, as has been stated, no allowance.  The balance, if any, left in the mess kettle becomes the perquisite of the cook under the description of "plus," or "plush," as Jack prefers to call it, but any remaining in the grog-tub is started down the scuppers.

And now, you may ask, why, the dinner hour being 12, do you not give the poor man his drink until 12.30? Well, it was tried, but it was found that, especially in tropical climates.  Jack came down exhausted and done up generally and tipped off his allowance or a good share of it by way of a "whet," a practice which resulted not infrequently in disease of the liver and stomach.  So now he is required, if he takes his grog at all, to lay a solid foundation before he commences to "inbricate."

The whole of the rum issued comes from the West Indies, and is bought from samples while lying in bond at the docks.  It is then conveyed to Deptford, where it is started into huge vats, varying in capacity from 4,600 gallons to upwards of 32,000.  During the process of starting, the rum, which when received is 40 per cent over proof, is reduced to issuing strength i.e., 4.5 under proof and drawn off as required into various sized casks for issue to H.M. ships and depots at home and abroad.

Not long ago it became necessary to empty one of the largest vats for examination, for the first time in many years, and the process exploded a popular and pleasing tradition that years ago a pet dog had mysteriously disappeared, having last been seen at the brink of the vat, and that to his too inquisitive disposition might be attributed the peculiar twang  which gave the contents of that particular vat a special value in the judgement of connoisseurs; but, like the legend of William Tell, the tradition has vanished in the face of stern facts, for no skeleton was there; but, instead, a considerable variety of bottles with string attached let down by the ingenious and thirsty "matey," and dropped when detection seemed likely.

It is often asked why rum is issued in preference to the fashionable whisky of the present day, but as regards sustaining power there is no comparison between the two.  Rum, or rather the abuse of it, may have much to answer for in the past - it may be looked askance upon in some quarters in the present - indeed a late Civil Lord of the Admiralty of very pronounced teetotal views inquired pathetically, on visiting Deptford, whether the contents of the big vat had ever been worked out into court-martials?  But it is wonderful stuff on a cold day or under great exposure.  If you doubt it, try for yourself - in hot weather under the seductive form of 'stone fence' ; ginger beer, rum and ice.  Cold - try it short, and don't be too liberal with the water.  Out rabbit shooting for instance, after an hour or two in the snow, the merest nip will put quite a new complextion on things, , and although of course you do not require steadying, yet it will not improve the chance of the rabbit.

Note:  Some of the words or their spelling you might be dying to alter or change. This is a an exact copy of the original, with my graphics.

Webmaster's note. In 1897, in a further attempt to moderate the 'rum issue' the rules of issue were changed. Warrant Officers and Senior Warrant Officers [those with 10 years and more seniority as a Warrant Officer] along with Chief Petty Officers were given neat rum. All others, including Petty Officers were given grog, mixed as three parts water with one part rum.  See also this file which continues the story THE_NAVAL_TOT_THE_LAST_CARD_CLIP