To prepare for a face off, the iron men in their wooden ships found both revival and salvation in Pusser’s Rum, as well as companionship for downtime reverie. From the earliest days of the Royal Navy, these foolhardy brave hearts were issued a daily ration or “tot” of rum by the ship’s “Purser,” a word the sailors later coined as “Pusser.”
This rum tradition rewarded heroism and eased defeat from 1655 until 1970, when some of the higher-ups decided rum was having too much fun with the sailing men. Blame it on the above deck skirmishes or the below deck antics, or simply sea legs getting the better of the jolly Jack Tars. We like to think the Royal Navy just wanted to keep the sea’s best kept secret—and best tasting one—to themselves.
The history of rum in the Royal Navy was largely that of social change, both in Great Britain and the Royal Navy. From 1650 throughout the 18th century, shipboard life was incredibly difficult. The daily issue of Pusser’s Rum was the highlight of the day. In those days, battles were fought “eyeball-to-eyeball.” The mental alertness and courage required to pack a cannonball into a muzzleloader were far different from that required to operate the modern weapon systems of today. Thus in 1970, the Admiralty Board decreed that there was no place for the daily issue of rum in a modern navy, and so ended the daily issue of Pusser’s Rum in the Royal Navy on July 31st, 1970. This date since then is referred to as Black Tot Day.
The rum issue, one of the longest and unbroken traditions in seafaring history, ended as the last tot of Pusser’s was drunk on board Their Majesties Ships. “Round the world” in every ship of the Navy, glasses were raised in their final salute. “The Queen!” they said, and it’s no exaggeration to say that at that moment, many a strong man shed a tear at the passing of a tradition so old and fine, that was to be no more.