A rum deal: The origins of Nelson’s blood

Rum has been a huge part of Britain’s heritage for as long as we can remember. We explore the history of “Nelson’s Blood” in the Navy, ahead of our Halloween event Voyage of the Damned (now sold out).

From around 1655, a pint of rum was the usual ration handed to each sailor in the Royal Navy every day, half served at 12 noon and the second half at about 5 or 6pm (though the amount decreased in following years). Better known as Pusser’s Rum, the name a corruption of Purser – the person who issued the rum each day – sailors had a daily tot of rum until the practice ended on 31 July 1970.

Legend has it that Pusser’s Rum is sometimes referred to as ‘Nelson’s Blood’, because after the great Admiral Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar, in 1805, in which his body was preserved in a cask of spirits, holes were drilled into the sides and the liquid drained. Sailors essentially drank his blood during the long journey.

On the 17th December 1969 The Admiralty, concerned that a lunchtime slug of rum would hinder sailors’ ability to operate increasingly complex weapons systems and navigational tools, decided to stop the rum ration altogether.

Six months later, the Royal Navy’s official love affair with rum was ended on 31st July 1970, a day that became known as Black Tot Day.  The final tot was poured as usual at six bells in the forenoon watch (11am) after the pipe of ‘up spirits’.

Some sailors wore black arm bands; tots were ‘buried at sea’ and even mock funeral processions complete with coffin, accompanying drummers and piper commiserated the occasion; it was a day of mourning that prompted headlines in newspapers like The Sun – “Yo-ho-ho! Rebel Jacks threaten mutiny”.

Pusser's Rum

Nelson’s Blood 

Sharer Recipe (up to 10 people)


350ml Pusser’s Rum 40% ABV

200ml Finest Call Peach Puree

500ml Cranberry juice

300ml Pineapple juice

15 dashes Angostura’s Bitters


  1. Pour all ingredients into a cocktail sharing vessel, filled with ice
  2. Garnish with lime and orange wedges