A rum deal: The origins of Nelson’s blood

Queen's House

Visitor Notice: On Friday 22 November, the Queen's House will be closed to the public. Access to our grounds will be limited on the day.

Rum has long been a part of Britain’s maritime heritage - but what is the real history of “Nelson’s Blood”? Find out more about rum and the Navy below.

How much rum did sailors drink?

From around 1655, a pint of rum was the usual ration handed to each sailor in the Royal Navy. It was served every day, half at 12 noon and the second half at about 5 or 6pm (though the amount decreased in following years).

The rum ration was known as 'Pusser’s Rum'. The name is a corruption of Purser – the person who issued the rum each day.

Sailors were given a daily tot of rum until the practice ended on 31 July 1970.

Why is rum called 'Nelson's Blood?

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 17 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, on 31 July 1970, the Royal Navy’s official love affair with rum ended. The final tot was poured as usual at six bells in the forenoon watch (11am) after the pipe of ‘up spirits’. 

The day became known as Black Tot Day. Some sailors wore black arm bands; tots were ‘buried at sea’ and even mock funeral processions complete with coffin, accompanying drummers and piper marked the occasion

It was a day of mourning that prompted headlines in newspapers like The Sun's “Yo-ho-ho! Rebel Jacks threaten mutiny”.

Nelson’s Blood recipe

Sharer Recipe (up to 10 people)

Ingredients:

350ml Pusser’s Rum 40% ABV

200ml Finest Call Peach Puree

500ml Cranberry juice

300ml Pineapple juice

15 dashes Angostura’s Bitters

Method:

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