A (Non-)Historical past of Jamaica in British Navy Rum

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It’s widespread data Within the rum world from sheer repetition: The fabled British Navy rum, served to bluejackets for 3 centuries, is a mix of rums from the 4 Horsemen of British Colonial  rum: Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, and Trinidad.

It’s an interesting narrative. Who doesn’t love funky Jamaican rum? (Mrs. Wonk will come round ultimately — I hope.)

It sounds prefer it have to be true. In spite of everything, the 1654 Penn-Venables expedition that annexed Jamaica to the British crown is cited as the beginning of British Navy’s each day rum ration for sailors. (It wasn’t.) And within the 18th and 19th centuries, Jamaica was a first-tier Empire rum producer. Certainly generations of thirty British sailors consumed loads of Jamrock’s most interesting.

But… generally legends are simply myths or half-truths.

Fortunately, in our fashionable period of Google and close to infinite computing assets, historical past is far nearer to our fingertips. We will test authentic sources somewhat than simply counting on what a model tells you. So, let’s resolve this. Whereas we’re at it, let’s see if we are able to be taught what the legendary “navy rum mix” was.

Within the 1600s, the British navy primarily ran on beer, wine, and brandy. Since liquid provisions have been saved in picket cask, usually in scorching climates, spoilage was a severe situation. A little bit of alcohol helped preserve it unspoiled for a bit. As soon as the water turned undrinkable and slimy shortly into the expedition, beer was the following neatest thing. The alcohol, nevertheless low energy, helped preserve it drinkable for longer. Wine, with its increased ABV, lasted longer however removed from indefinitely.

Fortunately, the clever navy provisioners additionally despatched ships out to sea with distilled spirits, e.g. brandy. At round fifty p.c alcohol or extra, spirits lasted virtually indefinitely.

By the 1700s, the British fleet was swarming the Caribbean, and rum was available throughout Caribbean expeditions. 1731 introduced a declaration of a each day ration of wine or rum whereas on overseas stations. It took a number of extra a long time for the admiralty to declare that every one sailors, irrespective of the place primarily based, would obtain a each day ration of one thing alcoholic. Brandy was a standard alcoholic ration within the 1700s.

Throughout this period, the navy contracted with corporations like Mure, Son, Atkinson to provision the fleet throughout its globe-stretching empire with required requirements – meals, provides, clothes, and booze!  In these days, its doubtless that such retailers imported (or bought) single supply puncheons of brandy or rum to satisfy their contracts. There’s little to recommend these provide retailers blended rums, and definitely to not any navy specification.

At first of the 1800s, information recommend the navy’s victualling board took over all rum purchases, specifying supply to a few victualling yards in London (Deptford), Gosport, and Plymouth. The navy periodically marketed they have been accepting bids to provide rum to them. Among the many service provider who received such bids have been a Mr. Lemon Hart and a Mr. Alfred Lamb.

Based mostly on the value and offered rum samples, the victualling board determined what to buy. It wasn’t nearly what was most cost-effective. Contracts for as much as 200,000 gallons have been routinely signed a number of occasions per 12 months. However what occurred when all these rum puncheons arrived on the victualling yards? By 1840, if not earlier, giant vatting methods have been in place:

… nothing more clearly points out the advantage of large stock than the improvement which is observed in the quality of rum after storage by the Victualling Board in their extensive vats.

Though we don’t know the extent of the early vatting methods, later notes from Deptford’s victualling yard report over thirty vats in use, comprising a complete capability of over 250,000 gallons.

Questions on what went into the navy’s vats are virtually as outdated as rum ration itself. The brief reply: It relies upon.

Previous to the navy mixing rums, believed to have been within the early 1800s, it’s troublesome to ascribe any explicit recipe to navy rum. Nevertheless, it’s cheap to imagine that what the navy purchased is what was of their mix.

With the onset of the victualling board’s contract bid bulletins (see above), we now have some insights. In reviewing many profitable bid information, it’s clear the navy hardly ever specified particular nations, aside from maybe Jamaica. Most descriptions of rums bought specified West Indies, Leeward Islands, and even East Indies, e.g. what’s now modern-day India.  (Word: The Leeward islands included Antigua, Saint Kitts, Nevis, the Virgin Islands, and others.)

An 1834 newspaper report sheds mild on an early buy, indicating that Jamaican rum was bought:[i]

"NAVY CONTRACTS -- The Lords Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral yesterday took contracts for "75,000 gallons of Jamaica rum for the use of the navy."

Nevertheless, an analogous 1839 report signifies that the navy wasn’t buying solely Jamaican rum. [ii]

Proof Leewards, the description of rum usually taken for the navy, has risen to 3s. 8d. a gallon in bond

Proof Leewards is presumably rum from the Leeward Islands at proof — 57% ABV. The next 12 months the navy even bought from non-colonial sources – together with Brazil![iii]

So great is the falling off in the supply of rum, that the Government have taken foreign rum into consumption in the navy
Q: [ Mr. Irving] What foreign rum?
A: Brazil rum, and any other rum they can get.

Many different examples (too quite a few to quote right here) level to the navy’s rum purchases altering to swimsuit financial and geopolitical realities of the time. The rise and fall of the Caribbean sugar and rum trade, in addition to wartime shortages impacted what the navy may purchase within the amount wanted – usually hundreds of thousands of gallons per 12 months.

Equally, new rum sources got here on-line. For instance, British Guiana rum (aka Demerara) didn’t grow to be the most important colonial rum exporter till it overtook Jamaica within the mid-1800s. Naturally, the navy built-in these new suppliers the place doable.

(Word: Demerara and British Guiana have been usually used interchangeably in colonial period doc to explain rum from what’s modern-day Guyana. I’ve left these phrases unmodified beneath.)

Its clear from many sources that the victualling commissioners bought Jamaican rum, in addition to many different kinds of rums throughout the 1800s. Nevertheless, because the 20th century got here round, the scenario modified.

Because the 19th century drew to an in depth, Britain’s colonial rum makers have been in dire straits. In some ways an evolve or die scenario. To that finish, some Jamaican producers began making even heavier, ester-charged rums commanding a better worth.

One motivation for this was that Germany beginning taxing imported spirits very extremely. In response, German importers sought out very heavy, excessive ester Jamaican rums to import in small portions –rum focus, successfully. [iv] They blended heavy Jamaican rum with domestically made impartial spirits to make rum verschnitt:

The high priced rum that they make in Jamaica is not fit for direct consumption; it goes to Bremen for mixing purposes. The best Jamaica rum fetches the high price it does because it possesses the power of imparting its flavour to six or seven times its own bulk of "silent" or beet spirit "made in Germany," enabling the whole to be sold as Jamaica rum.

As Jamaican producers moved in the direction of heavier, dearer rums, the Navy had much less causes to buy it. The flavour profile or worth weren’t what they have been in search of. (Word: This isn’t to say the Jamaicans weren’t making heavy rums beforehand, however the industrial alternatives and work of Ashby and Cousins definitely moved them additional in that path.)

The 1908 Royal Fee on Whiskey and Different Potable Spirits is a treasure trove of particulars for spirit historians. Among the many luminaries interviewed was Frederic Henry Dumas Man of the E.D.&F. Man, the corporate which, amongst different issues, have been rum brokers to the British admirality:

Q: You are employed by the Admiralty, are you not?    A: Yes, we buy their rum.
Q: Do you buy all the rum for the Navy?    A: Yes, all.

Quizzed in regards to the navy mix, he gives an early trace that Jamaican rum wasn’t favored:

Q: The bulk of the Navy rum, what is that?   A: That would be proof rum—not Jamaica.

Q: Proof rum, I take it, is an expression of your own over there?
A: A trade expression. It means to say that the rum is sold per proof gallon.

Q: But that rum is largely patent still rum?   A: Chiefly patent still rum.

Word: Patent nonetheless rum is what we at present name steady, or column nonetheless rum. On the time, Jamaica had solely pot stills, so none of it could be patent nonetheless rum.

Parliamentary testimony[v] from 1924 paints an image of the navy’s mix as primarily from Demerara and Trinidad:

The cost price to the Admiralty of rum ration is about ¾d. per man, and the rum is obtained principally from Demerara and Trinidad.

Moreover, navy correspondence[vi] from 1925 paints a really clear image that Jamaica was a small participant within the navy’s mix due to its unsuitability beneath regular circumstances:

..the high quality of Jamaica Rum is recognised by Their Lordships, but that its distinctive quality and flavour, which gain for it so high a place in the estimation of the general public, rather militate against its use in the Navy for two reasons, first, because it can usually command a higher price than other Rums owing to those distinctive properties, and secondly, because the Navy is accustomed to and prefers a Blend which does not possess the characteristic flavour of Jamaica Rum…

But extra parliamentary proceedings[vii] from 1933 provides this:

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Bolton Eyres Monsell) Navy rum as issued to the Fleet is a blend of rums bought on the London market, all Empire products, including Jamaica when price permits. The blend is in such proportions as long experience has shown to produce the flavour preferred by the men. The blending process is carried out at the Deptford Victualling Yard, where the rum is stored in vats before issue to ships. This procedure is the most economical and the most practical.
Captain BALFOUR Could my right hon. Friend say what proportion of the rum used is Jamaica rum?
Sir B. EYRES MONSELL A very small proportion, owing to its price and owing to its not being liked by men in the Navy.

Essentially the most authoritative tackle Jamaican rum use within the navy mix is the navy’s personal documentation – right here, the 1939 Victualling handbook states:[viii]

Navy Rum is purchased in the open market upon sample. It consists of a blend of West Indian (mainly Demerara and Trinidad) with proportions of Natal and Mauritius Rums. Jamaica rum is rarely purchased, as owing to its characteristic aromatic flavour, its use would have a marked effect on the flavour of the blend to which the Fleet has now become accustomed.

When 20th century descriptions of the navy mix are offered, the widespread theme is of Demerara rum as the first part, with Trinidad rum in a powerful second place. The remaining parts have been bit gamers and adjusted over time.

Earlier I discussed exterior circumstances altering navy rum purchases from their most popular course. World Struggle II was definitely one such event. Confronted with the necessity for 3.Three million gallons of rum in 1944, the admiralty needed to scramble, ultimately holding its nostril and buying Jamaican rum:[ix]

The Major contributor of B.W.I. Rum will be Jamaica.
The Admiralty had not however taken Jamaican Rum before because of its unsuitability (under normal conditions) for blending with the other types of Rum bought, but have to accept some on this occasion owing to the much increased requirements this year.

Ultimately, the navy sourced rums in 1944 from Jamaica, Demerara, Barbados, and Trinidad. Curiously, in addition they turned to Cuba and Martinique for rum — an attention-grabbing story for an additional time.

The navy’s acceptance of Jamaican rum into the mix doesn’t appear to have prolonged past the top of the battle. A 1956 parliamentary transcript gives an up to date mix:[x]

1956 - Mr. Ward - The countries of origin from which Navy rum is obtained are British Guiana, Trinidad, Barbados, South Africa and Australia. The proportion obtained from British Guiana is 60 per cent
.

Word that whereas British Guiana, Trinidad, and Barbados are within the mix, Jamaica is just not. As for Mauritius rum talked about within the victualling handbook, it was presumably only a short-term provider in a time of want.


A last glimpse into the Royal Navy’s mix comes from an interesting 1966 information report filmed on the Royal William victualling yard in Plymouth. Sadly, the video is restricted to UK viewers — until you’re proficient with VPNs or different technical workarounds. In it, the navy mix is described as sixty p.c Demerara, thirty p.c Trinidad, and ten p.c Barbados and Australia.

1966 Royal William Yard Video

At this level within the story, one other participant must be launched: The British military. Just like the navy, the military gave its troopers rum, particularly in occasions of fight. There was no assured each day ration, however the military was additionally buying rum for its troops.

What was the military shopping for? Nice query. There appears to be fewer obtainable information of the military’s purchases. Nevertheless, we do consider that at sure occasions, military rum was blended at navy victualling yards, though stored utterly separate.

There’s nothing suggesting that military and navy rum was interchangeable. Was the military shopping for Jamaican rum? It’s doable, however I’ve acquired no proof for or in opposition to this. Additionally of word, military rum was usually issued in gallon flagons (stoneware jars). These have been comparable look to navy rum flagons that have been additionally issued in circumstances the place a cask was too huge.

Given the historical past above, it’s unattainable to argue that Jack Tars by no means had Jamaican rum throughout navy rum’s 315-year historical past.

Nevertheless, if a rum is claimed to be made within the model of British Navy rum, presumably the admiralty’s purchases or mixing information have been consulted. Barring that, on would possibly search to emulate navy rum’s taste profile. Both approach, we have to be sincere about what meaning.  

Excluding a quick second throughout the Second World Struggle, Jamaica was hardly ever a part of the navy’s mix within the 20th century. If it was current, it wasn’t the predominant taste. The sailors didn’t prefer it, so stated the navy.

Essentially the most detailed data on the navy’s mix comes from the primary seven a long time of the 20th century. These information present little or no Jamaican rum was used.

If one takes the “mix to match tastes” method, one should begin with a reference level. Since there’s assuredly extra 20th century actual navy rum round than from prior centuries, it is smart {that a} 20th century rum could be the benchmark. However once more, Jamaican rum was nearly absent from 20th century blends.

Client navy rums stretching again to the 1930s largely respect that actuality. The large navy rum manufacturers of the mid-20th century have been Lamb’s, Lemon Hart, and Caroni. The primary two labeled themselves as Demerara rums, the latter as Trinidad.[xi] That is in step with the acknowledged 20th century blends.

Even Pusser’s, the trendy incarnation of shopper navy rum, makes little or no declare to a Jamaican heritage. The navy’s rum sources have been initially offered to Pusser’s by ED&F Man in 1979. By their very own admission, Pusser’s rum sources have modified since 1979, however all the time closely relied on a Demerara part. Nowadays, Pusser’s is distilled and blended totally in Guyana.

Sure, funky Jamaican rum is scrumptious. Positive, it pairs properly with different strongly flavored rum like Port Mourant from Guyana, or Caroni from Trinidad. However a cool, Jamaican-forward “navy rum” mix doesn’t appear to have existed within the 20th century, or presumably ever.

It’s completely superb to be impressed by each Jamaican rum and the legacy of the British Navy rum ration. Mix to your coronary heart’s content material! However in case you look to historical past for help, it’s an uphill climb.


Word: In the event you’re interested by rum historical past like this, you should definitely take a look at the Rum Historical past group on Fb.

[i] Waterford Mail, 25 January 1834
[ii] Kerry Night Put up, 03 August 1839
[iii] Parliamentary papers v.8 (East India Produce) 1840
[iv] Report of the West India Royal Fee; 1897
[v] Hansard, Navy Rum and Allowances; Feb. 28, 1924
[vi] British Nationwide Archives CO 137/779; 1925
[vii] Hansard; HC Deb 15 February 1933 vol 274 cc983-4
[viii] British Nationwide Archives ADM 234.19; 1939
[ix] British Nationwide Archives ADM 1.15472; 1944
[x] Hansard, Rum (International locations Of Origin); June 14, 1956
[xi] There was a Rope & Anchor Jamaican “Navy Rum”, alongside a Demerara model.

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