Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Incredible Importance of Rum

Do you like pirates? I mean the 17th, 18th century ones. I've so been looking forward to this book, it's great fun, full of swash-buckling and plundering...and a pirate Captain and a Naval lieutenant that you'll never forget.

On a Lee Shore by Elin Gregory has been published by Etopia Press in time for Christmas and, believe me, it's a fabulous roller-coaster of a read. Highly entertaining.

Remember, if you comment, you could win a free copy.

Here's Elin, who knows her history, to tell us about the importance of rum: 

I would like to thank Sue very much for kindly inviting me to her blog to talk about pirates – a subject close to my heart.
Today I would like to emphasise the Incredible Importance of Rum!
It isn't that long since the daily rum ration was discontinued in the Royal Navy, ignoring warnings from old salts that the Senior Service would never been the same. It was discontinued later still in the Royal Navy of New Zealand, and the Royal Navy of Canada still issues a ration in times of celebration or crisis. I'm partial to a glass myself, under such circumstances. "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum" is THE pirate theme song that we all know and I think that it is fitting that one of the most popular brands of rum – Captain Morgan – is named for one of the most successful buccaneers.

 Sir Henry Morgan from Llanrumney left the misty hills of Wales at the tender age of 20 to join a military expedition to Barbados sent out by Oliver Cromwell.
It is thought that rum originated in Barbados. One of the first references to it is from 1651, locating it on the island – "The chief fuddling they make in the island is Rumbullion, alias Kill-Divil, and this is made of sugar canes distilled, a hot, hellish, and terrible liquor." Throughout history man has made liquor from whatever came to hand and the tail ends of molasses from the cane fields could be boiled up and distilled quite cheaply. It was terrible stuff – harsh and bitter – and very strong. Because it was cheap it became the drink of choice for the common man [Massachusetts attempted to ban the sale of rum and other spirituous liquor in 1654 – this early Prohibition did not work then any more than it worked in the 1920s]. Because rum was strong it was easy to carry enough rum to keep the whole crew of a ship in drink, even on quite long voyages. In fact it was considered to be part of the daily food ration.

The drunkeness of sailors in the merchant fleet could be controlled but the whole point of being a pirate or buccaneer was to do as one pleased. This could have terrible results, as in the case of Henry Morgan's flagship, the Oxford. While the captains of the fleet enjoyed a dinner party in the great cabin the crew got into the booze and someone accidentally ignited the powder store. Morgan survived through sheer good luck but many of his most effective captains were killed. 
Yet the ships still carried the hellish brew and even the terrifying Blackbeard knew that running out was a signal for trouble, as the log book for the Queen Anne's Revenge shows: "Such a day, rum all out- Our company somewhat sober- A damned confusion amongst us !- Rogues a-plotting - Great talk of separation- so I looked sharp for a prize- Such a day found one with a great deal of liquor on board, so kept the company hot, damned hot, then things went well again."

Rum tasted so foul that steps were taken to make it more palatable. A punch became very popular mixed to a ratio of "One sour, two sweet, three strong and four weak", with sour being the juice of lemons or limes, sweet being barbados sugar, strong the rum and weak water. This had the other useful function of making the water, which might have been casked several weeks before, more drinkable and fended off the dreaded effects of scurvy. It doesn't take long for poorly fed men to develop scurvy – six weeks on basic naval rations was enough to afflict almost half the crew of one war ship in Nelsons navy. In the early 18th century nobody knew why though many naval medical men had their own theories.

In the following excerpt from On a Lee Shore Kit Penrose is consulting Dr Saunders, the pirates drink addled surgeon:
 “How often do you clean ship?”
“This isn’t the Navy, Mr. Penrose,” Saunders said. “Not often enough. Next time we have her ashore for careening I’ll do all the usual things. But cleanliness is of far less concern to the men aboard than obtaining the ingredients for punch.”
“Punch?” Kit said. “They have just stolen half a ship full of gin. I would have thought that would be enough for them.”
Saunders shrugged and picked up the bottle of sack. “Made according to correct alchemical principles punch balances the humors perfectly. The heat of the rum, the coldness of the lemons, the sweetness of the sugar combine felicitously…” Saunders paused. “Felicitously—I can’t be drunk enough if I can still say that. Drink the punch regularly and you will keep the scurvy at bay.”
Kit nodded, having private doubts but prepared to go along with it. “Then I will drink the punch whenever the opportunity arises. Doctor, is that a copy of Boyle’s essays?”
“You can read! His Majesty’s Navy has improved since my day,” Saunders said and offered Kit the bottle again.

Follow the Pirates' trail: 

Over the next few days I will be continuing my thoughts about the Golden Age of Piracy on blogs belonging to Kiran Hunter and Catherine Cavendish

Comment here or on their blogs for a chance to win a copy of "On A Lee Shore". Each comment = one chance so the more the merrier.

Blurb: “Give me a reason to let you live…”
Beached after losing his ship and crew, and with England finally at peace, Lt Christopher Penrose will take whatever work he can get. A valet? Why not? Escorting an elderly diplomat to the Leeward Islands seems like an easy job, but when their ship is boarded by pirates, Kit’s world is turned upside down. Forced aboard the pirate ship, Kit finds himself juggling his honor with his desire to stay alive among the crew, not to mention the alarming—yet enticing—captain, known as Le Griffe.
Kit has always obeyed the rules, but as the pirates plunder their way across the Caribbean, he finds much to admire in their freedom. He deplores their lawlessness but is drawn to their way of life, and begins to think he might just have found a purpose. Dare he dream of finding love too? Or would loving a pirate take him too far down the road to ruin?

Buy links: 

Many thanks, Sue, for being such a kind and supportive friend as well as an exceedingly gracious host.


  1. Sounds like a good read and I got a rum history as well!

  2. Great blog, great information and great book! congratters my dear!

  3. Didn't know that about the punch being made with lemon juice. Excellent. And, yes, if you can still say felicitously on your first attempt you aren't nearly drunk enough. :)

  4. Anonymous10:28 pm

    Bumbo! I want to try and make it some time, it sounds tasty. There's the added benefit of using the word "bumbo" in conversation.

  5. Sounds festive!

    Susan, can you email me at glynissmy at gmail dot com so I can send you your Maggie's Child ebook prize, thanks.

  6. Great blog post and the book is a definite must-read!

  7. Thanks everyone. It really is a must-read book.

  8. I'm glad pirates like it, because rum has never been a favorite of mine.

  9. Interesting history. :)

  10. This book sound really interesting. It's been a long time since I've read a good pirate book! And love the rum facts. I do enjoy a bit of rum, especially this time of year mixed in eggnog! I miss it, can't find eggnog here.

  11. Fascinating guest post. I've thought that rum was important, but never knew it would be this important. :-)

    Story sounds very interesting too and the cover is beautiful.


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