« Suing Lloyd's Over Slavery | Main | Median incomes falling »

April 15, 2004

Shome error here shurely ?

Hell In A Handbasket: AVOIDING A MUTINY

A little piece that might, just might, contain an error I fear. James Rummel links to a page
about a cruise of the USS Constitution, and the amount of spirits consumed.
Adding up the rum and whisky, dividing by the number of men and days at sea and we get the amazing number of 15 1/2 pints of spirits drunk per man per day. Now I know that our forefathers were tougher men than us, and that various navies have been at the forefront of heavy drinking, but perhaps this number might be a touch over the top ? I don't think that any human frame could actually survive drinking nearly 16 pints of 40 / 50 % proof spirit in one day.
Assuming that rum is the same density as water ( which it isn't, but close enough for a blog post ) the 68,300 gallons of rum they set sail with would have been nearly 300 metric tonnes. This on a ship that weighs just under 1,600 short tons ( the old ton, 2,000 lbs, not the metric tonne of 2,204 lbs ) ?
I don't think so somehow.
As an example, back a few decades ( yes, it really was only a few decades, late 1960's ) when the Royal Navy still had the daily rum ration it was 4 fluid ounces of full strength ( 150 % proof or so ) navy rum. Line up, take it as a shot or decline it.
As above, sailors of the early 1800's were a tough lot, but I really don't think that they were fighting a ship and drinking 64 or 80 times ( depending on whether you use the Imperial pint of 20 ounces, or the US one of 16....and yes, I know that the fluid ounce is also a different size but please, let's keep it simple ? ...where's metrication when you need it ? ) what their 1960's equivalents were having.
The answer ? 4 fluid ounces is a gill. Spirits were commonly measured in gills back then. Gill, Gall(on) anyone ?
Redoing the calculations we get just over two gills, or half a pint of spirits per man per day : about twice the 1960's rum ration. Still impressive, still a liver busting amount, but not quite as glorious as it at first seemed.
Still a vast improvement on the dry US Navy of today .

Update. Above I get a little confused about the strength of spirits. 40 / 50 % is based on alcohol by volume. 150 % proof is based on , of course, proof measurements, and yes there are also US and UK types of those : I think I'm using UK above, which is out of 200 %, rather than US which goes to 150%.

April 15, 2004 in Trivia | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Shome error here shurely ?:


Good post! Thanks for the heads up. I've linked to your blog and given you full credit.


Posted by: James R. Rummel | Apr 15, 2004 5:35:23 PM

I am not sure about what dates we are referring to, but remeber that the US kept to the old Queen Anne gallon when Britain adopted the Imperial gallon in 1825.

Proof spirit was a certain percentage of alcohol by volume (? 70%) and the over-100% values are based on this as far as I am aware, not out of 200 or whatever.

If you can find a copy of O'Keefe on Weights and Measures it has an interesting chapter on the history of the UK system.

PS the ton was 2240lbs in the UK. The metric tonne is 1000kg which is equivalent to 2204.6 lbs

Posted by: Ian Moseley | Sep 29, 2005 11:46:59 AM

The rum back when was always watered down. Your assumption that the rum was 80 proof was severly flawed. It would have been much less to make its advanced consumption feasible. The water at the time was also suspect so anything with alcohol was safer to begin with. Someone should check his sources before making assumptions.

Posted by: ET2 Parkere | May 29, 2008 3:12:24 AM

mm, the real problem is that rum although common on British and French warships of that era, was never allowed on US warship.

Not to mention we were not at war with England in 1798 and she did not engage any warships during her voyage of 1798-1801


Posted by: ErstO | Jan 9, 2009 3:11:52 AM