On the Jubille, 1887.
British expansion and conquest for trade and colonization required a strong and healthy navy. During voyages, sailors stowed casks of water which eventually turned foul from the development of algae. In order to make the slimy water more appealing and palatable, sailors added lime or lemon juice to the water. Likewise, the navy added alcohol to the water to improve the flavor. Unknowingly, the alcohol served a second purpose of preserving the citrus from spoilage, and the lime served to prevent scurvy.
Before the introduction of the combination of citrus water fortified with alcohol, scurvy caused one of the first occupational hazards known to mankind during long sea journeys. Scurvy manifested itself in a variety of signs and symptoms which included bleeding gums, ecchymosis, painful joints, weakness, and death. James Lind identified the cause of scurvy which is characterized by a lack in the vitamin C (a vitamin commonly found in breast milk, fruits, and vegetables and is very difficult to keep fresh on long voyages). It is estimated that before and even during the years that the Royal Navy issued grog –a type of citrus water fortified with alcohol- over two million sailors succumbed to the illness. It is not difficult to imagine how grog became a mainstay within the Britishy military and commercial trade arenas.
Royal Navy Grog, 1942.
Ultimately, British world power owes much of its maritime success to alcohol in combination with ascorbic acid; otherwise, the Royal Naval would not have been able to travel long distance across waters or maintain colonies without suffering from the ill effects of scurvy. The use of grog in the Royal Navy continued until July 1, 1970 (now known as Black Tot Day) when the last rum was issued and ended a 355-year tradition of booze on board.
***So the moral of the story is either abduct some lactating tribal women for their breast milk (which has vitamin C) or load up on grog for long sea voyages. Yo ho ho!
Coulumbe, Charles. Rum: the Epic Story of the Drink that Confused the World. New York: Citadel Press, 2004.
Dryomon, M. Disguised as the Devil: How Lyme Disease Created Witches and Changed History. Wyth Avenue Press, 2008.