Originally posted 05 May 2012
In a recent post I asked readers to help identify the approximate date of a picture showing Russian sailors standing around a rum pot on the deck of a warship. The fellow who owns the photo, Mike at The Pirate’s Lair, sent me another shot which is slightly clearer:
I contacted my friendly local Russian Orthodox liturgical music expert, a gentleman named Bernard Brandt, who was able to make out the name embroidered on the sailors’ hats. This reveals that the shot was taken aboard the Dmitri Donskoya between 1885, when the ship was commissioned, and 1905, when the vessel was scuttled by its captain to avoid capture by the Japanese after the Battle of Tsushima.
The next question is where Russia was getting rum for their navy. I was surprised to find that the first sugar cane processing factory in Russia opened in 1723, with some rum production commencing shortly thereafter. Sugar cane grows well in sourthern Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire, and there may have been some importation of molasses from other areas to feed the distilleries. Russians are skilled at extracting alcohol from just about anything, so it is no surprise that a high volume of fairly bad rum was available for their warriors at sea. I have not been able to find any information about whether rum rations continued after the Bolshevik revolution – anybody out there who knows is invited to enlighten me.