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Bill Thayer

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The Grog Expended

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Life in a Man-of‑War

by
a Fore‑top-man


published by
Houghton Mifflin Company
Boston and New York
1927

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Eau de Cologne
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p66  The Tar's Substitute for Grog

"Come fill the bowl

Each joyous soul,

Let Bacchus guide our revels,

Join cup and lip,

With hip, hip, hip,

And banish the blue devils."

As we neared the Cape, and began to feel the weather grow gradually colder and colder, the dolorous complaints of our tars could be heard throughout the ship on every deck, cursing bitterly the hard fortune that deprived them of their beloved, stimulating liquid in this uncomfortable weather. How many wishes were expressed that the dreaded barrier between us and the harbour of Valparaiso was but safely rounded — or that they could possibly fall in with some good-natured and obliging craft that would help to replenish our whiskey casks somewhat — or that the man at the mast-head could discover two or three puncheons of good West India, tumbling and rolling as if anxious to be picked up, or a hundred others equally vain and foolish; but 'twas all of no avail; there was Cape Horn as yet to be doubled, and whether in a pacific or cross-grained humour we had yet to determine; not a vestige of a vessel to be seen from aloft for days and days together; and the only object that cheered our sight in lieu of the wished‑for casks of liquor, was the cape pigeons and albatrosses that were hovering around us in great numbers, many of which being enticed by a baited hook, became an easy prey to some of our epicures.

One evening after the hammocks had been piped down, a little coterie were observed between the forward guns on the main-deck, comfortably seated on match-tubs and shot-boxes, trolling a convivial song to beguile the tedious hours, which to all on board at the present time seemed to fly with leaden wings, and refreshing themselves ever and anon from a capacious tin pot, which was supposed to contain something capable of banishing sorrow and cheering the  p67 heart, from the scrupulous care with which it was guarded, and the sensation produced by its odoriferous steaming contents on the olfactory nerves of all those within its vicinity. — Its invigorating effects were soon plainly perceptible, from the flushed face, sparkling eye, and stammering conversation of those happy souls; but what they were making merry on was a secret, towards the elucidation of which no one could give the slightest conjecture; every one was aware of the fact that there was no liquor in the ship, save what the occupants of the cabin or wardroom were possessed of, and that of course was "forbidden fruit;" the wonder then was what precious liquid could these fellows be in possession of, to make them so joyous and happy. — The grand secret, however, was at length ferreted out by the ingenious Garnet, for what transaction going forward that he did'nt know something concerning. — As soon as he possessed himself of the glorious news, he hastily made his appearance at the galley, where a crowd of lovers of the Virginia weed were puffing their cares away in social comfort. "I've wormed it out at last," cried Bill, almost out of breath with the importance of the intelligence; "close as they thought to keep it, I worked to windward of them in spite of every thing." "What are you palavering about, Garnet?' interrupted an old forecastle‑man. "What am I palavering about, is it? why about good hot punch to be sure," responded Bill; how would a stiff'ner of that sort of stuff go this cold night, with two watches in the lee‑scuppers, eh, maties?" — "Why 'twould go all sorts, I tell you," cried old Bowser, rubbing his hands, "but I'd sooner see it than hear talk of it; my eyes, I'd almost give my bag and hammock for a good blow out of steam, now I've felt qualmish ever since the whiskey fell short; but I believe we need'nt screw our mouths up for anything of that sort this side of Valparaiso." — "What would you say now, if I were to put you in the way of a good pot of cologne-sling?" continued Garnet; "that's the stuff to keep the cramp out of the stomach; damme, rye whiskey or Holland gin ain't a circumstance to it." — "Cologne-sling, what the devil is that?" enquired Flukes, "that's a liquid I never heard of before." — "Did'nt you take notice of Bradley and two or three  p68 others a little in the wind this evening?" cried Bill. — "I twigged them finish one pot‑full and then start for the berth-deck; I dogged their steps, for I was determined to find out their secret, and I saw them dive down in the cock‑pit, and in a moment they returned with a pint bottle each of eau de cologne, which, with a little hot water and sugar, makes as delicious punch as ever gave a fellow a sore head in the morning; so if you can raise a purchase let's have the chink, and I'll do your business for you in a moment." "How much is it a bottle?" enquired Flukes, "I must make a break there myself." — "It's only a dollar a bottle," responded Garnet, "but you may save yourself the trouble of going below, for if you offered five you would'nt get any; don't you know 'tis done on the sly? only certain persons can come in that shop." — "But there's no harm in trying," cried Flukes, and started off accordingly to endeavour to procure this novel substitute for liquor.

The circumstance was soon known in every part of the ship, and many a dollar that had been securely laid by since the last paying of grog-money, for the purpose of purchasing some bum‑boat delicacies when arrived in port, was now brought forth and laid out without a moment's hesitation in the purchase of this newly-discovered and expensive beverage. The jingle of cologne bottles, after being drained of their precious contents, could be plainly heard between every gun on the forward part of the main-deck, and the sugar-boxes in the different messes were largely drawn on to help to render palatable the cheering liquid. The store-room of the purser's steward, from whence this precious perfume first emanated, was now literally crowded, and although it was disposed of in the first instance to certain individuals "under the rose," yet now the majority of the ship's company being aware of the existence of the invigorating article, were quite clamorous in their demands, and cologne was the rage from the foretop to the main-hold: — But of course our jolly tars, when assembled at quarters under the effects of this stimulating liquid, could not pass unnoticed by the quick-detecting eyes of the officers of the several divisions; and many cases of intoxication were reported in consequence: the question was, where  p69 did they get their liquor from. This was a matter which did not come to light for several days, so stealthily and circumspect did they make their exits and entrances through the steerage, when procuring the much-loved stimulant; but man was born to disappointment and perplexity, and he scarcely becomes possessed of a desideratum ere cruel Fate steps in, mars his pleasure, and dashes the cup of gratification and enjoyment from his eager lips; so with the cologne; as one of our wags expressed it, " 'twas too good to last long;" by some means or another, the "fountain-head" became acquainted with the source from whence this exhilarating beverage sprung, and forthwith clapped a stopper thereon, and many were the countenances that changed from joy and gladness, to sorrow and disappointment, when this distressing intelligence reached them.


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Page updated: 5 Oct 21