Morphine, Heroin and Grog

By the early nineteenth century, opium addiction was a minor but growing problem in the West. In 1827, the German drug company Merck began marketing a drug to treat opium addiction. The drug, derived from the opium poppy, was named morphine after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. Ironically, morphine turned out to be more addictive than opium itself.

By 1895, morphine was the world’s most commonly abused narcotic. The German drug company Bayer began marketing a drug to treat morphine addiction. The drug, derived from the opium poppy, was named heroin after the supposedly heroic effects it imbued in its users. Ironically, heroin turned out to be more addictive than morphine itself.

Edward Vernon by Thomas Gainsborough

Vice Admiral Edward Vernon had a distinguished naval career. He was instrumental in Britain’s defeat of Spain in history’s most amusingly named war, the War of Jenkin’s Ear. However, his most enduring influence is due to the combination of his choice of coat and a dislike of drunken sailors.

Vernon was known for wearing a coat made of grogram (from gros grain, coarse grain), a mixed fabric of silk and wool, and was nicknamed Old Grog.

For hundreds of years (until Black Tot Day on July 31, 1970), the British navy issued daily rations of beer or rum to its sailors. Fresh water stowed on board a ship quickly turned stagnant and rum helped make the slimy water palatable. Not surprisingly, it was a popular tradition amongst the crew but it could also lead to disciplinary problems especially when a few days’ rations were hoarded before being drunk.

Vernon’s idea, adopted in 1740, was to dilute the rum with water. This reduced its potency and made it spoil more quickly, preventing hoarding. The change was not appreciated by the sailors who gave the diluted drink the epithet grog based on Vernon’s nickname.

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