Pass the port, shipmate!

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wardroom toast

A wardroom toast

I’ve been to a goodly number of formal navy dinners in my time. But why are the port and madeira decanters always passed to the left at the end of the meal? There’s yet to be a consensus as to why…

If the decanter remains too long in one spot someone invariably asks the person hogging it: ‘Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?’ Apparently a certain Henry Bathurst was Bishop of Norwich from 1805 to 1837.  He lived to the ripe old age of 93 by which time his eyesight was deteriorating and he’d developed a tendency to fall asleep at the table towards the end of the meal. As a result the port decanter would stay by his right elbow to the consternation of those seated further up the table.  A bon vivant even in his later years, the bishop was said to possess a prodigious capacity for wine consumption and he was sometimes suspected of using these frailties to his advantage.   But this may be just a tall tale…

Some have suggested the origin of passing the port left comes from the port side of the boat being on your left if you are facing the bows. Others have told me it came about to allow the majority of people (who are right-handed) to keep their sword-hand free. I think it’s a question of you take your pick…

I do like port and a wee bit of Stilton myself. William Pitt the Younger was a famous port drinker. Ironically, he was prescribed it for gout as a boy and he continued to enjoy the drink throughout his life. Henry Addington, who himself went on to serve as prime minister, commented: ‘Mr Pitt liked a glass of port very well, and a bottle better.’ In fact, Pitt was often referred to as a ‘three-bottle man’. Not sure I can match up to that!

2 Comments on “Pass the port, shipmate!

  1. See you are wearing your mess kit. We have been told that we (retired from RCN) are not allowed to wear our messkits at formal functions because we are no longer serving officers. Funny, there is no termination date on my commissioning scroll.

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