All For Me Grog originated at sea and quickly became a popular drinking song in pubs and bars across the world.
It tells the story of a man who spends all his money on alcohol and tobacco, and then sells all his possessions, including his boots, his shirt and his bed – even his wife, as a way of financing further drinking and smoking.
As a result he has a hangover from hell as he tells us he’s seeing “centipedes and snakes and me head is full of aches”.
When put like that it sounds like a tale of woe but, of course, the song is happy go lucky and is effectively a celebration of drinking and carefree living.
Drinking song rather than sea shanty
All For Me Grog is sometimes described as a sea shanty but that’s not strictly true. Shanties were sung to help sailors work together as they performed their tasks aboard ship.
All for Grog doesn’t really fall into that category.
It was more like a relaxation song, sung when the day’s work was done to let off steam, or more likely, performed in pubs and bars when the sailors called into port.
The meaning of noggin, noggin boots
The term noggin boots sounds as though it refers to some particular kind of footwear, perhaps something specific to sailors.
In fact it doesn’t refer to boots at all.
The phrase “noggin, noggin” is just slang term sometimes used as a substitute for stronger expletives which would not be acceptable in polite company or during public entertainment.
Some versions of the song are known as Noggin Boots.
Grog originally referred to a sailor’s rum ration
The British Navy used to give sailors a daily ration of brandy. That changed after the British captured Jamaica in 1655. This opened up a supply of rum which quickly took the place of the brandy ration because it was much cheaper.
Some sailors stockpiled their daily rations until they had enough for a good drinking session which often ended with them getting drunk. To combat this, Admiral Edward Vernon decided to start watering down the rum to reduce its shelf life and discourage sailors from stockpiling it until they had enough to make them drunk.
Sailors referred to this diluted rum as grog, although the term eventually came to mean any kind of alcohol.
The US navy adopted the tot of rum tradition and kept it going until 1862. The British Navy didn’t stop until 1970.
Across the Western Plains of Australia
All For Me Grog underwent a transformation when it reached Australia.
There it lost some of its seafaring associations and was adopted by the sheepshearers and bushwhackers of the Australian outback.
The refrain at the end of the chorus was changed from “across the western ocean” to “across the western plains” as the new version moved on to land. This Australian version then became known as Across the Western Plains.