Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Vagaries of the Colonial Ginger Beer Trade

Ginger beer was a popular drink in Colonial Queensland.  It was easy to manufacture and could be produced in both non-alcoholic and alcoholic forms.  The latter was illegal if sold without a license. Ginger beer was often used as a popular mixer. A glass of brandy and ginger beer was known as a "stone-fence". A favourite of the ladies, it could contribute to some very unsociable behaviour.

At the Police-office, on Wednesday week, a vixenish-looking woman, with a child in her arms, accompanied by another child, about three or four years of age, appeared before the Magistrates, charged by Mr. Andrew Graham, of the Harp of Erin Tavern, South Brisbane, with making use of abusive language, and assaulting both him and his wife.

Mr. Graham stated that the Defendant came into his house on the evening in question, and called for a stone-fence, alias brandy and ginger beer. Having partook of what had been ordered, she was about leaving the place, and the landlord asked for payment, when she abused him and struck his wife, without the slightest provocation.

She then went outside, and in the true Lady Barrymore style, commenced throwing stones, one of which passed through the window and broke two panes of glass, damaging the counter of the bar; she was shortly afterwards given into custody, and confined in the lock-up.[1]

The Races at Ipswich were the main social event and refreshments were supplied on the course.  Local publicans, who sponsored many of the races, would set up tents by the course, which were well patronised. At the Boxing Day Races in 1848, a local shoemaker running a sideline in a beverage he called “gingerade” ran afoul of the licensing laws.  The prisoner passed his product to the prosecuting lawyer to sample, who in turned offered to the magistrates on the Bench.

On the summons list were three cases, all for "sly grog selling", which were prosecuted on the part of the crown by Mr. Ocock. Case the first was that of John Walton, a shoemaker, for selling ginger-beer without a license on the race-course on Boxing Day.

Starting line of a race course

In defence the prisoner produced two bottles which he called "Gingerade" (a cordial not fermented) handed to Mr. Ocock, who, tasting from the bottle, appeared to think it most palatable; after a good "swig," he offered it to the presiding J.P.s to test its qualities; the dignity of the Bench, however, requiring a tumbler, one was produced, but their Worships' innocence in all such matters would have left the case undecided, had it not been for the positive evidence of the attesting witness, who swore that the liquor sold, a bottle of which he drank, was ginger beer, and that it had been fermented.

As a coup-de-main[2], the prisoner stated that the witness could not tell ginger beer from buttermilk; but as the Magistrates would not coincide in such an opinion, they mulcted Walton in the usual penalty of £30 and costs.[3]   

Stoneware Ginger Beer Bottle ca. 1860
Unfortunate things could happen while a ginger beer seller was doing his rounds as was the case with a man named Lawrence whose wife fell under the spell of a local Lothario known for some mysterious reason as "Frank the Slasher".

A man known to his circle of acquaintance by the euphonious title of "Frank the Slasher" decamped on Tuesday last by the Clarence steamer, having, it was discovered in his possession a quantity of wearing apparel and a silver watch, the property of a person named Laurence, proprietor of a vehicle with which be perambulates the town and retails ginger-beer. It was discovered that the wife of Laurence was also missing, having, it is presumed, eloped with the thief. Lawrence states that she took away with her about sixty pounds in cash belonging to him. A warrant has been issued for the apprehension of "the Slasher."[4]

Rivalry between vendors was keen and could sometimes lead to violence especially in the market for ginger beer with that something extra, thus creating a more marketable and profitable product.  In 1863, a certain Edward Sullivan, a ginger beer seller, appeared in the Ipswich Circuit Court charged on breaking and entering and stealing charges.

The prisoner was then indicted for that, on the 24th day of December, 1862, he did feloniously break and enter the dwelling house of one Bridget Larkin, and thence did steal one pocket-book, six bottles of rum, and one blue bottle, the property of the said Bridget Larkin.

Over-proof Rum Label
The evidence went to show that the prosecutrix and the prisoner were rival ginger beer and lemonade sellers. It appeared possible too that their interests clashed slightly with reference to the black bottle[5], the contents of which, in the plenitude of their hospitality, many bush vendors mix with the "teetotal stuff."

Be that as it may, the facts of the case showed that on the day in question, Christmas Eve, about eight in the morning, the prisoner and his wife raged round the house of the prosecutrix for some time, uttering various threats against her. They did not affect an entrance at that time, and departed in quest of an axe to burst the door open. Mrs. Larkin, in the meantime, evacuated the premises, leaving in possession her little girl, Mary Anne Larkin, who bolted the hut door.

The prisoner and his wife returned to the scene of battle, and the former, seizing a camp oven, dashed it against the door, and thereby affected an entry. Once in possession, the prisoner and his wife, according to the evidence of the child, ran riot in the house. They sucked raw eggs, broke bottles, emptied rum into soda water bottles, and carried it away; and last, not least, the prisoner, seemingly incited by a whisper by his wife, put his hand into a safe and took away tho pocket book which he was charged with stealing. The pocket book was never recovered. He then departed, after kicking the little girl into the telegraph rut, and remarking that he would like to tear her mother's throat out and put her on the fire.

The jury found the prisoner guilty.

Sentence - Twelve months' hard labour in Brisbane gaol.[6]

Court House in Ipswich about 1860

If a woman of a certain reputation solicited a man on the street to “stand her a ginger beer” it was clear what she was really about.

In Elizabeth Street, a ubiquitous ginger beer shop offered other services in addition to the refreshing drinks, as one keen-eyed store keeper observed. In 1868 he wrote to the Brisbane Courier complaining that this business was allowed to operate so close to his own premises.

Last week I was amazed to discover that in a line with our business premises in Elizabeth Street, and only separated from them by sixty-six feet of fencing, a low brothel had commenced operations. Exactly opposite this was another, where ginger-beer was ostensibly sold. All passengers could see at once what these places really were.

Elizabeth Street ca.1900
Behind the ginger-beer shop, are four cottages and from the door of our stores is plainly visible all that goes on outside these cottages, and a good deal of what goes on inside, as the doors are always open.

They are conveniently accessible from both Queen-street and from Elizabeth Street; from Queen-street by the corner of Messrs. Dickson and Duncan's auction mart; at this corner the wretched inmates solicit at night. One of them was seen last Thursday morning to pass from the front door of one of the cottages to the privy directly opposite, with nothing on her person but a chemise and, indeed, this appears to be the only garment considered necessary to wear until they dress at night to ply their filthy occupation.[7]

And thus was the colonial ginger beer trade multifunctional.

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier 18.12.1847
[2] a surprise attack (French, literally a blow of the hand)
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier 20.1.1849
[4] The Courier 4.11.1861
[5] i.e. Rum
[6] The Courier 3.2.1863
[7] The Brisbane Courier 13.1.1868

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Reverend Ridley Makes a Tour


Herewith a tale of the adventures of the intrepid traveller William Ridley.

In early colonial Queensland, travel journals were a common feature of newspaper columns.  These articles were the travel guides of the day, providing information on road conditions, accommodation, local characters, and highlights of the landscape and fauna and flora.

Rev. Ridley

William Ridley (1819-1878) was an English-born Presbyterian minister who was recruited by the Reverend Dr. J. D. Lang. He arrived at Sydney in 1850. In the colonies he attempted to set up an Anglican Aboriginal institution which ultimately failed. In 1857 he travelled to Moreton Bay to assist his mentor Dr. Lang with his efforts to create a separate colony of Queensland by separation from New South Wales.

Armed with the petition for separation, Ridley’s journey did not start well.  He managed to lose two horses in as many days.[1]

Early sketch of Kangaroo Point Brisbane 1860s

8th-Set out early from Kangaroo Point for Ipswich, on a mare belonging, with the equipment, to the Rev. Dr. Lang, and left by him with his usual patriotic readiness to do or sacrifice anything in his power for the advancement of Australia.

9th.-I left Ipswich early, and rode by way of Flinder's Peak Station to Dugandan on the Teviot, one of the heads of the Logan.  

Early view of Dugandan
The mare, whether from being unused to work in the heat of a Moreton Bay summer, or some other cause, seemed through the day unaccountably languid. At the Peak Station, where I remained three hours during the hottest part of the day, she swam four times across a deep waterhole; and when, turned out at night in the paddock at Dugandan, lay down and died.

Putting the mare’s demise down to its lack of use in the summer heat, Ridley was loaned a replacement horse by the station owner. So mounted, the intrepid Reverend pressed onwards with his quest accompanied by an aboriginal man who would as a guide to the next station.

Here in his journal he unashamedly boasts of the reach of his missionary endeavours, noting that Jemmy has already heard of his work and has a basic grasp of Christian cosmology.

I found Jemmy Murphy remarkably well informed for an aboriginal. He had been taught and remembered correctly several elementary facts concerning the origin of the human race, and concerning the Creator and Ruler of all mankind. Though he had never seen me before he had heard of my endeavours to instruct his fellow-country men, and said he wished he lived near me that he might learn more. 

View of the Logan River
Reaching Meroon, the crusading reverend Ridley promptly borrowed yet another horse and sets off following the Logan River to call on a squatter he has been informed to a supporter of Separation.  Unfortunately the weather gods soon intervened.

Night came on before, I could reach the station I was in search of; and just as daylight was vanishing a heavy thunder shower fell. Unable to keep the track by the fitful lightning flashes, I was glad to take refuge for an hour in a hut occupied by three Chinamen[2], which I reached before the worst of the shower came.

Leaving the hospitable shepherds, the adventurous clergyman rode off into the night.

Afterwards "by the struggling moonbeams misty light"[3] I went on for a mile or two; but after sliding down into a deep gully, across which my path seemed to lie, I found it impossible to lead the horse up out of it, so slippery were the banks with the rain. After many vain attempts, I fastened him by the bridle to a tree, and, sticking my hands in the mud, climbed up the bank and walked on for the station hoping to get a rope there to pull out the horse it was further then I expected, six full miles, and to a lonely and weary walker in a wet night every mile seemed very long.

Horseless once more, Ridley eventually approached his destination but was forced to seek refuge from the farm dogs by climbing a tree.  Two farmhands finally rescue him and fetch the station owner who is totally unfazed by the arrival of a sodden man of God in the middle of the night.

About midnight I came in sight of the buildings; and thinking it likely that at such an hour I might have rather a longer parley with the watch-dogs than would be at all pleasant, before I could awaken the hospitable inmates of the station. I climbed into a tree and "cowered" until with the help of the vigilant canine sentinels, I brought out two men from their sound repose. They soon awoke their master Mr. Haly, who without any remark on the unseasonable hour at which I had disturbed him, accommodated me with all the comforts a wet and weary traveller could desire.

At dawn, Ridley and a farmhand return to the fateful gully to find the borrowed horse has freed itself and bolted.  They decide not to search presuming that the horse will find its way home.

Having submitted the petition to the consideration of the gentleman I was in search of and preached at the station, where I had met such a welcome reception after my long midnight ramble, I returned up the river to Meroon; and thence to a cattle station on the same run; where at last, on Friday evening (12th), I found the horse lost on Wednesday night. Mr. Preiss, the overseer, entertained me not only with the usual hospitable cheer of the bush but with intellectual refreshment.  

Cedar Getters, New South Wales

Travelling south into what is now the Northern Rivers Districts, the Reverend find little support for his petition for separation of a new colony north of the 22nd parallel, the line of latitude that passes near the town of Grafton.

On first presenting the petition for Separation I met with a good deal of indifference and opposition, and I was assured that the people living lower down the river, being chiefly occupied in the cedar trade, were to a man opposed to Separation, because they considered it would destroy their business with Sydney, the chief and almost the only market for their timber.

View of the Richmond River on a lantern slide

Reaching the town of Casino, Ridley obtains another horse, this time actually purchasing it.  Perhaps his reputation with borrowed horses preceded him. Continuing his tour, he boats down the Richmond River, bewitched by the exotic riverbanks.

The scenery on both sides of the Richmond is truly enchanting. Close to the water's edge rises a complete wall of luxuriant foliage: fig-trees, bean trees, pines, and a variety of other trees, stand thickly set and overhung with rich drapery creepers, presenting the forms of turrets, buttresses, festoons, and stalactites, in endless variety, and bespangled with flowers and fruit. There is a purple convolvulus, wild roses, tulips, and some yellow flowers scattered high and low; and close to the water's edge a pure white lily. Cherries, figs and mulberries overhang the water.

Caught in yet another stormy downpour, Ridley’s travelling party take refuge with a local shopkeeper.

Mr. Thomas Barker, storekeeper, whose house we reached just as he was going to rest, had suffered almost as much as we had by the storm; for the cedar boards comprising the roof of his house had been so warped by the sun that the rain which came with quite unusual force was driven into all his rooms, and he could scarcely find a dry place for himself and his family. But seeing strangers come in drenched from a boat, he re-kindled his kitchen fire, treated us to a hot supper, and while we were recruiting our strength and spirits, provided comfortable bedding for us. 

While making his way to Grafton, Ridley unexpectedly meets two veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe. Many of these so-called “48ers” fled Europe after the revolts failed.  Most settled in the United States.  Ridley record of their meeting reveals his decidedly anti-monarchist sentiments.

The interest of my tour hitherto has been not a little enhanced by meeting on the Logan and Richmond two of the patriot heroes of Europe, who in 1848 shared the struggle and the triumphs of freedom, and in '49 witnessed with unavailing sorrow the reaction of despotism; one of them, a Magyar, having been an officer in the army of Hungary, and entrusted with an important mission by his chief; the other, a Hollander, having been elected by the Germans in Switzerland as their representative in the Parliament of Frankfort, where some of the noblest men in Europe made a gallant but unsuccessful attempt to establish the unity and independence of Germany. 

Great is the honour conferred on Britain and her colonies that such men enjoy among us that safety and liberty which are elsewhere denied them.

His tour ended in Grafton.  Here he found little support for his petition. Trade was too well established with Sydney for the locals to risk the changes that separation might bring.

27th,-Reached the Clarence river at Grafton. The question of Separation has been earnestly discussed here, and almost everyone is so pledged for or against it, that little remains to be done in getting signatures.

As the weather closes in again, Ridley opts to return to Sydney.

Jan. 2. Rain having fallen in abundance every one of the five days, l remained in Grafton, the river was rising, and there was no prospect of being able to travel, as I had intended, round by the head of the Clarence to Moreton Bay within a reasonable time. I resolved on returning by the steamer "Grafton" this day.  After a speedy trip we reached Sydney on Saturday evening, 3rd January.

The S.S. Grafton

Separation of the Colony of Queensland was eventually achieved in 1859 but the Northern Rivers District remained in New South Wales.

The Reverend William Ridley had a long career as a Presbyterian Minister until his death in 1875.  He was also a journalist and a prolific writer, and in 1866 published a study of Aboriginal languages.[4] His journals were published posthumously in 1892.[5]

Ministers of the Presbyterian church of Eastern Australia, 1862

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] All extracts are sourced from The Moreton Bay Courier 24.1.1857
[2] Probably shepherds
[3] From the popular poem “The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna” by Charles Wolfe, 1791-1823:
We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light
And the lanthorn dimly burning.

[4] Kamilaroi, Dippil, and Turrubul: Languages Spoken by Australian Aborigines (Sydney, 1866).
[5] Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Great Fire of Ipswich Town, 1861

Like most towns in colonial Queensland, Ipswich was largely made up of timber structures and was therefore extremely vulnerable to fire.  Added to this, few towns had fire brigades and, such fire “engines” that existed, were limited to ladders, hand pumps, and buckets. 

A well-equipped Colonial fire-engine

The Great Fire of Ipswich broke out just after midnight in Brisbane Street on a night in February 1861.  A reporter from the North Australian (the fore runner of the Queensland Times) was on the spot.[1]  The flowery nature of his prose of the time makes the report sound almost flippant.

The Fire Bell is now pealing forth its dolorous sound, one which has not been heard for many, many months in Ipswich. Upon proceeding to the spot, from whence a large column of flame was shooting high into the heavens, we found the shop of Lang, bookmaker, of Brisbane-street one mass of flame.

Report in the North Australian
It is needless to point out to those acquainted with Ipswich, the match box character of that and the principle number of the adjacent buildings: Mr. Bulcock’s, fruiterer, Mr. Given’s, jeweller, Mr. Hughes confectioner, Mr. Challinor’s, photographist, and innumerable small buildings in the rear were immediately one mass of flame, thus extending a considerable distance along Brisbane and rounding into Nicholas-street.

The boys on night shift at the Newspaper rallied to the fight.

Attempts were made, and in several cases successfully, to save property, and a large quantity of valuable jewellery, watches &c., were wrested from the flames, from the establishment of Mr. Given’s, and conveyed to the Post Office which Mr. Gill kindly opened for their reception. The young men of the North Australian being on night duty were this first at Mr. Given’s, gave the alarm, and saved the larger portion of his property.

By 1:30am several buildings were destroyed at the fire was still raging.  The citizens of Ipswich set to removing materials from the path of the flames. Dating from Roman times and used during the Great Fire of London in 1666, the standard method of dealing with a large town fire was to tear down the buildings in its path and thus create fire breaks.

Brisbane Street looking towards Limestone Hill, 1890s.
The fire is still fiercely raging; the houses above alluded to have been reduced by the flames into heaps of glowing ashes. In Challinor’s and Hanran’s North Star Hotel; the latter being a brick house, the shingles from the roof are quickly falling beneath the axe. In Nicholas-street, the houses adjacent to Mr. Given’s, which were separated by a garden, have just ignited at the southern end, but vigorous attempts are being made to level with the earth, and remove from the passage of the flames,  the materials of the untouched tenements.

On the corner of Brisbane and Ellenborough Streets, The north Star Hotel was saved.  The hero of the piece was brave soul dubbed Garribaldi’ who bravely stayed at his post on the hotel roof.[2]

It is almost a miracle how the flames did not set the North Star Hotel on fire. There is only an interval of some eight or nine feet between it and Mr. Challinor's house. A number of blankets were laid on the shingle roof of the hotel, and half a dozen men kept pouring water on; but, had it not been for their exertions, the building would certainly have been destroyed. 

Ipswich from Limestone Hill, 1870s

There was one man in particular, named Elias B. Cayzer, who stuck to his post on the roof whilst the spectators were driven back across the whole breadth of the street by the heat. "Garibaldi," or "Salamander," [3] as the bystanders christened him, for the want of his real name, remained on the roof till the last, although his comrades had to be frequently relieved, for no ordinary amount of human endurance could have withstood the fierce heat.

Report in the North Australian
The bard-like reporter from the North Australian summed up the mood of the citizenry of Ipswich in the fire’s aftermath.[4]

There we must pause. After the destruction of thousands of pounds of property, people looked into each other’s faces and enquired:-

“Where is our Engine? Where is our Fire Brigade?”

And Echo[5] answered, derisively: – “Where?‘‘

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] The North Australian 21.2.1863
[2] The Courier 23.2.1863
[3]Numerous legends have developed around the salamander over the centuries, many related to fire. This connection likely originates from the tendency of many salamanders to dwell inside rotting logs. When placed into a fire, the salamander would attempt to escape from the log, lending to the belief that salamanders were created from flames — a belief that gave the creature its name.(Wikipedia)
[4] The North Australian 21.2.1863
[5] In Greek mythology, Echo was a mountain nymph who loved her own voice.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Colonial Ironman - The Flying Pieman

One of the many colourful Colonial characters was an Englishman named William Francis King (1807-1873), who styled himself “The Flying Pieman.".
"The Flying Pieman" and his steam-powered legs

Born in London he arrived in Sydney in 1829 and after working as a teacher and tutor amongst other professions.  The story goes that after a disastrous love affair with a female convict, William King morphed into the “Flying Pieman”, professional pedestrian and strongman.  Working as a pie vendor on the streets of Sydney, he would sell his pastries to passengers boarding the ferry for Parramatta, and then race to Parramatta to meet the docking ferry to continue selling his wares.

He soon adopted a costume including red knee breeches, tight-fitting jacket, and a jockey's cap. He carried a walking pole decorated with colourful ribbons and extended his repertoire to many and varied tests of endurance, taking wagers against his powers of long distance walking.[1]

On Saturday last, for a trifling wager, he walked five miles within a certain time, again accomplishing the feat.

On Monday afternoon, at 3 o'clock, he commenced a task which is probably unparalleled in the annals of pedestrianism; it was no less than that of walking 102 miles in 48 consecutive hours, with the express stipulation that during the task he was never to cease walking for a single minute.

Three men undertook the task of timing his movements, taking turns, one walking with him, one trimming the fire and keeping tally, and one sleeping. At three o'clock yesterday afternoon twenty four hours he had accomplished 102 miles, and although then looking jaded and slightly lame, he freshened up again after sundown, and expressed confidence in his power to win.

He toured extensively in the other Australian Colonies, adding, as he went along, new feats of strength and endurance to his routine.  In 1848, he brought his performance to Ipswich.[2]

The Flying Pieman performed here yesterday the feats which he proposed performing at Brisbane, viz.: wheeling a barrow half a mile, running forward half a mile, running backward half a mile, walking one mile, picking up fifty stones one yard apart and placing them in a basket.

As a gig could not be procured, he, instead carried a large goat half a mile; and made thirty eight leaps 2 ft. 10 in. High -  fifty leaps were the number he intended having made, but as the bars were put four inches higher than he ordered, he was foiled in the remaining twelve - he, however, completed the whole undertaking in 85 minutes, being ten minutes less than his stated time, although the day was very sultry.

He now talks of trying the tape feat; that is, to wind, while walking, a piece of tape 100 yards long, around a pitchfork handle, one inch and a half in diameter, and placed perpendicularly in the ground. This will, however, depend upon the encouragement he receives.

One of his most popular feats in his program, was to be harnessed to a gig[3] and to pull a generously sized young lady, armed with a whip, about a circuit.[4]

THE FLYING PIEMAN. - The extraordinary athletic powers of this celebrated individual will be exhibited in a variety of feats of strength and pedestrianism, on Thursday next. King will undertake to draw a young lady from ten to fourteen bumping stone weight, in a gig, round the course, with reins and whip in her hand, in order to prevent the gallant Pieman from flying away with her, should he put in action the full power of his steam leg-walking-speed-pace!

After a long performance career, Bill King ended as he had started, selling pies in the streets of Sydney, never abandoning “The Flying Pieman” persona. He was ever the gregarious showman until his health declined and he spent his last days in a charity ward.[5]

The Pieman Bill King in later years and reduced circumstances.

PERHAPS there was not an individual in Sydney better known than King, or, as he preferred to style himself, the "Walking Flying Pieman,"-and he once revelled in the possession of a pie can of large dimensions, with which he nimbly paraded the streets, delivering impromptu panegyrics on the pies he had for sale, and comments on the politics of the day.

For some months past he was evidently sinking, and though so emaciated as to be scarcely able to drag himself along the street, he still kept up a flicker of his former volubility, and might be seen making feeble efforts to harangue little boys, and even "children of a larger growth," at street corners.

A short time since he was admitted to the Infirmary, and from there removed to the Benevolent Asylum at Liverpool, where he died on the 12th instant.

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Sydney Chronicle 4.9.1847
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier 4.11.1848
[3] Small horse-drawn two-wheeled vehicle.
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier 26.5.1849
[5] The Brisbane Courier 26.8.1873

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Melting Cheques on the Spree

Bush Inn near Ipswich - note Aboriginal Man and Woman

We’ll have a spree in town,
We’ll live like pigs in clover,
And it’s many the cheque
Poured down the neck,
Of many a Queensland drover.[1]

In 1854, a correspondent to the Moreton Bay Courier lamented the scale of intemperance in Ipswich.[2]

I believe that much of the ill-repute arises from the periodical influx of careless and thirsty fools, who earn their money in the bush, and "melt their cheques" in Ipswich. At the same time there is one practice to which I feel that I ought to call imperatively the attention both of the public and of the public authorities. I allude to the practice of selling liquors on the Sunday, a practice carried to an outrageous extent by the publicans, and disgracefully winked at by the constables.

Nicholas Street, Ipswich (Central Hotel is on the left)

Those “on the spree” continued their debauch even on the Lord’s Day.

The scenes which arise hence are most offensive to all lovers of decency, and especially to all who desire to see the Sabbath day kept holy. One instance, among many, will serve. It was communicated to me by one of the most respected inhabitants of this town, with a special   request that I would make it public. As this gentleman was passing a certain public house in or near Little Ipswich, on Sunday, 17th ult., at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, four or five men turned cut in the street, from the said public house, stripped naked to the waist, to have a fight, and this in the sight of a congregation returning from the worship of God.

The Spree often had much more serious outcomes.[3]

MURDERS AND SUICIDE.--We have just been made acquainted by a bush correspondent with the following particulars of a dreadful catastrophe, which occurred at a public-house. Two men, it appears, have been murdered, and one of the murderers has been apprehended, while the other committed suicide, preferring to fly into the presence of his Maker rather than meet an earthly tribunal.

Roughly Built Bush Hotel
 It would appear that a number of persons had been drinking about the inn, and, on some quarrel ensuing, one of them took up a gun and shot another dead on the spot; another, who was a shoemaker, residing in the neighbourhood, took up a tomahawk, and felled another man (a shepherd), who had been on the spree, to the ground, and knocked out his brains.

The person who perpetrated this cowardly deed went a short distance, and committed self-destruction by cutting his throat, which was so dreadfully mangled by the wound that he died almost instantaneously. The other murderer, who used the gun to affect his dastardly purpose, was apprehended. We have no reason to suppose there was any cause other than a drunken riot to account for the whole affair; indeed, so reckless are our bush people in their cups that it is surprising more murders do not occur.

Others on the spree took advantage of their visit to town to get married and not for the most honourable purposes.[4]

Who is there with any lengthened experience of the interior of the country that has not seen the ill effects of men coming to town and marrying the first young woman who will, at a moment's notice, go with them to church? Many men, reckless of consequences to themselves or others, get married without any intention of living with their wives, or supporting them after the few days or weeks during which they are bent on amusing themselves?

Wedding Party in front of a Bush Hotel

When their "spree" is over they are off up the country again, leaving their deluded victims, most likely not the first they have so served, to a life of misery and shame. This is often the commencement of their career with many of the unfortunate young women who crowd our streets. Then in nearly all the cases brought to trial before the criminal courts, it appears that the female witnesses are married women, but not living with their husbands.

Some characters would go to extraordinary lengths to prolong their spree.[5]

Charles King, an old offender, was charged with drunkenness. This was the same old joker who, some time since, pretended to have been bitten by a black snake and had his thumb amputated, which story, it will be remembered, he told for the purpose of raising means longer to continue "a spree" he was then indulging in.

For those men working in the bush, often alone for long periods, the prospect of a spree was a sustaining thought.  But often the cycle of work and sprees would become their way of life.[6]

The bushman, shepherd, or stockman, has, in numberless instances, to lead a life which renders him almost reckless of consequences to himself, and too frequently does he console himself in his solitude with the thought that he will soon reach the end of his term of service, and then be free to enjoy a few days' "spree" at the nearest public-house, in squandering the proceeds of his labour.

In the majority of such cases, we can well believe that the men would be glad to have a chance of acting otherwise. The better nature which will occasionally exercise its influence in the worst specimens of humanity, recoils with horror from the wantonness in which they are apt to indulge, and, if the chance did but offer for saving either for their own benefit or that of others - some of their hard earnings, they would not need much persuasion to avail themselves of the opportunity.

As a consequence of the sprees, the bushman did not succeed in saving much money.[7]

Bush Hotel
Persons belonging to the working class in the bush are much better off than those who reside in the towns. They receive wages ranging between the extremes of £30 and £100 per annum, with board and lodging, and their necessary expenses need not exceed ten pounds a year. Taking the most extravagant estimate of expenditure, there is no person employed in the bush who could not lay by at least half of his income. But what is the fact?

The servants employed by the squatters, when their period of service is expired, whether three, or six, or twelve months, find themselves in possession of a considerable sum of money, and know of no other way to spend it, except in the public house. The bush publican keeps them in a state of intoxication for three or four days; makes a pretence of charging them nothing for board and lodging whilst they are "knocking down the cheque;" and if he is a liberal man gives them a bottle of rum when they are about to depart, after he has swindled them out of half their money.

The victim then returns to his comfortless life and scanty fare as a shepherd or a bushman, with no other hope to relieve the dull monotony of his existence than the prospect of having, in the course of a few months more, another miserable "spree."

The ultimate spree ended in an all-in brawl as happened in Queen Street, Brisbane in 1863.[8]

STREET DISTURBANCE. - Queen-street was, yesterday afternoon, the scene of one of the most discreditable disturbances that has been witnessed in the city for many a day. About three o'clock a well-known public-house loafer named Roche interfered with a party of seamen who were evidently bent on a "spree" together, and being in a quarrelsome mood he was in consequence very roughly handled. The unfortunate fellow was kicked and cuffed by ten or a dozen able bodied men, any one of whom was a match for him, still he made a show to fight against tho lot.

Brisbane Bridge Hotel
At this stage the police came up and interfered to quell the row; but their interference was resisted. Constable Gallagher was seized by one brawny fellow and held round the body and arms while three or four others punched away at his head and with fiendish malignity tore out his beard and the hair of his head by the roots. Sergeant Gorman soon measured his length on the ground, and was brutally kicked while down.

 A crowd speedily collected, and Mr. Patrick Mayne[9] and a Mr. Thomas came to the aid of the police, and succeeded in at least beating off their assailants. The prime mover in the quarrel, Roche, was taken into custody, and eventually locked up. By the time assistance arrived from the Central Police Station the field was nearly clear of the rioters. However, Sergeant Coffey marked down one man, and, giving chase, managed, after a smart spurt, to secure him in Adelaide-street. 

Queen Street, Brisbane

Contemporary Image of the Ship Inn

Sergeant Lang, later in the evening, apprehended another of the rioters at the Ship Inn, where he had been secreted under a bed. An incipient attempt at rescue was stopped by the appearance of a reinforcement of constables to back up the sergeant. Nothing has been heard of the others at a late hour last night. The two prisoners last named are known to have belonged to the notorious crew of the "Jessie Munn"[10]

 © K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Colonial folk song.
[2] The Moreton Bay Courier 7.10.1854
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier 26.5.1849
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier 7.5.1859
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier 12.4.1860
[6] The Courier 21.7.1862
[7] The Courier 23.9.1862
[8] The Courier 14.1.1863
[9]  The infamous murderer - see The Mayne Inheritance
[10] Government Emigrant Ship.