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.

1 comment:

  1. What I have read so far is great. I will complete perusal of all material later and comment fully, keep up the good work!

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