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.