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Week 25 - The demon drink

[ 7th of August 1836 to 13th of August 1836 ]
[ View related 'school content': Week 25: All Dressed Up ]

On land

It is one week into the grand experiment of colonisation and things are not going well at Nepean Bay. Samuel Stephens and Captains Morgan and Ross have their hands full, with both the company men and the crews of both ships ‘very troublesome, impertinent, idle and dissatisfied’ in Stephens’ words. The unloading is going slowly and Stephens has hardly a good word to say for anybody, except Henry Wallan, whom he describes as ‘really a worthy fellow’. Some of the Island’s other inhabitants are making their presence felt as well and Stephens is beset on all sides. ‘The Rats, Ants, and divers other rational and irrational beings are being very troublesome’ he confides to his diary. Quarrelling and drunkenness amongst both crews and company employees is getting out of hand. Mind you, tempers may not have been improved by Stephens‘ habit of rousing everyone at 5.45 am, in the cold darkness of a July morning, with a rousing ‘morning call’ on his trumpet, especially if most of the men were nursing hefty hangovers from carousing the night before!

Scene: sailors skylarking

Sailors skylarking by Edward Snell, 1849.

Things come to a head on the night of 13 August. The crews have had a day off for ‘a ramble’, but seem, instead, to have purloined enough rum to get themselves thoroughly drunk and belligerent.  Attempts to get them back on board fail and things continue to degenerate, with ‘quarrelling, fighting, and obscene and blasphemous and threatening language’, culminating in threats to raid the company stores for yet more rum.  Stephens can find only two men he can trust, but he arms them and himself and mounts guard on the stores until 7 am the following morning, ‘being the whole time in momentary expectation, spite of my efforts to prevent it, of being compelled to fire upon the poor depraved and deluded beings by which I was surrounded.’  With the dawn comes peace, or perhaps just exhaustion. It has been quite an eventful first week!

At sea

It seems that discord amongst the passengers is plaguing all of the ships this week. The Tam O’Shanter has a problem with petty theft, while on board the Cygnet Finniss and Kingston continue to disagree on just about everything. As arguments amongst the men spill over into violence, Finniss blames the demon drink, but hints darkly that the behaviour of the cabin passengers is little better.

On the Africaine the rum ration is also causing problems. The Gougers‘ servant Margaret Clarke is reprimanded for ‘Probably flirting. lightness of conduct towards the sailors ‘, and soon afterwards exhibits alarming symptoms of mental disturbance. But in the end it seems that she is merely drunk. Like many of the other female emigrants, the daily rum ration is more than she is used to. Robert Gouger and the captain decide to withdraw the rum ration from the women and children, a decision that is very unpopular at first. But Gouger is convinced that ‘poor people’ should not be served ‘spiritous liquors’ at sea. It makes them lazy and fractious.  Gentlemen, he implies, can manage their drink. We should hope so, because they seem to consume an awful lot of it!

On the Buffalo the trials seem to be of a lesser nature. George Stevenson endures the ‘punishment’ of a musical evening, provided with the assistance of an ‘indifferent piano’. He notes that the ladies are gradually becoming more reconciled to the inconveniences of shipboard life, but adds the patronizing comment that ‘it does require some physical strength as well as moral courage to endure the annoyances inseparable from a sea voyage.’ The ‘ladies’, by implication, exhibit neither!


Journals from settlers in South Australia:

Monday 8 August 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

8th. Continued landing cargo and lengthened store and commenced digging the well, offered to hire the boat from the Islanders to attend on us but as they were exhorbitant in their charge declined it. Most of the men are very troublesome, impertinent, idle and dissatisfied and it is all but impossible to keep them in anything like working trim. Mr. Beare is entirely occupied in attending on his wife who is quite deranged. Mr. Birdseye is consuming unnecessary time in making for himself a needlessly comfortable temporary dwelling. Mr. Shrevogel I am obliged to leave on board the Duke of York for sundry purposes. I have to bear up against all, and struggle with all both mentally and physically. I thank God however I feel cool, collected, determined and happy and doubt not we shall get all in good humour and better order before long. I receive considerable assistance from the Islander Mr. Wallan, who is really a worthy fellow.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 9 August 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

This 24 hours mostly strong winds from the SWd
employd getting the companys stores on shore and
received on board 13 casks of beef and pork three men refused duty today
In the evening had family prayer a few attended
read the 1st [?] chapt epist of St Peter.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Tuesday 9 August 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

Captain Morgan landed before my store 28 (less 2 landed before) casks of Hamburgh Beef and Pork which he had brought in bond from London for this place. There is a good deal of quarrelling the ships and on shore and I have my hands full to overflowing! We continued to land and receive cargo as also private baggage for which I have erected a separate temporary store. The Rats, Ants and divers other rational and irrational beings are very troublesome.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 11 August 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

Finished or nearly so, landing the cargoes. Allowed the men the day to make more comfortable places for themselves to sleep in. Had at his own request a long conversation with a Mr. Chadwick one of the L.M.P.’s sailors respecting the state of discipline &c. on board that ship, he attributes no blame to Captain Ross but says unless she have better subordinate officers she will be ruined and the voyage lost. Last night her crew were all drunkwith stolen (supposed so) liquor and behaved in the most disgraceful manner. … Some of the men belonging to the Duke of York being very dissatisfied and one of them (her Cooper) having told the Captain he was determined to leave her in the first port she made but would prefer being left with me if I would receive and employ him, and Captain Morgan having privately recommended me to do so if I thought the man likely to be useful I have agreed …

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 13 August 1836

[, who arrived in South Australia on board the wrote.]

Rose at ¼ to 6a.m. and finding no hands stirring sounded my morning call on my trumpet which soon brought all out. Set the men to work in various ways. At 7a.m. a boat from the L.M.P. with Mr. Edmonds (3rd Mate) and 1 watch reached the shore the men having had that day allowed them a ramble. Mr. Edmonds thinking that I had heard something to the disparagement of his character wished and received a private audience and retired as he said (and as he ought to be) perfectly satisfied. I took this opportunity of urging upon him the necessity of his giving his utmost support to the Captain (against whom I hear no complaints except from Mr. Birdseye) and particularly for the sake of his own and brother officers’ characters endeavouring to his utmost to prevent the purloining by the crew of the ships small stores, more especially ardent spirits. He received my observations as they were meant and we parted pleasantly. …  In the evening settled with the men (having previously allowed them to buy from Mr. Birdseye at the store 1 pint of rum per man for their next week’s consumption – on condition that if I found the same improperly used I would allow it no more) and soon afterwards learned that the sailors on liberty from the L.M.P. were not gone aboard but were carousing with some of my men. On learning this and that they had (as was generally supposed) brought rum ashore with them endeavoured by various means to get them on board without effect. In a short time afterwards the conduct of the party became so outrageous as to warrant the supposition that an attack was meditated upon the store with a view of possessing themselves of a further supply of spirits. Quarrelling, fighting and obscene and blasphemous discourse and threatening language having proceeded to an alarming height and I being able to obtain the assistance of only 2 men on whom I could depend I armed myself and them and mounted guard till 7a.m. on the following morning (Sunday) being during the whole time in momentary expectation, spite of my exertions to prevent it, of being compelled to fire upon the poor depraved and deluded beings by which I was surrounded.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Journals from passengers at sea:

Sunday 7 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Our Cook is quite recover’d again, and resumed his occu-
-pation on Friday  ________    During his illness, the
Cooking has been done by Joseph Jones, who has been
very useful indeed, in many respects, since we left
Dartmouth, having fill’d, even the situation of a
Seaman, at two or three different times, for 10, or 12,
Days together, in the place of Sailors, that have been
unwell, and I understand, that Capt Martin, intends
to remunerate him, for his services  ___   besides this
Young Man, I consider that, Halford, Chandler,
Powell, and Tindal, have been the most industrious
and willing, of all the Company’s servants, during
our Passage, that are on board, of this Vessel  ____

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Sunday 7 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

This day, being Sunday, and the weather being fine, though the wind was still contrary, we had Divine Service on deck. Three ships were seen in the distance, also two large birds, supposed to be the albatross. This I thought an extraordinary circumstance, as we were then three hundred miles from land, the nearest being the Gold Coast.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Monday 8 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

The party getting a little over
sea sickness and more at home with each other.
There is an indifferent piano in the after Cabin,
and this evening we had what was called a literally a musical evening or concert. soirée
musicale
. Somewhat of a punishment. We have
bid farewell to good music for sometime; and
besides there are certain airs associated with
being of so different a stamp from any we are
likely to meet again that it is painful to be obliged
to listen to them. The Ladies getting over the disagreeables
which tho’ unavoidable in any Ship have, it is to be
regretted, been very much & unnecessarily multiplied
in the Buffalo. It does require some physical strength
as well as moral courage to endure the annoyances in-
-separable from a sea voyage; and to the unaccustomed ears of
ladies who have never left the comforts of their own homes
the creaking bulkheads, slamming of doors, tumbling
and bumping of chairs and other moveables, to say
nothing of the compound of villainous sounds & smells
common to ship board, these inconveniences at first seem
insupportable. But a little time & patience and they
become less frequently thought of & less severely felt.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Wednesday 10 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

S – W                      Wednsday Aug 10, 1836
Spoke to a Brigg Bound
to portsmouth She promised
to Report us at Loyddes
Set our New Lower Stunsell
We than was makeing 196 Miles
in 24 howers

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Thursday 11 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

S.S.W ½          Mr Juls fell down
the Hatch with his wifes Child
and Brake her harm Turn
Bull was found Guilty of
Steeling Parlhers 6 lb of Sugar
Mr W had words with Walters
upon Steeling our water

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 12 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Our little community has been again shaken with intestine commotion. One of our servants (Margaret Clark) got into disgrace about the latter end of last month for lightness of conduct towards the sailors, and a few days afterwards, she put on the appearance of mental derangement; the surgeon and some others however attributed her conduct to the effect of spirituous liquors. In consequence of this report of the surgeon, of complaints having been made of the conduct of other females in the steerage arising from the same cause, and of grog having been given by the steerage passengers to the sailors whereby some of them were rendered unable to do their duty, Captain Duff having the opinion of Mr Brown & me, ordered that no spirits should be served out henceforth to the women and children, but that on arrival in the colony, either the quantity of rum which each individual wd have consumed on the voyage should be distributed, or its value given in money. This order occasioned no doubt dismay among the laboring emigrants, but finding the Captain immovable in his determination the malcontents were obliged to put up with their fate, though in some cases with a very bad grace. In particular, Mr Wickham, the person who we had made our drill sergeant, declared his intention of acquainting the Govt of the Cape of Good Hope with the conduct of the Captain, and of procuring redress by legal means. For a time his anger led him to refuse his own allowance of grog, though this had never been interdicted; he soon became tired of this ‘biting-of-his-nose-to-be-revenged-on-his-face’ system, but he has attempted to punish us by not having […] to drill! I was always averse to allowing laboring emigrants spirits on board ship, and am now more than ever convinced that the practice is most injudicious. Very few indeed ever think of helping the sailors by pulling at a rope or of rendering any other assistance; on the contrary, they are generally to be seen rolling on casks or hencoops, enjoying (a new thing for them) idleness with unusually full meals; thus they become unhealthy, & the allowance of spirits makes them vicious. The women, many of whom have perhaps very seldom tasted rum before, and if so in small quantities, now drinking largely, become quarrelsome and the causes of quarrels among the male emigrants. From these considerations, carried out practically as I have seen in several instances, I am thoroughly convinced that no ship containing a large number of poor persons can be other than an arena for discord while spirits are served out as an article of rations, or can be attainable except, in particular cases, by the authority of the Surgeon.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Friday 12 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

12th July [sic, August] steering East. after the cloth
was removed yesterday from the Dinner
table James Hoare came to the Cabin door
to say that two of the Sladdens were fighting
between decks. Upon this Kingston arose
and went to see what was the matter
there was an assemblage of persons
near the Main Mast: shortly after
Mr Morphett came to the door in a
hurried manner and said gentle
men your assistance is required one of the
steerage passengers has even threatened
to strike Mr Kingston. …
This morning I observed to Mr Gilbert
the impropriety of Mr Morphetts address
at the Cuddy table. I told him that
Kingston was less fitted to command
a body of men on such an expedition
as this than anyone of the Cabin
passengers. I told him we could not
complain of the language used by
Steerage passengers after what he
must have heard fall from the lips of
the cabin passengers, that he
could not be surprised at a man
being quarrelsome in liquor since
it was a failing common to our
own table; that I heard Kingston
and Sladden disputing about which
was the gentleman of the two: this
could not be wondered at when a cabin
passenger had previously taken the
trouble to tell the steerage passengers
they were all gentlemen.
I also touched upon the subject of
Mrs Paris saying that Kingston
ought to have attended to this
subject and ended by saying I
shuddered for the fate of
an expedition under such manage
ment –

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Saturday 13 August 1836

[, on board the wrote.]

Saturday, Augt 13. Light winds & fine. West. Close hauled. 3 Sail in sight.
Noon. Do Wr. Miles run, 1110 + 76 = 1186. Late 35E33′ No. Longe 16E26′ W.
Hove to, to pick up a beam of deal, covered in barnacles. Having obtain-
-ed permission, I leaped overboard in my clothes, & swam toward
the boat: some of my companions called out that a shark was
following me, so I got astride of the log, where the fish follow-
-ed me, but proved to be a few dolphins, attracted by the le-
-pas on the wood: after scraping them off, it was hoisted in.
P.M. Fine weather & light winds. Steering S.W. People very merry.

[ Read the full journal extract ]


Next week: There is more trouble with the ships crews at Nepean Bay, while on the Buffalo Young Bingham Hutchinson reflects on the implications of turning thirty. Then finally, after the longest voyage of any of the ships, the John Pirie arrives at Kangaroo Island.


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Image from The life and adventures of Edward Snell. The illustrated diary of an artist, engineer and adventurer in the Australian colonies 1849 to 1859. Edited and introduced by Tom Griffiths with assistance from Alan Platt. Courtesy of Angus and Robertson Publishers and the Library Council of Victoria, North Ryde, NSW, 1988.

Comments or Questions:

One Response to “Week 25 – The demon drink”

  1. Evan Holt August 7, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    Ah, the things our school teachers never taught us in the 1940s about the South Australian First Fleet! The demon rum was always confined to that rabble which landed at Port Jackson – mainly convicts and loose women! Having read the diaries and logs so far I am simply surprised firstly that the expedition to settle in South Australia ever reached these shores, and having done so, actually succeded in establishing a colony. We were always taught that the Buffalo arrived at Holdfast Bay, that there was a service at the Old Gum Tree, and that everyone lived happily ever after. Vive la difference! Many thanks, History SA. Marvellous stuff.

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