Drinking alcohol is a political activity. Though we drink for many reasons – refreshment, relaxation, sociability, intoxication – drinking in public is also a performance weighted with meaning, and it was especially meaningful in colonial New South Wales. During a period when systems of government, the authority of the social elite, and the rights and liberties of citizens were challenged and debated throughout the British world, this meaning was often overtly political.
Drinking, or refusing to drink, was a cultural signifier that demonstrated respectability and status; the ritual of toasting celebrated loyalty and allegiance, and ordered the social hierarchy; alcohol marked the boundary between work and leisure; while drunkenness symbolised deviance and disorder.
This talk will explore a series of microhistories, drinking moments that reveal broader changes in the political imaginary of New South Wales during the transition from an authoritarian penal colony to a democracy of responsible white men.
Dr Matthew Allen is a Lecturer in Historical Criminology at the University of New England. He is currently writing a history of alcohol in colonial New South Wales which will explore the political symbolism of both celebratory drinking rituals and the deviance of public drunkenness.
Hosted by Camden Council Library Service.
Proudly presented as part of the History Council of NSW’s Speaker Connect program for History Week 2017, supported by Create NSW.
Image: St Patrick’s Dinner, Royal Exchange Hotel’, Illustrated Sydney News, 1 April 1854, courtesy National Library of Australia.