Page:A colonial autocracy, New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 1810-1821.djvu/46

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A COLONIAL AUTOCRACY.

and that there were some notably peaceful and happy homesteads—but it is unluckily true that in 1810 they were still exceptional.

Those in authority laid down the simple rule—never possible in practice—that the convicts were not to be supplied with liquor, and also sought to regulate the quantity to be imported. Yearly the growth of population made this task more difficult. Under the instructions drawn up for Admiral Hunter in 1794, it became necessary to produce the express permission of the Governor in writing before landing any spirits. Under regulations drawn up in the Colony this spirit, having paid a heavy duty, might be sold by the importers to officers and others in certain quantities decided upon by the Governor. It was, however, quite within the Governor's discretion to decide at any time that the settlement was already sufficiently supplied, and King, who followed Hunter in 1800, turned away more than one cargo of spirits and became extremely unpopular on that account. Officers of all ranks and the merchants threw themselves into the business of monopolising the spirit trade and raising the price for retailer and consumer. The convicts and emancipists, unable to obtain a regular supply, became more and more eager for the liquor. They were there, unwilling immigrants, deprived of liberty, living under better but less exciting conditions than in the hovels and slums of London; the pickpockets had no pockets to pick, the forgers and coiners no bank notes or coins to counterfeit. Those who had not been habitual criminals had endured a long schooling in degradation by constant companionship with their fellows—first while waiting for trial, then in prisons or river hulks, and finally packed close together for a six months' voyage. For these the separation from homes and families and fatherland was harder to bear. They had a chance to make a fresh start in New South Wales, but they had also the continual bitterness of self-reproach. Under these circumstances nearly all the prisoners drank, and drank wildly, a few perhaps seeking indifference—the majority to gratify a physical craving.

When spirit could be bought the poorest were willing to sell all they had to get it. The limits on importation caused a multiplication of illicit stills. The home authorities refused to