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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12

No. IV

No. IV.

Impostor! do not charge innocent Nature,
As if she would her children would be. riotous
With her abundance; she, good cateress,
Means her provision only to the good,
That live according to her sober laws
And holy dictate of spare Temperance.

Milton's Comus.

It has been pointed out that legislation will not of itself remedy the clamant evils which afflict society through intemperance, and that much may be done towards our well-being by an enlightened public opinion. While the bulk of our citizens are undergoing the elevating process of instruction, the leaders in the crusade against drunkenness must, however, receive some assistance from the law. While the deep-seated roots—tap-roots I would call them, if I durst be jocular on such a subject—never can be completely eradicated by parliamentary enactments, it is still the duty of legislation to protect remedial efforts, to countenance the self-denying labours of those who are earnestly struggling to keep the ravages of the hydra-headed monster within due bounds, and to mitigate as far as it can the mischievous consequences of the abuses in the liquor trade, by a vigilant police supervision. While many are engaged in the trade who would shrink from dishonour or fraud, yet it is a fact that there are very many who would seek to increase their gains by encouraging gambling, by affording facilities for prostitution, by adulteration of drink, and by numerous malpractices which it is unnecessary to enumerate. Regulation and restriction of the trade are an acknowledged necessity. Free-trade in alcoholic liquor has been tried. In the Liverpool Town Council some years ago the opponents of restriction became so powerful that the indiscriminate opening up of the liquor trade was carried, and licenses were freely granted. After three years trial the increase in drunkenness, disorder, and crime was so alarming, that the very advocates of freedom became the very loudest in their demands for a return to the former system. In Saltaire, owned by the firm of which the late Sir Titus Salt was the head, a manufacturing centre containing a population of 5,000, beer was not allowed to be sold. The inhabitants were distinguished for their sobriety and good conduct. Afterwards licenses were obtained, and in six months men and women were drinking to excess, disorder and discontent arose, and the firm found they had committed a grievous mistake. The licenses were not renewed, and in six months more the place was restored to its former satisfactory state. Bessbrooke, near Newry, was a similar instance of the benefits accruing where no drink was sold. These instances are not mentioned to establish the expediency of total prohibition, but only to show the necessity and advantages of legislative restrictions.

The Remedies

prescribed for the personal and social evils resulting from the daily use, as well as the abuse of intoxicating liquor, are, apart from the elevation and refinement of society through enlightened opinion, chiefly of a palliative kind. No statutory remedy hitherto tried has proved thoroughly successful in operation. Still, although we have to deplore the imperfect results arising from legislation on the subject, which has led, page 10 and still leads, to annual endeavours to do something in the right direction, it must be admitted that society is better with the insufficient bulwarks than it would be with none at all. The parliamentary dykes may be in some respects too low, and in certain circumstances weak, yet in a degree the liquor trade is confined in a tolerably well-defined channel, and we are saved from being overwhelmed by an uncontrollable flood of misery, which would certainly flow from a total abandonment of all restriction. It is, therefore, our duty to enquire whether the embankments may not with advantage be made higher and stronger, so as to prevent even ordinary leakage or a casual overflow. The various remedies suggested are generally of an arbitrary character, but enough has already been stated to establish that the public safety justifies statutory interference. This interference should he of two kinds; first, by legislation affecting the drunkard individually; and second, regulating the conduct of the liquor trade generally.

In regard to the first part of the subject it is imperatively necessary that some amendments be made upon the existing law.

1Drunkenness as a crime, or police offence, is not properly defined. Persons are punished every day for being "Drunk and Disorderly," when although insobriety is proved there has been no disorderly conduct. Drunkenness or intoxication in public should be in itself a statutory offence. Disorderly conduct, in addition, should be considered as an aggravation. For a first offence the magistrate should have power to dismiss with an admonition, the conviction, however, to be recorded.
2An act of drunkenness, with two previous convictions within a twelvemonth, to be considered a serious offence, inferring imprisonment not exceeding three months.
3Any person having been convicted of drunkenness with previous convictions, and again convicted upon a new charge within a twelvemonth, to be deemed a habitual drunkard, and liable to imprisonment for twelve months, or detention in an asylum for inebriates for two years.
4Any habitual drunkard again convicted within a twelvemonth after his liberation shall be deemed a confirmed drunkard, and liable to detention in an asylum for a period not exceeding five years.
5Any confirmed drunkard being again convicted within a twelvemonth after liberation to be deemed an incorrigible drunkard, and subject to detention for life. The two lust mentioned classes to have their sentences endorsed by a District Court Judge, or Supreme Court Judge, upon a statement of the case forwarded by the convicting magistrate. Or the accused might have the privilege of demanding to be tried before a jury of four.
6The establishment of asylums for the compulsory detention and cure of inebriates cannot with safety be any longer delayed.
7Married men guilty of neglecting their families through drunken habits, to be liable in punishment by fine or imprisonment.
8A benevolent institution to have power to recover summarily advances made to any wife or children, owing to the neglect, drunkenness, or desertion of the husband. An order for repayment of such advances to be an exception to the Abolition of Imprisonment for Debt Act.
9A wife to have power to apply for a separation from a drunken husband. The magistrate to grant the custody of the children to the mother, and to find the husband liable in payment of a sufficient sum for the support of the wife and family. Where the wife desires the protection of her earnings, the existing law is sufficient.
10Power to be given to the wife, near relations, or friends of a dipsomaniac to apply for a warrant of detention in an asylum for an indefinite time, or until cured. Special reports to be made half-yearly on all such cases to the Minister of Justice, who should be empowered to order liberation.
11Notice may be given to publicans not to supply certain persons with intoxicating liquor, under pain of a penalty or the cost of their maintenance, if necessary.page 11
12The law to be applicable to females as well as males.

Such are the points affecting the individual drunkard requiring the instant attention of parliament. Amendment of the law in that direction has been too long delayed. In consequence of the defects in the law, innocent wives and families have been and still are involved in much suffering and distress, both physical and mental. Indeed, to speak plainly, when it is considered that the tendency to habitual drunkenness becomes hereditary, it appears absolutely necessary to deprive the incorrigible drunkard of personal liberty for life, in order to prevent him entailing on his children the sad inheritance of wretchedness which would otherwise fall upon them.

In reference to the second division of the subject—the regulation of the liquor traffic—several leading restrictions have been proposed.

1. Total prohibition of the liquor traffic.—I have already alluded to the cases of the town of Saltaire in England and Bess-brooke in Ireland, where prohibition was attended with the happiest effects. In England there are 1,400 parishes in which no intoxicating drink is publicly sold. The prohibition in these cases proceeds from the land-owners, who find that the sobriety of the parish increases the value of the population. In Luton, Bedfordshire, a town of 21,000 inhabitants, the magistrates took away the licenses from a number of badly-conducted public-houses, amounting in number to one-fifth of the whole. This step was followed by a diminution of crime to one-fourth of the previous amount during the next two years. In America, the scene of various experiments in the way of social reform, total prohibition has become law in several of the States. Public opinion must have been powerful in this direction to have succeeded in getting such a law passed. It would be absurd to expect unanimity on such a question, and there is a minority always in antagonism against prohibition. The law is evaded in many ways, but the weight of evidence is unmistakeably to the effect that prohibition has been attended with beneficial results, and that order, peace, and comfort prevail where formerly there were crime, rowdyism, and immorality. This is especially the case as regards the country districts. The Hon. W. Fox, in December, 1875, addressed a letter to the Dunedin 'Evening Star,' from which the following is an extract:—

"As regards the operation of actual prohibition by State law that I had the opportunity of studying in person during the eleven days which I spent in Maine and Vermont. The conclusion I arrived at was almost the same as that to which the Canadian Commissioners came, a few months ago, after personal inspection, and which Committees of both Houses of the Canadian Legislatures also came to after examining between two hundred and three hundred witnesses. It was that, although there are (chiefly in the sea-port towns and her places where there is a shifting population of sailors, timbermen, and other strangers), many gross infringements and evasions of the law, yet taking the State as a whole, and comparing it with what it was before the law that law has been an eminent success, and is worthy of imitation in every country where drinking habits exist. I believe that the statements put forward in the pamphlet published by General Neal Dow, called the "Cloud of Witnesses," and containing the evidence of a large number of leading inhabitants, office-bearers, ministers of religion, and others in Maine, are substantially correct; and I have no reason to doubt, from anything I saw, that the assertion of those witnesses, that nine-tenths of the drinking in Main? has been abolished by the law, is strictly correct.

The chief argument against prohibition is, that the law is unequal in its operation. The rich man can supply himself from his well-filled cellar, with its contents imported by himself, while the poor man is denied the enjoyment of his can of beer or glass of gin through the closing of the public-houses. But this is begging the question, the truth being that alcoholic liquor is not food or a necessary article of diet, and it is actually not a source of enjoyment, but is productive of sore and oppressive evils. One witness may be quoted on the working man's side. In a recent debate in the Imperial Parliament, Mr. Thomas Burt, a working-miner, who had been returned to page 12 Parliament by his fellow-workmen, spoke as follows:—

The hon, and learned member said he questioned whether there were half a dozen men who signed these petilions who did not themselves drink beer. From the confident manner in which he spoke he seemed to believe that no one could exist, much less perform hard work, without intoxicating drink. (Hear, hear) Well, sir, this is a great mistake. If I may, without presumption, refer to my own experience, I may inform the House that from the time I was ten years of age until I was twenty eight I worked as a coal miner, a kind of employment which is generally acknowledged to be of the most arduous nature, and all the hard physical labour I over performed was done without intoxicating liquors of any kind. Nor is my experience at all singular in this respect. There are tens of thousands of working men in all branches of trade who work every day without beer, and if we may take their word for it, they are unanimous in their testimony that they can perform their work, not simply as well, but much better without the drink than with it. (Cheers.)

Such language is creditable to Mr Burt, and it may safely be averred, that if he had not been an abstainer he would never have occupied his present distinguished position. Further, if working-men in this Colony were to follow his example, they would have higher, purer and more rational enjoyment than is possible with even the moderate use of alcoholic drink, and a greater proportion of them would be found to be rising to a more elevated platform socially, than is compatible with a taste and liking for the comforts and enjoyments of the beer barrel and whisky cask.

We, in New Zealand, are far from the lofty standard of total prohibition, and it will take years of discussion before it can be obtained. It is, however, worth while to aim at such a radical cure. Our industrial resources are very great, and if there were no partial paralysis of our energies by drunkenness, and the habitual use of strong drink, we would soon reach such a point of prosperity as a nation, as would make us a brilliant example to be followed by the neighbouring colonies.

Further remedies will be subsequently considered.