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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12


No. VII.

Some as thou saw'st by violent stroke shall die—
By fire, flood, famine; by intemperance more
In meats and drinks, which on the earth shall bring
Diseases dire, of which a monstrous crew
Before thee shall appear.

Paradise Lost.

In the preceding letter I proceeded to suggest as a remedy against intemperance, the expediency of amendment of the existing law. I am satisfied there is a wide field for operation in this direction, and one which is essentially practical. It has also this in its favour, that all those, whether approving of total abstinence or not, who desire to see drunkenness lessened and drinking customs modified, may unite in a common effort, I alluded to the necessity for a classification of licenses. Hotels should be restricted to their proper business, attending to the comfort of their inmates; public-houses should be limited to a bar trade, under proper regulation; bottle-licenses should be abolished, and the retail trade carried on by dealers, who should follow no other calling. The number should be limited, so that the trade may be carried on in an honest manner, subject to severe penalties for adulteration. I will now offer several other suggestions by way of amendment on the existing law:—

2. Packet licenses should be abolished. It almost amounts to an intolerable nuisance to quiet travellers that every steamer should be a floating public-house. There is also a degree of danger in the present practice. The master of a steamer should always have his brain clear from the effects of alcohol. Even a "wee drop," a mere thimbleful, while not producing intoxication, may so lay caution asleep or induce rashness, as to lead to accident. At present a master is often annoyed by the foolish kindness of a passenger pressing him to share in strong drink, when he had not the slightest desire for it, and would have preferred being without it. In my voyages along the coast, I have seen the captain of a steamer positively persecuted by a maudlin passenger, and to escape being rude, obliged to lock himself up in his cabin. It would be no deprivation to the travelling public to have no temptation for twenty-four hours to resort to intoxicating liquors as means for passing away the time. Our longest voyage without touching land does not exceed 18 hours. To those to whom journeying is disagreeable, it would be found that enforced abstinence would be beneficial. I have tried every way of making a journey either by land or sea agreeable, and I can say without hesitation that there is greater comfort without, than with beer, spirits, or wine! There is no feverish irritability, and sleep is always more refreshing, in the absence of stimulants. I believe that the majority of seagoing travellers who may be accustomed to their daily indulgence on shore would enjoy a day or two's freedom occasionally. In England, many persons who get insensibly jaded and out of tone from the drinking habits they think a necessity, resort to hydropathic establishments, where page 20 they enjoy the simple diet and the crystal spring, until quite set-up and rendered fit for another campaign. I once met with a lady holding a good position in society in Liverpool, who informed me that it was her custom to run away occasionally to a famous establishment where abstinence was the rule, and that if it was not for the repose and relief she experienced in the temporary change, life would be a burden to her. It has been proved that, wherever the general public have a choice between drinking and teetotal ships, the latter are preferred. The whole trade betwixt England and the East was once in the hands of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Their steamers were floating hotels, where every luxury in the way of liquor could be obtained. Their prosperity is an affair of the past. During the last few years, since the opening of the Suez Canal, the old company has been successfully opposed by the City Company's line of steamers. These powerful vessels, 3000 tons burthen, are all named from cities. There is the City of London, the City of Manchester, the City of Mecca, the City of Venice, and so on. No spirits are sold on board, and yet these, vessels are preferred to the others. The same company had a sailing fleet to the East for twenty years in which teetotalism was followed. Their success has enabled them to establish their present magnificent line of steamers. A fact like this is a sufficient answer to those who would keep the present system with its dangers and disagreeables, because otherwise the public would think it a hardship. Connected with this there is a practice which may be denounced as scandalous, and that is, the sale of liquor in immigrant sailing vessels. The scenes of drunkenness and gambling which take place, sometimes in the saloon, but oftener in the intermediate cabin, are disgraceful. The drink is retailed at an exorbitant price, and often young men coming out to the colony, otherwise well disposed, are tempted to squander the little fund on drink which was intended to maintain them for a few weeks on shore, and they have been landed penniless. Repeated instances of this have come within my own knowledge. In England, the colony is considered to be a moral cesspool adapted for the reception of the numerous ne'er-do-weels who have turned out nuisances to their families, and there is never a vessel without one or more of these hopefuls among the passengers. To such men, when their own purse is exhausted, their youthful fellow-passengers fall an easy prey. It is more than time that the owners of sailing vessels should provide a remedy for this evil. The Government also should prohibit the sale of liquor in immigrant ships.

3. The employment of females at public bars ought to be prohibited. To expose young women to the frivolity and worse, which are exhibited by many of the frequenters of bars, is to sap the foundation of their virtue. They are in danger also of acquiring a liking for the articles they dispense to others. I recollect one case of a barmaid in Dunedin, who, in a fit of delirium, escaped in a state of next to nudity, and was apprehended wandering at large a fit subject for the Lunatic Asylum. In another case, recently, where a licensee allowed his own young daughters to look after the bar, advantage was taken by a sensual scoundrel to go into the bar and conduct himself before the girls in a scandalously immoral manner. If there be a father of a family in any rank of life who approves of the present system of barmaids, let him answer the question, Do you think such a situation one in which you would place your own daughter if you were interested in her future welfare?

4. Another minor reform would be to separate amusements from drinking. There is no necessary connection between them. On the contrary; no one requires, under any sound pretext, the combined excitement of drinking and any amusement. Some social reformers suggest the furnishing of suitable amusements for the people as being the best means of temperance reform. There is good sense in this. Many go to the tippling-shops because they have no better means of relaxation. Let the public page 21 bar be limited to its proper use, and let all amusements be conducted in a separate place. A common public-house should have no billiard-room attached to it. Billiard rooms and concert-rooms may be agreeable modes to many of passing an idle hour, or of obtaining relaxation after a bard day's work, but let them be found apart from the sale of intoxicating liquors. Large hotels might be allowed a billiard license, but there should be no billiard-room bar, and no liquor should be sold therein. Few who have travelled in the colony but must have spent sleepless hours, kept awake by the noise and clamour of the billiard-room in a wooden road-side hotel.

I have now exhausted my suggestions for the amendment of the existing law. It will be borne in mind that I pointed out two divisions of the subject in which legislation is required: first, dealing with the individual consumer, who degenerates into a drunkard; and second, dealing with the proper regulation of the trade. The Imperial "Licensing Act, 1872," might be followed with safety "so far as it goes. It draws the distinction between a person found drunk in a public place and a person who is also disorderly, and regulates the punishment accordingly. It does not, however, go far enough to punish or reform habitual drunkards. In America their legislation is carried further. If a man is injured from intoxicating liquors, the law recognises the right of action against the vendor. In Ohio, the statute is entitled, "An Act to provide against the evils resulting from the sale of liquors," and, by the 7th section, it allows of such an action against "any person who shall . . . have caused the intoxication," which may be "habitual or otherwise." In November last an action in the Supreme Court was sustained, which was brought by a wife to recover damages for injuries resulting from the sale of intoxicating liquors to her husband. The intoxication was habitual during a period of years. It was held that it was not essential that the defendant should be the sole cause of such intoxication; and that one who contributed to cause that condition, by sales calculated to produce that result, should be presumed to have intended it, and was liable for the damage resulting, though others might in like manner have contributed thereto without, his knowledge. A law of this kind would be a great protection to innocent wives and children, and it is undoubtedly just and equitable in principle.

In looking at the whole question, I have endeavoured to do so fairly, and, I hope, without the use of language either intemperate or offensive to any one. The evil flowing from the abuse of alcoholic liquor is so generally admitted, that I believe the great body of the public are beginning to be alive to the urgency of taking steps; to mitigate it. A quickened and rightly guided public opinion is the surest means of an effective social reform, but this is naturally a slow process. I believe there is a silent growth of healthful public opinion going on; but it becomes necessary in the, meantime to secure, as far as practicable, a wholesome regulation of the liquor trade. This can only be done by judicious legislation; and I hope that I have succeeded in pointing out sundry beneficial amendments of the existing law, which, if carried out would help on the good cause—the promotion of the happiness and well-being of the people. But whatever laws be passed much always depends on their administration. In England, an endeavour has been made to secure the vigilance of the police by the insertion of a clause in the Licensing Act, applying one moiety of the fines recovered under the statute to the Police Superannuation Fund. A provision of this kind would not be without its use in the colony.

Lastly, as it is found useful in [unclear: many] diseases to establish a counter-irritant [unclear: by] way of cure, so if it is desirable to [unclear: wear] the public from excess in the use of [unclear: intoxicants], it is necessary to institute [unclear: some] counter attraction. Man must renew [unclear: his] jaded strength of body and mind by [unclear: re] taxation of some kind. Let proper places [unclear: c] amusement be encouraged. Public [unclear: libraries] museums, and lecture-halls should be [unclear: established] in every centre of population, and page 22 suitable recreation ground should be an, adjunct of every village. Government might do much by giving statutory means of incorporating such institutions, and the power of levying small rates in support. Parliament might usefully make grants-in-aid on certain conditions. The exercise of thrift and foresight should be encouraged, by every facility being given for the formation of friendly and co-operative societies on a sound basis. Parliament might with advantage take a step farther, and make a certain degree of thrift compulsory. The compulsory principle is admitted in whatever is for the public good, such as vaccination and education; and there is no reason why every citizen should not be compelled by life assurance to prevent his wife and children, in the event of his death, becoming an immediate burden on the State. In addition to all the means mentioned, there is the power of individual example; and no person who is alive to the influence of religion can be deaf to the clamant cry proceeding from countless thousands for a brother's help to save themselves and their dear ones from the destruction and misery flowing from our present customs. If the subject be approached in the noble spirit of self-negation, cur senators may rest assured that success will wait on their efforts, affording an ever-widening platform for the comfort and happiness of society at large.

Postscript.—Since the above was written I have met with an account of a philanthropic movement commenced in Liverpool, which is likely to do good, and which proves that public bars are often resorted to for want of more satisfactory places for refreshment. This movement is the establishment of Cocoa Houses. A limited company was formed, with a capital of £20,000, but it has not been found necessary to call up more than half of that, though eighteen houses have already been opened, and the turnover is now at the rate of £30,000 per annum. The experiment was begun by opening a house in the neighbourhood of a busy part of the docks, and this was speedily followed by four others on the same crowded river side; and the encouragement was so great that now, only a few months from the beginning of the movement, they have opened their eighteenth house, opposite the Sailors' Home, to compete with the forty-six other public-houses which surround the Home. The principles of the traffic are very simple, and are such as are bound to command success in any community amongst which they are followed. Good food is sold for ready money with a very narrow margin of profit, the only peculiarity being that the varieties of food are limited in number, and the charges for the supplies are very small. Cocoa is sold at a penny a pint, or a halfpenny for half-a-pint; tea and coffee are sold at a penny for a large cup, and the consumer may have a pennyworth of bread and butter, a pennyworth of cheese, or a penny meat pie, and he may smoke as much as he likes in the place where he eats. Separate rooms are provided for women, and numbers of factory girls repair thither at their dinner hour. Success has attended the experiment, the Liverpool company having declared a dividend of 10 per cent, and written off 20 per cent of the cost of plant, besides carrying a large amount to a reserve fund.—In the Imperial Parliament in March last, Mr. Chamberlain's resolution in favor of the Gothenburg system was negatived, and the Intoxicating Liquors (Scotland) Bill was lost on the second reading.

Mills, Dick & Co., General Printers, Stafford-street, Dunedin.