Tag Archives: drunk

“Let me treat you to a drink”


February 16, 1909

Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine.

Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine.

On  February 16, 1909 the local St. John’s newspaper the Evening Telegram reported on a sermon given by Archbishop Michael Francis Howley, the Catholic Archbishop of St. John’s.  The newspaper account reported that “Archbishop Howley occupied the pulpit in the Cathedral” and spoke about establishing a League to be called the “Anti Treating League.”

The name chosen for the organization refers to the established practice and “habit of inviting each other to drink which is called “treating.”  We know it today in the expression “let me treat you to a drink.”

It was Archbishop Howley’s hope that this new organization

 “will have the practical effect in preventing excesses in the use of intoxicating drinks and encouraging sobriety and moderation, and the practice of the virtue of Temperance.

Archbishop Howley proposed that members of the Anti Treating League would pledge themselves “not to take from anyone a drink of intoxicating liquor in a place where such liquors are sold.

In short you could drink but no treating!!

The attempt by the Archbishop to curb drinking was not the only attempt to address the issue of excessive drink.  At The Rooms Provincial Archives records establish that as early as 1675 the  government  was keeping an account of the names of suppliers of liquor and wines to the inhabitants of Newfoundland.

The  Anti Treating League was established but many were deaf to the message of the Archbishop.  The year following the establishment of the League the number of Roman Catholics confined to the Police Station for being drunk was 430.  The number confined for being drunk and disorderly was 299.  He was not amused!

Recommended Archival Collection: Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese:  Howley’s Circular Letter – December 27, 1908: The Anti Treating League.

Recommended Reading: Rumrunners: The Smugglers from St. Pierre and Miquelon and the Burin Peninsula from Prohibition to Present Day.  J. P. Andrieux; Flanker Press, St. John’s, 2009.





The Effects of Bad Rum

Archival Moment

May 12, 1879

Making swish, drink it in moderation!

Making swish, drink it in moderation!

We have all had the occasion when we might have imbibed a little too much alcohol. But none so much as was drunk on one of the wharves in St. John’s on a Saturday afternoon in May of 1879.

One man got so drunk or ‘spiritualized’  that one of the reporters with the St. John’s newspaper the ‘Evening Telegram’ felt compelled to write about it.

The newspaper reported:

“The effects of bad rum were practically illustrated at the South Side of St. John’s, on Saturday. Several casks that once contained the precious beverage were rolled together on one of the wharves for the purpose of being filled with oil, when the idea suggested itself to the employees that free drinks could be obtained for all round by simply rinsing some of them out.

The men who were gathered poured a quantity of water from one cask to another until the proof satisfied those immediately interested and then all present were permitted to freely test the quality.

As a matter of course, a general misunderstanding arose, and a scene of indescribable confusion followed.

One stalwart seaman, belonging to the Dot ( a fishing vessel) of Prince Edward Island, who imbibed rather too freely, became so spiritualized that he thought that he could walk on water to the other side of the harbor.

Divesting himself of the greater part of his clothing, he stepped off the wharf; but unfortunately his faith was weaker than the rum and, like Peter of old, he began to sink.

After considerable time had elapsed, during which work was suspended all round, some parties pushed off a boat and the infatuated man was rescued and placed on terra firma, wiser than before he tried the experiment.”

The newspaper reporter was describing an old practice, the men were engaged in making swish or liquor produced by pouring water into a recently emptied rum barrel.

In Newfoundland there has always been those with a passion for making ‘swish’ and did not take kindly to interference.

On May 2, 1973 the St. John’s Daily News posted a poem  that was critical of  John Crosbie, Minister of Finance  and  liquor taxes that were being considered  by the government of the day.

Hon. John Crosbie

Swish will cost ten dollars

Inflation isn’t bad enough
But Johnny Crosbie makes it tough
He’s putting up the drop of stuff
Swish will cost ten dollars

Into the barrels from the store
So much hot water you would pour
A three buck deal but now it’s more
Swish will cost ten dollars

Liquor soaked into the wood
Drawn out by water as it should
A swishy product make’s that’s good
Swish will cost ten dollars.

If Crosbie likes to spread his name
Quite sad will be his claim to fame
The jacked up price on him we’ll blame
Swish will cost ten dollars.

Making moonshine on one’s own
Will Mr. Crosbie now condone
Why not, the way that things are goin’
Swish will cost ten dollars

Archival Collection at The Rooms:  Temperance societies in Newfoundland had been advocating for prohibition dating back to the 1860’s. In 1915 the Government of Newfoundland held a referendum proposing prohibition. Prohibition, which came into effect  (1917 –1925), prohibited everyone except doctors from buying, selling or possessing liquors containing more than two percent alcohol.   Explore GN 2/5 271-G. Office of the Colonial Secretary. Correspondence and report of the Commission of Enquiry into the administration of the Prohibition Act and appointment of the Liquor Controller 1920-1925.


“The mate has been drunk all day”


January 31, 1892

What to do with a drunken sailor?

What to do with a drunken sailor?

One of the great sources of archival information about the men who have made their living from the sea can be found in the “Crew Agreements and Log Books.” English logbooks survive from as early as the mid-17th century and a few more general journals from even earlier. By 1730, the British Admiralty identified the need for consistency and issued the order in their Naval Instructions of 1731 that  a log book had to be maintained on all vessels.

Prior to departure from any port crew members signed the crew agreement  and the Captain would designate one of the crew members, typically the “first mate” to keep a log of the trip.

These logs were treated as sacred, the logs provide considerable information on the vessel, including the port of registry, tonnage, owner and intended voyage. The information relating to the individual crew members includes the person’s name, year and place of birth, capacity, previous vessel served on, and date of signing on and off the vessel.

The St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Herald, reported on January 31, 1892 about an incident  on one vessel that involved an entry in the ship’s log book.

The newspaper reported:

“A good story is told of a well-known sea captain who has more than once visited this port.  (St. John’s). He always allowed his mate to keep the log. On one particular occasion the mate became intoxicated, and was unable to attend to his duty. As the mate very rarely committed the offence the captain excused him and attended to the log himself, concluding with this: “The mate has been drunk all day.” Next day the mate was on deck and resumed his duties.

Looking at the log he discovered the entry the captain had made and ventured to remonstrate with his superior.” What was the need sir””, he asked, “of putting that down on the log?” “Wasn’t it true?” asked the captain. “Yes sir; but it doesn’t seem necessary to enter it on the log””. “Well” said the captain, “since it is true it had better stand, it had better stand.”

The next day the captain had occasion to look at the log, and at the end of the entry which the mate had made was found the item: “The captain has been sober all day.”

The captain had the mate summoned and thundered “What did you mean by putting down that entry? Am I not sober every day?” “”Yes sir, but wasn’t it true?” “Why of course it was true.” “Well then sir”, said the mate, “since it was true, I think it had better stand, it had better stand.”

Recommended Archives: One of the best collections of “Crew Agreements and Log Books” in the world can be found at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland.  https://www.mun.ca/mha/index.php

Recommended Song: What to do with a Drunken Sailor:  Great Big Sea: http://www.elyrics.net/read/g/great-big-sea-lyrics/drunken-sailor-lyrics.html