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Drink and the historians: Sober reflections on alcohol in New Zealand, 1840-1914

Ryan, Greg
Journal Article
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::1608 Sociology
In reviewing the existing historiography of alcohol in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century New Zealand, this article emphasizes the need for histories that examine the perspective of the drinker and that consider the culture of alcohol consumption in its own right, and not merely as a counterpoint to temperance and prohibition. Why did people drink and did they do so excessively by contemporary international standards? What did people drink and in what circumstances? How did tastes change over time? What role did brewers and publicans play in the community other than as dispensers of alcohol? To determine the impact of alcohol on New Zealand society we need to distinguish between those who drank to excess, those who drank in calm moderation, those who abstained quietly and those who abstained noisily. Just as Patricia Grimshaw insisted that ‘It would be wrong for the later generations to remember only the fanatical wing of the [prohibition] movement, and to forget the patient, dedicated and enlightened work of many hundreds of sensible and intelligent humanitarians, reacting to a genuine evil in society, it would be equally wrong to view all drinkers and drink sellers as harbingers of damage and disruption. Moreover, although the prohibitionists’ most enduring legacy, the ‘six o’clock swill’, shaped several generations of New Zealand (binge) drinkers and a set of twentieth-century licensing laws rightly characterized by W.H. Oliver as ‘illiberal and degrading, the era of the swill also provides a long barrier that tends to obscure aspects of a more nuanced alcohol culture in the decades preceding it.
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© Copyright of New Zealand Journal of History. Articles in the New Zealand Journal of History remain in copyright and any reuse except for the purposes of private study requires permission from the copyright holders. Permission granted to archive in Research@Lincoln.
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