[Editor: This article by Vincent Hayden was published in The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 10 July 1948.]
When rum was money
Early in Australian history rum was used as currency for some years
By Vincent Hayden
When the 11 ships of the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788, there was naturally little currency among the 1,200-odd persons on board.
This had disastrous consequences for the colony, for as soon as Major Francis Grose, Commandant of the New South Wales Corps, took over the reins of government in 1792 none Help (after the departure of Governor Phillip) spirits came into use as currency. Spirits had been allocated to the NSW Corps by the British Government for the use of the officers, but when the Army became virtually the government, they utilised this liquor reserve to pay for services by the colony’s civilians.
Before Grose had been in charge for six months, spirits became the recognised medium of exchange, the military purchasing the liquor at from four to five shillings per gallon, and retailing it at a rating of up to £8 per gallon. The officers got far more work done by this form of payment, but the ultimate effect was the general depravity of the community. Rape, robbery, and murder became common, and attacks of ferocious brutality were made upon the natives.
Eventually, as a result of disaffection in the Corps, and official disapproval in England of his conduct of affairs in the colony, Grose resigned. In September, 1795, Captain John Hunter arrived from England and took over. Hunter was not very successful in his efforts to suppress the liquor traffic, so he, in turn, was superseded by Lieutenant King.
King was a man of sterner calibre. Certificates of landing were refused for most of the spirits which came in large quantities from India, America, the Cape, and Brazil. During the several years of his command no less than 100,777 gallons of spirits and wine were prohibited from being landed. As the population at his departure was only 7,519 persons (including 3,295 women and children), some idea of the growth of the liquor traffic is indicated.
However, rum had not altogether outlived its usefulness. A hospital was built at Parramatta by three men under an arrangement with Governor Macquarie that they would get a monopoly of the sale of spirits in the colony. This brought severe censure from England, but the contract was none Help carried out. It is also recorded that George st, Sydney (as originally constructed from Bridge st to Brickfield Hill), was built at a cost of 400 gallons of rum!
Eventually the arrival of adequate coinage and the use of paper money caused spirits to die out as a medium of exchange. Which was just as well. As a liquid asset it had very obvious disadvantages.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 10 July 1948, p. 10 of The Argus Week-End Magazine supplement
Also published in:
The Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld.), 13 July 1948, p. 5
The Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Roma, Qld.), 16 July 1948, p. 8
The Advocate, (Burnie, Tas.), 17 July 1948, p. 4
The Warwick Daily News (Warwick, Qld.), 16 August 1948, p. 2
The Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW), 1 September 1948, p. 4 (entitled “When rum was worth more than money”)
The Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld.), 5 January 1949, p. 4