Reviewed by Chris
Rum is an entertaining and readable account of the role liquor and particularly rum played in Australia’s early colonial history. From early days, rum was distilled in Australia and later imported from countries such as India. Such was the demand for rum that it became local currency often being used to pay for work.
The early governors were unable to control the manufacture and consumption of rum largely due to the New South Wales Corps. The Corps maintained its production and sale monopoly which was seen as a means of getting rich quickly. The Rum Corps ran the colony and were successful in accelerating the return of various governors to Britain. This culminated in the Rum Rebellion in 1808 when John Macarthur was goaled following Governor Bligh’s actions against the Rum Corps. This was finally resolved by Lachlan Macquarie and the regiment returned to Britain.
"A good book to sit down and ruminate over with a glass...or two...."
Australia and its formation - through the distorted view of a rum bottle.
Could the Rum Rebellion have been averted if Major Johnston wasn't hungover?
Would the Eureka Stockade have been different if the rebels weren't drunk?
How were prisoners to get drunk if Macquarie closed the only pub in the jail?
And why should sailors under fourteen be deprived of their sixteen shots of rum per day?
These are just some of the questions raised in Matt Murphy's account of Australia's colonial history. Brimming with detailed research and irreverent character sketches, Rum looks at not just how much was drunk in colonial Australia (a lot!), but also the lengths people went to get their hands on it, the futile efforts of the early governors to control it, and the often disastrous and/or absurd consequences of its consumption.
Those consequences aren't just in our past. Murphy goes beyond foundation stories to look at the legacy our love affair with alcohol has created, from binge drinking to lockout laws and from prohibition to urinating on the parliamentary carpet.
So here's to Rum, for making bad decisions look like a good idea at the time.