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Sailors and drinking in Liverpool

The prevalence of drunken seamen had far-reaching social consequences in nineteenth-century Liverpool. The annual reports of the Sailors Home state many seamen signed the temperance pledge but the figure never crossed 20 percent.

Image: Cover of The Slain in Liverpool during 1864 by Drink. Source: Google Books. Public Domain.

In 1864, Rev John Jones wrote a series of articles on drunkenness for the Liverpool Mercury, one of which focused on seamen. He wrote, 'In order to ascertain the idea a sailor had of happiness and the compass of his wants, one was informed that everything he wished for in three times should be given him. “Why then,” says Jack, “let me have all the rum in the world.” “What next?” “Why, let me have all the tobacco in the world.” “And what else?” “Why, I hardly know,” said Jack; “you may give me a little more rum.”’ (Jones 1865, 30). Not long afterward, The Times (28 August 1866: 8) quoted the Liverpool Albion’s remark that Liverpool was ‘the most drunken, the most criminal, the most pauper-oppressed, and most death-stricken’ town in England.

Image: Cover of The Slain in Liverpool during 1864 by Drink. Source: Google Books. Public Domain.

Seamen had a known drinking problem that exacerbated in places like Liverpool that had hundreds of pubs along the waterfront. The allure of these establishments, coupled with the harsh conditions of life at sea, created an environment conducive to excessive drinking. The prevalence of drunken seamen had far-reaching social consequences in nineteenth-century Liverpool. The most immediate impact was the increased incidence of violence and disorder in the waterfront areas. Since brawls among inebriated sailors were common, Liverpool’s newspapers showed a tendency to over-emphasise the threat they posed to public safety and order. Records of drunkenness and arrests suggest that seamen constituted a small part of the city’s unruly population. For instance, police reports indicate that the percentages of seamen among the people arrested for drunkenness were 8.6 in 1866, 5.5 in 1880, 5.9 in 1990, and 5.0 in 1900 (Beckingham 2011, 84).

Image: ‘Map of Public Houses Round the Sailors’ Home, Liverpool’. Source: Mawdsley's Map of the City of Liverpool and Suburbs, 1883, Liverpool Record Office (647.94 SMY). Reproduced with permission.

The local authorities struggled to maintain control over the unruly behaviour of seafarers who had consumed excessive amounts of alcohol. However, aware that drinking was central to seamen’s social connections, they were cautious about regulating drinking establishments and focused more on preventing crimping and what contemporary commentators termed seamen’s ‘sexual immorality’ through strict licensing of pubs. The city’s clergy placed great faith in the reformative potential of the Sailors’ Home in helping seamen lodgers to moderate their drinking (Evans 1997). The presence of nearly 50 pubs within 150 yards of the Sailor’s Home undermined such optimism. The annual reports of the institution proudly mentioned that a large number of seamen signed the temperance pledge, but the figure never crossed 20 percent of the seamen in transit and it is not certain if the signatories honoured the pledge.

References

Anonymous. 1866. ‘A Bad Eminence’, The Times, 28 August 1866, 8.

Beckingham, David. 2011. ‘Liverpool: “Capital of the Binge Culture”’, in Merseyside: Culture and Place, ed. by Mike Benbough-Jackson and Sam Davies (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars), 61-87.

Beckingham, David. 2017. The Licensed City: Regulating Drink in Liverpool 1830-1920 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press).

Evans, Bob. 1997. Mersey Mariners (Wirral: Countyvise).

Jones, John. 1865. The Slain in Liverpool during 1864 by Drink (Liverpool: Edward Howell).

Citation for this article

Manikarnika Dutta, 'Sailors and drinking in Liverpool' Mariners: Race, Religion and Empire in British Ports 1801-1914, https://mar.ine.rs/stories/sailors-and-drinking-in-liverpool/
Retrieved 22 February 2024