Bottoms Up - Tidbits

Some of the barbers of the city [St. John’s] are contemplating applying for Licenses to add liquor saloons to their places of business.

If the keeper of a liquor saloon can legitimately run a tonsorial branch in connection with his business, there ought to be no objection to having the rule reversed and allowing barbers a liquor license.

Source: St. John’s researcher Michael Power came across this in the newspaper’s ‘Marine Notes’.

Jack FitzGerald stated in his book Rum Runners and Mobsters: Prohibition’s 100th Anniversary in Newfoundland that one year, the ladies of St. John’s Boycotted the Regatta.

The following report from the Newfoundlander certainly seems to be referring to this.

“…about the hour appointed for starting, we felt rather disappointed that the banks of the beautiful sheet of water were not lined with so brilliant an assemblage of female beauty, grace and loveliness as enraptured us upon a similar occasion; and indeed, for the general comfort, it was a circumstance much to be regretted, for we cannot help thinking that, if a like number of ladies had graced the Regatta with their presence, this year, as we witnessed at the period above alluded to, it would have been found that the same bewitching influence still attended them, which was exerted to such brilliant effect.

We do not, however, imagine for a moment that the disagreeable weather was the sole cause of the non-attendance of so many of our fashionables.

No: we feel assured that it was a just and necessary retaliation upon their parts for the inattention with which they have been treated for the last three or four years; and, certainly , they could not adopt a more effectual mode of punishment than by absenting themselves from every scene of amusement, and proving to the beaus how joyless and dim, such places are, when not enlivened by their smiles, but that” Whether sunn’d in the tropics, or chill’d at the pole, If woman be there, there is happiness too.”

We would strongly recommend the Ladies, until a proper return (and such a one as they are led to expect) be made for all their kindness, to persevere in this line of conduct, and they will soon be enabled to dictate their own terms.

The Newfoundlander, Tuesday, August 28, 1828.

In perhaps the earliest mention of a temperance movement from Europe, Maurice, Landgraf of Hesse started one on December 25,1600 – The institution of the Order of Temperance. Members of the order vowed never to become intoxicated cutting back to no more than seven glasses of alcoholic beverages at one time and not oftener than twice a day…. Fourteen glasses of wine per day, but in between if you were thirsty you could drink beer.

Source: Urban, Slyvanus, The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 5 New Series, 1836, January to June, (London, , William Pickering, John Bowyer Nichols and Son, Early Temperance Society in Germany), 144.

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Old St. John’s was full of odd characters. Tommy Toe, returned from WWI and took immediately to drink, appearing in police court in 1916 and onwards. He was good when sober and worked hard, but when the drink was in him, the devil came out. Someone gave him a puncheon, a large wood barrel in which he slept and found shelter in inclement weather. In the summer he would roll the puncheon along the waterfront and check out the boats that were tied up, looking for a possible winter home. Tommy disappeared in the 1960s and legend has it that he fell asleep in one of the frames for the concrete pilings being used to build the new Harbour Drive. According to Gerald Penney, during archeological investigations in the area, they found codfish bones, tobacco pipes, and liquor bottles, but no signs of Tommy Toe. Tommy (real name, Thomas Peddle.) lived in a large empty puncheon on the waterfront. Summertime he would roll the puncheon up and down the waterfront. He was always on the lookout for a comfortable boat in which to spend the winter. In a newspaper report from July, 1916, it stated that “several ne’er-do-wells under the influence of liquor created a scene near the railway station yesterday afternoon at 3:30 o’clock; one of the number included the famous Tommy Toe who took to his heels when a stalwart representative of the law appeared around the corner of Job Street.”

Jack FitzGerald tells the tale of Tommy Toe brought into court one day. Justice Higgins acted as his defense lawyer when Tommy was brought up on bootlegging charges. Higgins asked Tommy, a short little man who resembled Charlie Chaplin, to stand up in court so the judge could see he and then said “Look at this man your honour, do you honestly think that if he had a bottle of rum he would sell it?” Amidst much laughter in the courtroom, the judge quickly passed a judgement of “Not Guilty” to the bootlegging charge.

In from Marjorie Mews’ article, Port in a Storm she states, “In an old estate book of Newman and Co. for 1776 there is an interesting item concerning Bell Island in Conception Bay, where are found the extensive iron mines, the mineral rights [. . . ]It seems that Bell Island was conveyed to Newman’s by way of mortgage, which was subsequently foreclosed, because the item says: ”Bell Island – nothing received from it: fell due to us through a mortgage.” The date of the earliest deed of the Newman properties in Barbour Breton is 1742, from George Nellicott to Newman. Source: Evolution of Newfoundland port wine [covers 1700-1900; re Newman & Co. -- Harvey, M. (Rev.) Parsons' Xmas Annual, 1900, pp. 14-16.

Benjamin Franklin actually came up with 200 terms for drunkenness. Printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Some of these included : Pidgeon-ey’d, Moon-ey’d, drunk as a wheelbarrow, Half-way to Concord, crump-footed, double-tongue’s, dizzy as a goose, jambled, going to Jerusalem, contending with Pharaoh,loose in the hilts, to smell of an onion, froze his mouth, had a thump over the head with Sampson’s jawbone, had been too free with Sir John Strawberry, drank till he gave up his half-penny, had been to jerichol, had taken off his considering cap, shnockered. Source: Jeff Kacirck’s ‘forgotten English’ June 10, 2020

Tony Thomas under “Merchandizing memo in the NL Journal of Commerce. no, 10 vol 27, 1960 noted that in 1960, beer was .33 and, in some clubs, and bars it was .35 a bottle.

Edward Ward commented in 1699 in reference to the population of New England. “rum” is a sovereign remedy against the grumbling of the guts, a kibe-heel [ulcerated chilblain] or wounded conscience, which are three epidemical distempers that afflict the country.’

For strains in the shoulder. Take a pennyworth of Onions, chop them small, Vinegar, Black Soap, Hog’s Lard each one a pennyworth, a little dish full of ale or yeast boil it and throw thereon a quantity of salt and anoint the part affected as hot as you can bear it. From a Newfoundland Source: - The Smith Family Papers, PANL

Flatus Drops: Take of Kyan Pepper or Long pepper powdered, half an ounce, French Brandy a gill. Digest without heat, three days and filter. Powder: Take Carraway Seeds, three drams, Galangal, one dram, of this powder take a teaspoonful occasionally (when much oppressed with wind) in a glass of water with a teaspoonful of the drops last mentioned drops. The Smith Family Papers, PANL

Cure all Take 4 pennyworth of Nitre [niter (potassium nitrate)], a pennyworth of Spirits of Wine & 4 pennyworth of Spirits of Turpentine mix and then add a pint of Vinegar, bottle it for use. - The Smith Family Papers, PANL

Stomach Elixir: Take two ounces of gentian root, one ounce of Curassoa [Curacao] oranges and half an ounce of Virginean Snake root. Infuse them in a quart of French Brandy three or four days. Smith Family Papers, PANL

To make Ginger Wine Boil four gallons of Water and seven pounds of coarse sugar together a quarter of an hour. Then boil the Peel of two Lemons and four ounces Ginger in three pints of water an hour. When new Milk warm add the juice of two Lemons, half a gill of Yeast and two Ounces of Raisins. Put all together into a Barrel and stop it up close immediately and let it stand a month or longer. Then Bottle it for use. From a Newfoundland Source: - The Smith Family Papers

To make alcohol in the Tub Take a quantity of Wheat Flour and make it into a paste with Treacle, put little lumps of it into the Tub in different places and it will make it work. If you put two or three lumps into the Barrel it will make work out and become fine. The Smith Family Papers, PANL.

To make Ginger Beer Take Cream of Tartar two ounces: Ginger two ounces, raw Sugar one pound, one Lemon. Power [sic] on the above one Gallon of boiling water stir all well together when new milk warm add a spoonfull of fresh yeast when it creams and before cold bottle it. Tie the corks over and in two days it will be fit to drink. If fine lemons can’t be produced, one dram of concrete salts of Lemon will answer the purpose. [Concrete salt of Lemon actually existed. I believe it was the same thing as citric acid.] The Smith Family Papers

In 2100 BCE Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures, used beer as a base for their pharmaceuticals, the first recorded use of beer used for medicinal purposes. It was of course more hygienic than water but also had the extra added advantage that some ingredients dissolved better in beer. Beer also could be used as a mild sedative. Source: A History of the World in Six Glasses by T. Standage, pg. 38

In the early twentieth century the common man on the street could buy a bottle of good scotch for $1.20 and Rum went for .30 a bottle. That doesn’t seem like much now, but in those days $1.20 probably came close to a day’s wages. No wonder rum ruled. A customer in a tavern could pour his own drink with no such thing as a carefully measuring out jigger. The bar owner simply passed a customer the bottle to pour his own drink. Twenty cents for each drink of spirit, including the mix. This no doubt encouraged over indulgence. Along with the 30 cent bottle of rum, one could purchase a bottle of imported beer for 15 cents and a local beer for 10.

Bernard Walsh might have been known as a fool, but he was a smart one. When prominent businessman Ned Noonan asked him to take a note to James Baird, Bernard worked the errand to his advantage. As soon as Noonan was out of sight Bernard opened the envelope, read the message and then added his own to it. James Baird never did get the envelope with the message in it. Later that day Bernard was found on New Gower Street fast asleep and reeking of liquor. When they opened the crumpled letter in his hand, they read Ned Noonan’s note “send the fool farther’ and Bernard’s postscript ‘and give him a drink”. The publicans of the city honoured these instructions to the letter. Fred Raymond, also known as the ‘hatter’ (circa 1910) was famous for wearing or carrying three hats at one time. He said he could drink anyone under the table. As a warm up, he would drink 3-4 four glasses of olive oil first and then down four or five shots of rum.

A famous ‘bum’ by the name of Peter Quilp gainfully employed himself on the wharf for three days and then regularly took time off to spend his ‘capital’ on a few drinks. Sometimes more than a few drinks. Sometimes his ‘capital’ did not reach far enough to keep him as well lubricated as he would like. It was in conditions such as these that forced poor Peter to solicit help from friends and acquaintances. He became so well know for this that his friends would rather hastily put out to sea rather than meet up with Peter. One day Peter met a clever sort, a politician by the name of Mr. John Anderson. Peter, probably knowing his reputation had preceded him, asked not for drink money, but for funds to buy a stick of tobacco. Mr. Anderson, wise to his game, offered to take him to the store and buy it for him. Peter dutifully followed him, planning to exchange the stick of tobacco for the one glass of rum it would buy. But much to his chagrin, he watched Mr. Anderson break the stick of tobacco in half and give him only one piece, the other to be held in reserve by the shop keeper. As the article in the Christmas review reports, “Peter was smiling all over till he saw the tobacco broken in two pieces, and then, realizing that it had passed the negotiable stage, he fainted behind the molasses puncheon.” Christmas Review, 1901, p 15. - Rev. M. Harvey.

Matt Strong’s favourite Water Street trick was to fake a heart attack just outside a drinking establishment and some sympathetic soul was sure to buy him a stiff drink to ‘bring him around’. Matt would repeat this performance in various locations so that by the end of the night he was feeling exceptionally ‘healthy’ without an ache or a pain or any further ‘heart troubles’.

For a very early recipe, try this: Buttered Ale: Beer or ale warmed with butter added to it and then sweetened with sugar and spiced with cinnamon or nutmeg. It was then often thickened with beaten eggs or egg yolks. These mulled ales were poured back and forth between the pan and the bowl to get the right consistency - (The compleat Cook - Rebecca Price)

Lambs’ Wool: This was a mulled ale made from the pulp of roasted apples, white wine, spice and sugar. Lambs wool was a traditional drink for Halloween, Christmas and twelfth Night. It was sometimes served with brown toast floating on the surface. (The compleat Cook - Rebecca Price)

Caudles consisted of Wine or ale mixed with egg yolk and gently heated. These were considered good for breakfast or bedtime and often sugared or spiced, sometimes thickened with bread crumbs.

Aqua Vitae or water of life was so called in the middle ages was known as the water of immortality and believed to prolong life, clear away ill-humors revive the heart and maintain youth. Natural fermentation can only occur in environments of less than 15 % alcohol but Aqua Vitae was much stronger in alcohol content therefore considered to be almost magical in its properties.

Michael Puff von Schrick, an Austrian physician in 1478 claimed that half a spoonful of aqua vitae every morning could ward off illness and pouring a little into the mouth of a dying person could give them the strength to utter their last words… Aqua Vitae soon developed into what the Gaelic nations called whiskey and the English, brandy, and the German’s Branntwein.

Only reason pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock at Cape Cod was that they ran out of beer. Their original destination had been further south near the mouth of the Hudson River. Urban legend has the Mayflower stopping off in Newfoundland. Some say it was to fix a broken mast, perhaps it was a more pressing matter of something to drink.

“During the winter season, the inhabitants “now had time to relax and it was a time to get “thoroughly, unconditionally and gloriously drunk.” CSPC 1684, pg. 708 referenced. Eighteenth Century Newfoundland, Grant head, 19.

The old way of checking for ‘proof’ of alcohol in England was to use a gunpowder. The word proof means a test or trial of something i.e. the alcohol had to be tested or proved. As early as the 16th century, this was done by use of a gunpowder pellet. The testers soaked the pellet in alcohol and if it still lit when a flame was put to it, the alcohol content was rated above proof. The whole point of it was to ascertain how much tax they could charge on it. If it was under 100 proof, it was inferior and so taxed at a lower rate. Alcohol over 100 proof was taxed at a higher rate. The number of 100 was chosen because this was the typical alcohol content of distilled liquors. By the end of the 17th century, specific gravity was used to identify the alcohol content. This remained an inaccurate means of measuring proof until 1816 when a precise standard was defined as 12/13th the specific gravity of pure distilled water at the same temperature. The Americans measured proof slightly differently. Their system established by about 1848, was based on percent alcohol by volume with 50% alcohol by volume as typical of strong distilled liquors. This was the American 100 proof.

Galgay/McCarthy talk about two ‘notorious’ St. John’s ladies of the eighteenth century who sold liquor and other ‘services’ to the ship’s crews in the harbour. Catherine Connel and Mary Power were charged in court on counts of keeping a disorderly house and illegally selling liquor. Their excuse to get on the boats was to ‘sell baked bread and wash clothes for the crew’. I’m not sure how much clothes washing went on, but there were probably good liquor sales going on. The laws of the land stated that no liquor was to be sold to seaman during the fishing season.

Port has been used as a remedy. British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger was given port for gout as a boy. He drank a bottle a day at age 14. I’m not sure if it improved his gout, but I’m sure it made him feel better in other ways. Elderly ladies often took port for ‘medicinal’ reasons.

In 1934, tragedy struck. A barrel of port, being transported down water street, broke open when it fell off a horse drawn cart. It attracted quite a crowd. But before they could get into it and take a drink, the mayor ordered the fire department to hose down the cobblestones and wash the port into Beck’s cove. In 1937 an interesting incident occurred in an area near Bambrick street in St. John’s One fine day workers at C.F. Lester and Co. were given an assignment, to take the horse and cart down to the Furness Withy shipping Company on Water Street East and load the cart with wine. Each drum weighed about 1000-2000 lbs. and stood about seven feet high. They were constructed of oak and encircled with iron bands, thus the weight of each drum was considerable and needed several men to load each drum. With such a heavy cargo the horses must have strained up the cobblestones towards the Newfoundland Liquor Control store on the corner of Springdale and Water street West. After one successful trip they went back for a second and in the middle of water street there was a loud crack. One of the wagons cracked in half under the weight of the huge drums. One of the large drums rolled out onto the cobblestones and ruptured spilling it ruby red liquid into the gutters. Needless to say, there was excitement everywhere. “Richard where’s ya mug, ye better get a drink ‘fore it all runs away?” Unfortunately, the police officers were quickly on the scene and wouldn’t allow anyone to take even a drop. Eventually the Firemen came and hosed the lovely red stuff down the cobblestones into Becks Cove. Downhomer Vol. 12 (7) 1999. - Richard Bambrick, Waterloo, Ontario.

The inn-keeper, Cornelius Quirk ran the London Tavern from the 1770s until James Phaelen took it over in 1810. It was at the London Tavern that the first meeting of the Benevolent Irish Society (B.I.S.) met. This non-sectarian society was formed to relieving the wants of the poor in the city. Founded by a group of Irish Gentlemen, the society held it’s first meeting on February 5th, 1806 at the London Tavern. Located on the Southern end of the lower path, it services the upper-class element in the town, the merchant class. The ‘London Tavern’ was known as the only place in town to get a decent meal and this they created from Irish salt pork, corned beef and British flour in addition to locally grown vegetables and the ever-available hard bread, and fish both smoked and salted.

The London Tavern saw the first meeting of the Benevolent Irish Society in 1806 The society for Conditions of the Poor met there for their annual breakfast, and Roman Catholic bishop James O’Donel had his retirement dinner there before going back to Ireland. The Free Masons met at the London Tavern in 1774. In 1813 Lieutenant Chappell talks about the London Tavern. He remarks that it was the best in St. John’s, on June 9, 1814, William Firth took over the London Tavern and Billiard room and it seems to go down. Last mention of the tavern is in 1818 which mentions that it survived the great fire of 1817. Then there is no more mention of it. The lease expired in 1820.

More delicious recipes to try! Sack posset – Take fourteen Eggs, leave out half the Whites, beat them with a quarter of a Pound of fine Sugar, some Eringo Roots slic’d thin, with a quarter of a Pint of Sack, mix it well together, set it on the Fire; keep it stirring all the while, and one Way: When ‘tis scalding hot, let another, whilst you stir it, pour into it a Quart of Cream, boiling hot, with a Nutmeg boil’d in’t; then take it off the Fire and clap a hot Pie Plate on it, and let it stand a quarter of an Hour.

Brandy posset – To make a brandy posset – Boil a quart of cream over a slow fire, with a stick of cinnamon in it, take it off to cool, beat the yolks of six eggs very well and mix them with the cream, add nutmeg and sugar to your taste, set it over a slow fire and stir it one way; when it is like a fine thin custard take it off, and pour it into your turene or bowl, with a glass of brandy, stir it gently together, and serve it p with tea wafers round it.

To make an ale posset: Put a little white bread in a pint of good milk, set it over the fire than warm a little more than a pint of good strong ale, with nutmeg and sugar to your taste, then turn it into a bowl, when your milk boils pour it upon your ale, let it stand a few minutes to clear, and the curd will rise to the top.

To mull Ale: Take a pint of good strong ale, put it into a saucepan with three or four cloves, nutmeg and sugar to your taste, set it over the fire, when it boils take it off to cool, beat the yolks of four eggs very well and mix them with a little cold ale, then put it into your warm ale and pour it in and out of your pan for several times, then set it over a slow fire and heat it a little, then take it off again and heat it two or three times till it is quite hot, then serve it up with dry toast.

To mull Wine: Grate half a nutmeg into a pint of wine and sweeten it to your taste with loaf sugar, set it over the fire and when it boils take it off to cool, beat the yolks of four eggs exceeding well, add to them a little cold wine and then mix them carefully with your hot wine, a little at a time, then mix it backwards and forwards several times til it looks fine and bright, then set it on the fire, and heat it a little at a time for several times til it is quite hot and pretty thick, and pour it backwards and forwards several times; then send it in chocolate cups and serve it up with dry toast cut in long narrow pieces.

To make Orange Brandy: Pare eight oranges very thin and steep the peels in a quart of brandy forty-eight hours in a close pitcher, then take three pints of water and three quarters of a pound of loaf sugar, boil it until it is reduced to half the quantity, then let it stand till it is cold, then mix it with the brandy; let it stand fourteen days and then bottle it.

A sad casualty of the Newfoundland propensity to drink was the famous Opera singer from Twillingate. After her career went on the rocks, she returned to St. John’s and became addicted to alcohol. She died in 1935.

In Placentia, the New Englanders were setting up tippling houses and selling alcohol to the Basque and French fishermen. These were known as cabannes. In 1696 Governor De Broullion tried to kick out the aliens but the local population convinced him to allow the publicans to continue with their ‘houses of happiness’. (Steve Mills)