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Title: Towards a History of Deviance: Policing Drunkenness in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New South Wales
Contributor(s): Allen, Matthew  (author)orcid 
Publication Date: 2021-09-15
Open Access: Yes
DOI: 10.1108/978-1-80117-698-920211004Open Access Link
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On the 22 December 1849, Bell's Life in Sydney, reported on the arrest of Amelia Beard for the crime of public drunkenness. Described as a "young lady … known to the police as a keen shaver," Constable Halliday, initially "found it necessary to remonstrate with her on the impropriety of her conduct," but when she responded with "a volley of abusive language against him, accompanied with a pantomimic exhibition of talons and legs, which left most remarkable notice of her visitations upon his person," she was promptly arrested and charged with "with being excessively drunk and disorderly in one of the main streets of the metropolis." Beard's arrest for drunkenness was one of thousands made by the New South Wales police that year and she herself was arrested close to a hundred times during her life for minor offences including drunkenness, vagrancy, obscene language, minor assault, receiving stolen goods, robbery, damaging property, and prostitution. But understanding this incident - or the offence of drunkenness in general - as simply a crime fails to do it justice. This kind of policing was merely the formal expression of a much broader contest over public order in which the offence of drunkenness had a symbolic role. As I argue, we can use the concept of deviance to help understand Beard's arrest and read the policing of drunkenness as a crucial form of modern urban social control.

This chapter uses the history of a particularly common but often neglected crime - public drunkenness - in a specific jurisdiction and period - mid-nineteenth century New South Wales, c. 1840-1860 - to argue for the critical importance of the concept of deviance to the emerging field of historical criminology. Throughout this period public drunkenness was the most common cause of arrest in New South Wales but notwithstanding its prevalence, only a tiny fraction of those who became publicly drunk were ever arrested, and for most of them their punishment was a small fine. At the same time, drunkenness was an intensely politicised social problem, opposed by a popular global temperance movement, and roundly and repeatedly condemned from the pulpit and by the press. Thus the formal criminality of drunkenness cannot be understood without considering the many informal ways in which it was also judged and controlled.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Source of Publication: History and Crime: A Transdisciplinary Approach, p. 47-62
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Place of Publication: Bingley, United Kingdom
ISBN: 9781801177009
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 430311 Historical studies of crime
430302 Australian history
440214 Sociological studies of crime
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2020: 280113 Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology
HERDC Category Description: B1 Chapter in a Scholarly Book
WorldCat record:
Series Name: Emerald Advances in Historical Criminology
Editor: Editor(s): Thomas J Kehoe and Jeffrey E Pfeifer
Appears in Collections:Book Chapter
School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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