While in Queensland, I visited the Beenleigh Rum Museum. I guess it’s not too surprising that, in a country that cherishes its convict heritage, people would commemorate a bootlegging past.
The Rum Museum was filled with artifacts and displays detailing the part rum played in the early days of colonial Australia. It was a more significant factor than might be imagined. Always a valued commodity in a harsh, thirsty land, rum, with the help of the New South Wales Corps, became the colony’s primary currency. Wages were paid and purchases made with rum. Through import monopolies, the Corps maintained control of the trade and, therefore, of the colony, for nearly 20 years.
Such liquid assets were easily forged, and illegal stills abounded. Of course, the problems involved in an economy built almost entirely on an illicit liquor trade are legion, and England eventually sent a stern disciplinarian out to solve the problems. Captain William Bligh (of Bounty fame) was installed as Australia’s fourth Governor.
The scope of the problem had been underestimated, as almost all military officers and free settlers were involved in the rum trade at some level, and Bligh’s interference and accusations merely served to precipitate the Rum Rebellion. Bligh was arrested by Major Johnston, Commander of the New South Wales Corps, in January 1808, and spent more than a year in confinement. When news finally reached London, a new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, was sent out, this time accompanied by a full Regiment to back up any orders he might wish to make. Macquarie was a bit more judicious than Bligh, and, rather than directly attacking the rum trade, he simply worked on expanding and developing the colony until land became more profitable than rum.