The magistrate of Wollongong’s Court of Petty Sessions reached the limit of his patience in April 1878 when an old regular, John Murphy – alias “Donkey Jack”, appeared on charges of drunkenness and obscene language.
Murphy was described as “a pest to society” by Senior Sergeant Ford, this being the 17th time he had been before the court during the past year.
Murphy was imprisoned for 48 hours for drunkenness and six weeks for obscene language.
October 15, 1875, proved a slow news day for the Bendigo Advertiser when it recounted a drunk man’s efforts to walk home, the result so amusing it was republished by the Illawarra Mercury.
The struggle against drunken adversity might prove reminiscent for many now.
“Groggy, yet sensible! Anomalous as this may read, it nevertheless describes in truthful language the condition of an inebriate who was observed embracing the lamp post in front of the Bendigo Town Hall.
“He had with infinite difficulty reached that support and now seemed to be debating within himself the most effectual method of straightening his paralysed limbs in order to proceed homeward and not via the lock-up.
“Senior Constable Balfour, who viewed the situation from his castle door, was calculating the extreme probability of the latter course having to be adopted; but as time passed on, it became apparent that the man’s condition was not as such as would warrant the vigilant officer in taking him into custody.
“Clutching the lamp post desperately, the hapless wight by his actions demonstrated emphatically his anxiety to sober down. For a full hour he held on to the cold iron. At the offset he had been so overpowered that he constantly slipped down on his knees, but at the expiration of the hour he had so far recovered that he could stand without falling.
“His route home lay in the direction of Mundy Street, and the time had now arrived when he thought he could make a start. Buttoning his coat up tightly and drawing his hat well over his head, he headed for the opposite fence. But, alas, he wandered far out of his bearings and had to come back.
“Reasoning sternly with his refractory legs, he apostophised them thus: ‘Now look here, you’re both drunk, very drunk. Shameful! But my head – clear’s-a-bell. Right!’
“After gathering himself once more together he made a run for the fence, and this time reached it safely. Then, by slow and painful degrees he got as far as the posts of the market sheds, running from one to the other till he was lost to view altogether.”
Picture: Wollongong’s Harp Hotel about 1870. The region’s many licensed premises produced a steady stream of drunken characters over the years. Credit: From the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society.
For an Index to Surveyors’ Field Books, 1794-1860, go to records.nsw.gov.au.