Sly grog on the South Coast Railway

A bush shanty. Picture: The World’s News 18 September 1935

DURING the construction of the NSW South Coast railway during the mid to late 1880s, railway camps sprung up in the “wild countries” between the scattered settlements throughout the Illawarra region. The wildest of the railway camps catered for the hard drinking navies with sly grog shops that were regularly the target for the local cops, who often carried out raids. Here is a couple of examples of one sly grog operator, who set-up shop in Otford. 

ANN Brewer, in custody, charged with sly grog selling at Otford, pleaded not guilty… Senior-constable Henry stated that he and Constable Saunders went to the defendant’s tent, and saw her serve a woman with some rum, and also heard the woman ask the defendant to have some herself; he saw defendant pour the rum out of a black bottle, and saw the woman pay a shilling; defendant said: “You will want all the money you can get to pay your fine”; the woman replied, “Never mind”; defendant then said, “Well leave it there”; we then entered the tent, and asked defendant if she had a license; she replied, “no; this woman brought some rum in, and we divided it; you will not find any rum in the tent”. We searched the tent, and found half a bottle of gin and two other bottles (produced), with rum in; the defendant had been convicted before, and has the reputation of keeping a shanty. By Mr. Muir: I had been in the adjoining tent before I entered the defendant’s; I decline to answer whether I asked this woman to go and get a drink from defendant; I also decline to state who told me that defendant had a bottle of rum ; the woman in the tent searched the defendant. Constable Saunders deposed: I heard voices inside the tent, also glasses being used; I heard the female inside the tent ask for drink, and also heard the money jingle on a tray; the senior constable and I then entered, and saw two empty glasses; I smelt the glasses, and one contained rum; we searched the place and found the bottles produced, containing liquor. Constable Streatfield stated: I arrested the prisoner at Otford; she was secreted in a house and locked in a room belonging to a person named Gardiner; I started to search the house, when Mrs. Gardiner said ‘All right; wait a moment;’ and then went round tho back and unlocked the door; defendant then, came out; I read the warrant to her, and she replied ‘The vile hussy; she has put me away; she is a sneaking serpent in the grass; I got out of my bed and gave her some rum, and she gave me a shilling… I have received several complaints about the defendant’s tent being very badly conducted, especially on Sundays. Defendant stated: I know Mrs. Gardiner, who lives with a man who was convicted for sly grog selling; she came to my tent late last night, and said she was dying, would I give her a drop of rum ; I gave her a small drop, and she threw down a shilling ; I said ‘Take it home, woman; I will not have it I could get plenty money washing for the miners, without selling grog; I have the gin in the tent for my own use, and the rum for making sauce for my boarders; I never told her to leave the money; I never handled the money; I was once treated the same as I am now, but not in this district. Fined £30, or two months in Wollongong Gaol, the alternative being accepted.

– Illawarra Mercury Saturday 22 May 1886.

Sly-Grog Selling. WOLLONGONG, Wednesday.— At the Licensing Court yesterday, Annie Brewer was charged with sly-grog selling at Otford, on the Illawarra [rail] line. She was fined £100 or three months, and it being her third offence she was ordered to be imprisoned for an additional three months.

– Evening News Wednesday 17 October 1888.

Subscribe to the latest Time Gents’ stories


WOULD you like to make a small donation towards The Time Gents website through Paypal? If you would like to support my work, you can leave a small tip here of $2, or several small tips, just increase the amount as you like. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.



INSTEAD, you can make a small donation towards the publishing of the Time Gents website with your credit or debit card. If you would like to support my work, you can leave a $2 donation here, or you can increase the amount after clicking into the icon below. Your generous patronage of my work and research, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my continuing costs.

Categories: sly grog

Tags: , , , , , ,

What's Your Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: