Friday, 8 September 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: turning over a new leaf?

The bustling and vibrant Thames gold fields offered plenty of new opportunities to the people who arrived here from dreary little Auckland. For the thousands willing to try their hand in the hunt for gold or set up the shops and hotels the town desperately needed, the Thames was a fantastic opportunity for a fresh start. Not everyone, however, chose to turn over a new leaf. For the people who found themselves in trouble with the law, the frontier town of the Thames could be a difficult place to be.

With so many bars and hotels in town, it’s hardly surprising how often charges of public drunkenness came before the local court. Matthew Luscomb was charged with being ‘drunk and incapable’ in Brown Street in 1874, and had to choose as a punishment between a fine of ten shillings and spending 24 hours in prison. Ellis Jones was before the court in the same month on a similar charge, but was fined twenty shillings or four hours’ imprisonment. Christina Wilson, meanwhile, again before the courts in the same month on a similar charge, was called by the Thames Star ‘one of the most industrious drunks on record, who never lost an opportunity of paying her devoirs at the Court of Bacchus.’ Christina was on her third conviction for drunkenness in three months, and was on the verge of being sentenced to twelve months in prison on charges of ‘being a rogue and a vagabond.’ Less than a month later, she was back before the court for being drunk and disorderly on Abraham Street. She was fined ten shillings, and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

James McIntyre hadn’t been publically drunk, but he had caused a scene: he was before the courts on a charge of using ‘insulting and provoking language… for the purpose of annoyance and provocation’ during an argument with James Porter. A witness to the row said McIntyre had called Porter a ‘liar and a thimble man,’ and had threatened to punch him on a Sunday. The case was dismissed.

Following months of complaints, noise, singing and rioting on Richmond Street, Catherine Norton was charged with ‘keeping disorderly house:’ she had ‘no visible lawful means of support,’ and a previous conviction for being ‘an idle and disorderly person.’ She did not make it to her appearance in court. On the same day, Edward Scott was charged with ‘being in a disorderly house,’ as he had been found in the company of people with no visible lawful means of support, and he had not been able to come up with an acceptable lawful reason for being there. He also didn’t turn up for his court appearance. Mary Orr was not so lucky; she was sentenced to three month’s hard labour for vagrancy and prostitution, after leaving her husband to stay in Catherine Norton’s disorderly house. 

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