The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 42, Issue 2

Article 1
“Drunk and Disorderly”: Alcoholism and the Search for Morality in Jamaica, 1865–1920

Brian L. Moore
Michele A. Johnson


In late-nineteenth-century Jamaica, notwithstanding a long-standing culture of drinking, especially in private elite spaces, the public consumption of alcohol and associated drunkenness earned the condemnation of social reformers. Considering the rum shops as “hot beds of idleness and dissipation” and sources of a variety of “social evils”, these reformers called for their curtailment. The colonial authorities, however, were torn between the desire to regulate the “morality” of the people and the possibilities of earning revenues through the licences. The contestation between those who regarded drinking alcohol as a private matter and those who sought to “reform” and “improve” the society was manifested in a series of laws, campaigns by the churches against the distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages, and the formation of temperance societies. As the reformers and the state intensified their efforts to contain those who were “drunk and disorderly”, the struggles over alcohol consumption formed part of a wider contestation and negotiation over cultural behaviours and meanings.