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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

Living Conditions

67. Statistics in Drunkenness, 1853

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  • 20 The 1850s were a time of intense debate about temperance. Strict regulation was achieved with the (...)

1In 185020 a leader in The Scotsman proclaimed that Scotland was “the most drunken nation on the face of the earth” and that Glasgow was “the most guilty and offensive city in Christendom” (The Scotsman, 22 May 1850). Indeed very large quantities of drink, especially whisky, were consumed in Scotland in the nineteenth century. The following article, taken from the Inverness Advertiser, gave interesting statistics about the number of people who had been arrested because of disorderly conduct due to excessive drinking.

2The Inverness Advertiser, 28 June 1853.

  • 21 Joseph Hume (1777–1855) was a Scottish doctor and politician.

The last of the returns intended to throw some light upon the comparative statistics of drunkenness which Mr Joseph Hume21 conceived the notion of moving for amid the mass of papers with which he is accustomed to cumber the House of Commons’ table was recently presented. Its object is to indicate the number of persons in each town of 10,000 inhabitants and upwards who were apprehended each year as drunk and disorderly during the ten years from ‘41 to ‘51. We subjoin the figures applicable to the various Scotch towns from which returns appear:

Towns

Population

Persons apprehended

Proportion

Glasgow

329,097

14,870

1 in 22

Edinburgh

160,302

2,793

1 in 57

Dundee

78,931

2,931

1 in 26

Aberdeen

71,973

1,760

1 in 40

Paisley

47,952

712

1 in 67

Greenock

36,683

1,299

1 in 28

Leith

30,919

775

1 in 39

Perth

23,835

509

1 in 46

Kilmarnock

21,443

370

1 in 57

Arbroath

16,986

797

1 in 21

Montrose

15,238

387

1 in 39

Dunfermline

13,836

132

1 in 104

Dumfries

13,166

242

1 in 54

Inverness

12,793

66

1 in 193

It will at once be noticed that Inverness occupies a conspicuously favourable position in this list – too favourable to be correct will be the ready exclamation of every one who knows anything of the place. It is so. The value of such a return not only depends very much upon the efficiency with which the police in different towns may discharge their duties (and in some cases we know a toper is never interfered with unless he be so far gone as to stretch himself in the gutter), but very much depends also on the manner in which the return itself is made up. We are quite convinced that in the case of Inverness there was no intention to deceive. Had there been so its carrying out would not have been overstretched so ridiculously far. The disproportion is to be accounted for in another way. It seems that our Superintendent has fallen into a mistake which some of his English contemporaries appear also to have committed. A return of the number of apprehensions on the charges of drunkenness and disorderly conduct was asked for. He gave a return of those who were drunk and disorderly, supposing that to elucidate the question of comparative sobriety was the object aimed at; but he omitted the cases of wanton mischief, with which intoxication had nothing to do. It is very evident that these cases have been included under the simple head “disorderly” in most of the other Scottish returns. Adding those in this burgh to the figures given, we find that the round numbers for the year ‘51 should be increased by 81 or more than one-half – making the total number of cases 147. The number contrasted with the population shows that one person in every 87 was apprehended in the course of the year—a ratio which, to will be noticed, still favourably outvies every Scotch town except Dunfermline.

Notes

20 The 1850s were a time of intense debate about temperance. Strict regulation was achieved with the Forbes Mackenzie Act of 1853 which forced the closure of pubs in Scotland on Sundays and at 10pm on weekdays.

21 Joseph Hume (1777–1855) was a Scottish doctor and politician.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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