Story: Alcohol

Alcohol consumption, 1840–80

This table compares the consumption of alcohol in litres per person (by Europeans) in New Zealand with that in the United Kingdom. The New Zealand figures for beer up to 1864 are based purely on imports, but there was little local production until then. When these figures are translated into litres of pure alcohol, New Zealand consumption was not radically different from that in the UK until the 1870s, when it began to fall markedly behind the British and Irish figures. The major difference between the British and New Zealand patterns is the different composition of the drinks. Until the 1880s colonists drank significantly more spirits, especially brandy and rum, than people in the UK, as well as higher quantities of fortified wines such as port. Although colonial consumption was surprisingly low on a per-capita basis (especially given the large number of adult males in the population), it seems likely that it involved more occasional binge-drinking, rather than regular consumption of beer at the local pub, as in the UK.

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Source: Greg Ryan, 'Drink and the historians – sober reflections on alcohol in New Zealand 1840–1914.' New Zealand Journal of History 44, no. 1 (April 2010), p. 40.

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How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Alcohol - Colonial drinking, 1800–1880', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 December 2021)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 13 Apr 2016