Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Mickey Finn

Mickey Finn

Port Adelaide, South Australia was a very busy place in the early days of Adelaide, one where some sailors, who had just spent years at sea, would jump ship and live a new life, in a new colony.
 This of course, would lead to a Captain needing a new crew, and if there weren’t volunteers, he would approach (or be approached) by local ‘Crimpers”, teams of men who would frequent bars and pubs looking for future crew members, whether the men wanted to be at sea or not.

 They would often use a “Mickey Finn”, or, ‘slip them mickey’ as we know it today, dropping a drug into the beer they had just bought for their next victim. Most often the barman, or publican would receive a cut of the Captains payment, or be in on it from the start. The gang would often take the sleeping man out through a secret passage down to the water, and use a longboat to take the future sailor to the waiting ship at Outer Harbour.

 The poor man, who had probably woke up with a splitting headache and hangover, would realise what had happened, and then be offered a choice.

“Swim back to shore – or sail the seas as shipmate”

In the late 1800’s, most men couldn’t swim, and with the possibility of dying at sea or being eaten by a shark, they would be forced to stay on-board until at least the next stop, which could be six months away.

 Evidence of the Crimpers tunnels were found in the burnt out ruins of the Clubhouse Hotel, in Port Adelaide. In the 1970’s, a rebuilt of the burnt out shell was undertaken, the builders were deciding on if they would keep an original fire place and chimney that had been sealed up and not seen before. When they pulled out the hearth, they discovered a few steps leading into a tunnel and small room below. The room contained a dungeon with small cells made from iron bars. The tunnel led out under the wharfs, into the Port River.

   Many people use the term “Press Gang” when referring to the action of “stealing” men to make them work at sea, but the original context of that phrase relates directly to the British Navy, with references found for “impressment” as far back as 1664.
 The slang terms “the press” or “press gang” were a shortening, or dumbing down of “Impressment”, which was literally the act of taking men into military service by force, with or without notice, and forcing them to sail on British war ships.

A write up about crimping in Port Adelaide in 1886 - http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/45846364?searchTerm=port%20adelaide%20crimping&searchLimits=