These hilarious 19th-century photos illustrate different levels of drunkenness, 1860s


These intriguing photographs, taken by photographer Charles Percy Pickering between 1863 and 1868, show the ability of wine to turn a well-meaning citizen into a staggering wreck. In five pictures, an honest, dignified gentleman slowly gets drunk in a wheelbarrow.

The set of photographs are believed to be staged, educational photographs probably commissioned by a local sobriety group in New South Wales, Australia.

Abstinence advocates encourage citizens to be teetotalers, a term describing people who abstain from alcohol altogether.

The New South Wales State Library website explains, "Possibly commissioned by a local sobriety group for educational purposes, the photographs may also have been used by an engraver for the illustrations. The final frame of Drunk in a Wheelbarrow S. Looks like .T. Gilles Watercolor 'Ease Without Opulence', 1863."

The images are examples of albumen print photographs. Invented in 1850 by Louis Desire Blanquart-एvard, this technique used albumen (literally egg whites) to bind photosensitive chemicals to paper where they could be exposed and developed. This was how most photographs were printed until the 1920s.

The uncontrolled consumption of alcohol gained visibility in the 1800s as distilled spirits became more popular and society's evils were attributed to drinking.

Although Australia never implemented a complete prohibition like the United States, organizations such as the Independent Order of Richbites campaigned against alcoholism.

Decades after these photographs were taken, the Australian restraint movement scored a victory, when during World War I pubs and hotel bars were essentially closed early as an austerity measure.

However, it had the opposite effect. The early closing time created a "six o'clock swirl" as people hurried from work to the bar and ended up like the models in these photos before the sun went down, drank as fast as they could.

We may never know the full story behind these photographs, but we do know that Pickering retired from photography in 1875 after a rocky career. This photo series remains as a record of his work and a stark reminder of how many people saw the world in the 1800s.

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