Possibly the most horrendous crime in the name of gin was the case of Judith Defour and her female accomplice known simply as Sukey. The statement recorded during her trail at the Old Bailey, London on 27th February, 1734 – recorded the following confession from Miss Defour; “On Sunday [sic] Night we took the Child into the Fields, and stripp’d it, and ty’d a Linen Handkerchief hard about its Neck to keep it from crying, and then laid it in a Ditch. And after that, we went together, and sold the Coat and Stay for a Shilling, and the Petticoat and Stockings for a Groat. We parted the Money, and join’d for a Quartern of Gin”. The most sobering piece of this story lies in the fact that the victim was Miss Defours two year old daughter Mary…and all for 60 mls each of Gin.
When the parliament finally passed the first Gin Act in 1736, the nation (long addicted) rioted from Bristol to London, Norwich to Warrington and Liverpool to Plymouth with mock funeral processions held by some in protest to, “The death of Madam Geneva”. Despite this first regulatory action, gin madness continued to rise and reached an all-time high in 1743 when it was recorded that 2.2 gallons (8 litres) were consumed per person per year (of ALL ages).
Consumption of gin finally began to decline with the passing of a second official Gin Act in 1751. The success of this Act placed limitations on the production and retail of the spirit including increased excise taxes along with the manpower to help enforce it. Despite these final regulations coming into effect it was estimated that 9000 children in London alone died of alcohol poisoning that single year.
The excessive consumption by the general English population during the gin epidemic is difficult to comprehend by today’s comforts. The two key elements of note to help understand the times were that Europe was undergoing what is known as “The Mini Ice Age” with frequent snow storms and even the River Thames commonly freezing over completely. As such, drinking spirits was a cheap and relatively simple way to help escape the chill. Additionally the general hygiene conditions of the time and the poor state of available drinking water meant that a distilled liquid guaranteed a purified hydration from any disease or parasites that were commonly found therein, and therefore gin not just safe to drink but very easy and cheap to obtain.