Gin: The Taste of Death – Aaron Bhatia

There is no doubt that taste has the power to bring about foul and corrupting sensations. ‘The Gin Shop’ is from George Cruikshank’s Scraps and Sketches and depicts a gin shop with a man against the bar, along with his family, drinking gin.[1] Even the baby is being fed gin by the mother!

Cruikshank, George, The Gin Shop, 1829, London, available online:,

The themes of corruption and death are very strong in this source. Around the room are obvious hints about the dangers of gin. The woman serving the drink is actually a skeleton holding a mask, implying that sellers of gin were sellers of death. [2]

The family have consumed a high amount of alcohol, yet the man is just about to start drinking yet another gin, highlighting the addictive nature of alcohol.  The drink casks are in the shape of coffins. Texts around the room highlight locations such as Drury Lane, known for crime. [3] The presence of the baby suggests that this is a cycle of addiction, being passed on from generation to generation.

Cruickshank was not the first artist to draw attention to the dangers of drink. William Hogarth’s was famous for his paintings and engravings of Gin Lane, for instance, in the eighteenth century. [4] Drink was seen as corrupting people across class, gender or age.

By the 1850s ‘there were more drink sellers in London than fishmongers, dairy-keepers, cheesemongers, greengrocers, butchers, bakers and grocers combined.’ [5] Brian Harrison has found that gin shops were where ‘aristocrats occasionally drank with their social inferiors.’ [6] Cruickshank’s cartoon was printed in 1829 and shortly after this legislation began to be passed in an attempt to lessen the lures of drinking places. Acts in 1839, 1872 and 1886 eventually led to children under thirteen not being served alcohol throughout Britain. [7]


The temperance movement grew during the nineteenth century, as can be seen in an image produced for the Diamond Jubilee in 1897 to campaign against the consumption of alcohol: The Diamond Jubilee, Thermometer of Life. [8] On the lower half of the image are several intoxicating drinks with their effects described negatively, with words such as gambling, fighting and lying. Above, in much larger text are the distinct advantages of not submitting to drunkenness; peace and happiness could be found alternatives to foul drinks, such as milk and water.

Alcohol was an enemy, to be ‘driven away’ from the thermometer of life. By the end of the century, many taverns and similar establishments were transformed from places of intoxication to places of coffee, tea and chatter. [9] Though the drink problem did not go away it perhaps ceased to be such a visible urban problem.

Aaron Bhatia



[1] Cruikshank, George, The Gin Shop, 1829, London, available online:, date accessed: 23/11/16

[2] Harrison, Brian, Drink and the Victorians: the Temperance Question in England, 1815-1872, (London: Faber and Faber, 1971), p. 83

[3] Daly, Nicholas, The Demographic Imagination and the Nineteenth-Century City, (Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 57

[4] Hogarth, William, A Rake’s Progress, 1735, London, The British Museum, available online:, date accessed: 23/11/16

[5] J. Livesey in Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, p. 58

[6] Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, p. 45

[7] Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, p. 326

[8] M. M. Whelan and Company, The Diamond Jubilee Thermometer of Life, 1897, available online:, date accessed: 23/11/2016

[9] Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, p.62