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The legendary tales behind a legendary rum.

Beenleigh Rum. More than just a rum, more even than just a spirit – Beenleigh Rum is a tribute to bold Australian enterprise and the stuff that legends are made of.

From a loveable rogue called The Bosun to the expert distillers of today, our history is coloured by the bold men and women who refused to let their future be left in the hands of fate.

S.S. Walrus
The BosunThe Bosun

All good legends begin with a rogue

The Queensland bush has always been a place of tough and colourful characters, and one of the earliest (and most colourful) was a rogue called James “The Bosun” Stewart.

How The Bosun got his nickname really is anyone’s guess, since he was actually the captain of his ship, and a bosun is just the boat’s all-round fix it guy. But then, maybe it was The Bosun’s ability to find a solution to even the trickiest of problems, on the river or ashore that earned him the curious and well-deserved title.

To this day, his spirit lives on, as he himself would have chosen, in every bottle of Beenleigh Rum and the story of one audacious old rogue in a big wild land.

All good
legends begin with a rogue

The Queensland bush has always been a place of tough and colourful characters, and one of the earliest (and most colourful) was a rogue called James “The Bosun” Stewart.

To this day, his spirit lives on, as he himself would have chosen, in every bottle of Beenleigh Rum and the story of one audacious old rogue in a big wild land.

Don't let em take a reef in your sail, me 'earties
- Say Beenleigh

1861-1865

The tale of The Bosun’s legacy starts way back in the 1860s with, of all things, the American Civil War, the chaos of which was making cotton supplies pretty grim.

In their wisdom, Queensland’s colonial bigwigs of the time thought it’d be a good idea to clear riverside lands and turn them over to cotton plantations. A fine idea, to be true, until of course the Yankees and Confederates put down their muskets and bugles and started churning out cotton again. And it was a good thing too, for those struggling cotton shrubs were promptly ripped out and rows of sugarcane planted in their place. Just as well we reckon, because sugar and rum will warm a fellow’s spirit much sooner than cotton.

1861-1865

  • Riverside lands are cleared to build cotton plantations due to shortages created by the American Civil War.
  • After the war is over, the cotton plantations are promptly ripped out and rows of sugarcane planted in their place

1865

Now, amongst the hordes seeking their sweet fortune in sugarcane were a duo from England by the names of John Davy and Francis Gooding.

They knew a thing or two about farming, and got to work carving out around 300 acres of land fronting the Albert River. - they named the clearing after their old British farm, and thus the Beenleigh we now know was born.

1865

  • A duo from England by the names of John Davy and Francis Gooding get to work carving out around 300 acres of land fronting the Albert River naming it Beenleigh after their farm in old blighty and planting sugarcane.

1869

To avoid all sorts of ills and nasties, sugar cane must be milled within three days of harvesting, but with perilous roads and the unwieldy the crop, this was no easy feat for our intrepid farmers. James Stewart, our ingenious rougue, came up with a most inventive solution to this milling problem. He got his hands on a steamboat, the SS Walrus, and turned it into nothing less than a floating sugar mill.

Up and down the Albert River, Stewart did a roaring trade, bringing his mill right to the plantation jetties where he could grind a whopping two tons of cane per day. To his appreciative clientele, he was fondly known as ‘The Bosun’.

1869

  • Our intrepid rogue gets his hands on a steamboat, the SS Walrus, and turns it into nothing less than a floating sugar mill doing a roaring trade up and down the Albert River. To his clientele, he was fondly known as ‘The Bosun’.
  • Getting his hands on a rum licence, The Bosun adds a pot still to his floating enterprise and in his first year makes around 115,000 bottles of quality rum.

The Bosun branches out and distills up a spirited business on the side

Once again in their wisdom (and no doubt in the interests of their palates) the colonial governors suggested the production of rum as a sideline to the sugar industry – a better policy would be hard to find.

Never one to hesitate when a bankable opportunity presents itself, our mate The Bosun got cracking and, with a rum licence in hand, added a pot still to his floating enterprise. And boy did it take off. The quality of The Bosun’s rum had mouths watering from the banks of the river to toffs in town, and in his first year, around 115,000 bottles of his prized drop accounted for around a third of the Brisbane area’s entire, legal rum output. That’s a lot of good rum.

1872

A setback. In 1872 A small, cheap sugar mill hit the market and plantation owners could crush cane themselves. Without the milling side of things, The Bosun simply shrugged his shoulders and turned his interests towards his rum distilling. Unfortunately, the government also turned their interests to The Bosun’s activities and reminded the wily riverman that rum making was to be the sideline not the main game. In 1872, The Bosun’s distillery licence was not renewed.

1872

  • Alas a small, cheap sugar mill hits the market and plantation owners can now crush cane themselves and without the milling side of things the Bosun’s distillery licence was not renewed.

1872 – 1884

Somehow (though it’s not for us to speculate), the SS Walrus stayed afloat. For the next decade or so, The Bosun curiously remained a familiar and very welcome sight along the Albert River despite his lack of a distillery licence. Now to accuse the crafty Bosun of engaging in some illicit venture would be pointless, since the many former customers with whom he continued to enjoy a close friendship would provide any investigator with nothing more than a blank shrug, and a slight whiff of prized rum on their breath.

1872 – 1884

  • For the next decade or so, The Bosun curiously remained a familiar and very welcome sight along the Albert River despite his lack of a distillery licence.

1884

All was going well for The Bosun, until one morning in 1884, the farmers Davy and Gooding awoke to find the convivial SS Walrus had run aground on the riverbank with The Bosun nowhere to be found. The old pot still, which even though it had ‘not been used’ in over twelve years, still looked curiously in such fine condition was still aboard.

Alas, the popular Bosun was never seen again. At least not by his river friends, or the law. Being respectful yet resourceful types, the gentlemen farmers promptly took the miraculously ‘preserved’ pot still and found it a good home next to their sugar mill. Swiftly procuring a rum licence the men set their energies to distilling almost 80,000 bottles of proof rum in their first year. Thus the Beenleigh Distillery made its way from boat to shore.

1884

  • The Bosun mysteriously disappears and is never seen again.
  • Davy and Gooding find the old pot still, quickly procure a rum licence and set their energies to distilling almost 80,000 bottles of proof rum in their first year. The Beenleigh Distillery had made its way from boat to shore.

A short diversion into the meaning of ‘proof’ when it comes to rum

Back in the days when British sailors were issued rum (and the odd flogging) as part of their pay, the wary old salts devised a cunning way to make sure their wage wasn’t being watered down or messed around with.

Quite simply, they’d add a bit of rum to their gunpowder and try to light it. If it rewarded them with a healthy pop (and no doubt some singed eyebrows) they knew it was at least 50% alcohol, and was deemed to be drinkable. They called this, ‘proof’.

Today the tradition remains that 100 proof rum is around 50% alcohol by volume, whereas 150 proof rum is 75% alcohol by volume.

1887

The Great Flood of 1887 wiped out houses and bridges and sheds and livestock and enough premium Beenleigh rum to fill 32,000 bottles. But not to be outdone, the tenacious folk at the Beenleigh Distillery got together and built a new brick bond-style store that still stands to this day.

1887

  • The Great Flood of 1887 wiped out houses and bridges and sheds and livestock and enough premium Beenleigh rum to fill 32,000 bottles. But not to be outdone, the tenacious folk at the Beenleigh Distillery got together and built a new brick bond-style store that still stands to this day.

“SOS” for a “tot” of Rum over your favourite bar.

1891

A few years later, and with all going very nicely for the company, old Davy and Gooding decided to cash in (and probably go on a holiday).

Albert Kleinschmidt the cluey general manager of the company bought the business, upped production to 64,000 bottles a month and came up with the idea of using its own sugarcane waste to fuel the furnaces – a recycling policy that was ahead of its time.

1891

  • Davy and Gooding sell up to Albert Kleinschmidt who ups production and decides to start using his own sugarcane to fuel the furnaces – recycling ahead of its time.

1893

Albert decided that making rum was a much better job than growing cane, so he sold off land and concentrated on milling and distilling. He also took the bold move of offering shares to the public at £25 apiece. The distillery was going great guns, delivering the equivalent of 12,000 bottles each month to a most appreciative market. Around 100 people were employed at Beenleigh, and no doubt there was a pretty big waiting list to join that lucky crew.

1893

  • Albert offers shares to the public at £25 apiece. The distillery is delivering the equivalent of 12,000 bottles each month to a most appreciative market.

1899

Under the watchful eye of Chief Distiller Samuel Knight, Beenleigh’s pot still rum was entered in the colonial section of London’s Greater Britain Exhibition of 1899. It did pretty well. In fact, it won the gold medal over “all other rum distillers in the world.” Which just goes to show two things: a) always believe in yourself, and b) in 1899 if you weren’t part of the British Empire, you obviously weren’t part of the world.

1899

  • Beenleigh’s pot still rum is entered in the colonial section of London’s Greater Britain Exhibition of 1899 and wins the gold medal over all other rum distillers in the world!

1908-1930

In 1908 the boss figured it was easier to just buy all the molasses the distillery needed and concentrate on making rum. Barrels of the good stuff were being sent to the far corners of Queensland and Beenleigh’s reputation for quality and flavour grew.

Ten years later, the booming business changed hands again, this time to Thomas Brown & Son who quickly went about modernising the place and creating an export market that saw folk across the globe tucking into glasses of Beenleigh’s finest.

By the 1920s over a million bottles were leaving the plant. By 1930, even through the Great Depression, some 1,200,000 bottles worth of rum were being distilled with about half being shipped south of the border and a further 80,000 bottles across the Tasman to our mates in New Zealand.

1908-1930

  • In 1908 the boss figures it is easier to just buy all the molasses the distillery needs and concentrate on making rum.
  • Ten years later, the booming business changes hands again to Thomas Brown & Son who quickly go about modernising the place and creating an export market that sees over a million bottles leaving the plant by the 1920’s.
  • The quirky, nautically themed print campaigns of this era appear all over the country with a caricature version of the rogue Bosun imparting his wisdom to reinforce the quality and benefits of the Rum (which include among other things being a ‘cure all’ for the common cold!).

‘The Bosun’ preaching the benefits of Beenleigh Rum

In typical rougish nature harking back to its founding roots, Thomas and Sons embarked on a heavily promoted print campaign featuring a cartoon like figure of The Bosun (said to be based on the likeness of William Kleinschmidt, a dentist in Beenleigh).

The quirky, nautically themed ads appeared all over the country with the Bosun imparting his quirky wisdom to reinforce the quality and benefits of Beenleigh Rum (which included amongst other things being a ‘cure all’ for the common cold – later to be used as a defense for at least one good citizen’s public drunkenness).

1969 – 1975

For some crazy reason the late 1960s saw rum fall out of fashion around the world and in 1969, the Beenleigh Distillery was forced to close it doors. But the spirit of The Bosun was not one to go quietly, and just three years later, Mervyn Davy and his sons bought the plant and cranked up production once more.

Supported by the addition of a cellar door, the place was humming again.

1969 – 1975

  • Astonishingly rum falls out of fashion around the world in the 60’s and in 1969, the Beenleigh Distillery is forced to close it doors.
  • Just 3 years later Mervyn Davy and his sons buy the plant and crank up production once more adding a cellar door.

1980s

Sure enough, the Davy men were right, and in 1980 they sold the prosperous distillery to the Moran family and it seems, passed on their faith in Beenleigh and The Bosun as well.

No sooner had the new owners moved in, than they set about enlarging and modernising the whole operation. They added vertical distillation columns and new fermentations vats. Neighbouring land was once again joined to the original plot and they even converted one of the brick warehouses into a museum. They also built the cumbersomely named Beenleigh Rum Distillery Function Centre, complete with its own moat and waterfall (remember this was the 1980s) and best of all, a three quarter size replica of The Bosun’s old SS Walrus, to take visitors on tours back to where the Beenleigh story all began on the river.

1980s

  • In 1980 the Davy men sell the prosperous distillery to the Moran family who immediately set about enlarging and modernising the operation.
  • The Morans add a museum, the Beenleigh Rum Distillery Function centre complete with moat and waterfall and a three quarter size replica of the Bosun’s old SS Walrus for tours along the river.

1995

The experts at the 1995 London International Wine & Spirit Show officially announced that Beenleigh was indeed the ‘World’s Best Rum’. Of course, we’d known it all along, but it’s good to have it confirmed now and then.

1995

  • The 1995 London International Wine & Spirit Show officially announces that Beenleigh is indeed the ‘World’s Best Rum’.

2012

In 2012, independent, Australian-owned drinks company VOK Beverages rescued the Beenleigh Rum brand and established the Beenleigh Distilling Company.

This move would ensure the iconic spirit would remain, like its founder the roguish Bosun, as popular, bold and innovative in the 21st century as it was almost a century and a half ago on the banks of the Albert River.

2012

  • In 2012, independent, Australian-owned drinks company VOK Beverages rescues the Beenleigh Rum brand and establishes the Beenleigh Distilling Company.

The Last Word In Rum

So The Bosun and the rest of the characters from those early days may be well gone now, but one thing’s for certain – their spirit lives on in every glass of Beenleigh rum. It’s the spirit of determination, adventure and cheeky good luck that drove the folk of Albert River to always find an ingenious way around the challenges they faced. It pretty much sums up the Australian way, which is why we’re proud that the nation’s oldest registered distillery and the oldest brand of rum is still very much Australian owned and made.

But the story doesn’t end here...

The Last
Word In Rum

So The Bosun and the rest of the characters from those early days may be well gone now, but one thing’s for certain – their spirit lives on in every glass of Beenleigh rum.

But the story doesn’t end here...

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Beenleigh - Since 1883

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