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Walk Like an Egyptian, Become an Australian

19 Crimes Red Blend.pngI’ve been trying red blends lately, and stumbled upon a very good one last week: 19 Crimes Red, 2013. Smooth, extremely dark, and highly drinkable, with enough residual sugar to banish the bitter pox of oak without making the wine taste perceptibly sweet. Falls somewhere between Middle Sister Rebel Red and Menage a Trois Red on my Chart of Wine Esteem. 19 Crimes is Australian, and a mix of shiraz, pinot noir, grenache, and cabernet sauvignon.

Somebody put a fair bit of money into their marketing campaign, which focuses on a peculiarity of late 18th Century British law: the list of 19 crimes that made you eligible for a one-way trip to Australia. They all seem like pretty minor matters and were mostly petty larceny: stealing cash or goods with a value of less than a shilling; stealing shrouds from graves; clandestine marriage; bigamy, and so on. Keep in mind that crimes like murder or treason were not on the list because those (and a great many other things) were hanging offenses, and as Colin Wilson vividly described in The Criminal History of Mankind, the British were not squeamish about executions circa 1800.

Then there’s Crime #5: Impersonating an Egyptian.

Tut, tut. Can’t have that. My WTF meter was pegged, and it took a little online research to figure this one out. First of all, it isn’t on all online copies of the list of 19 Crimes, and several lists give #5 as Stealing Ore from Black Lead Mines. But there it is, right on the 19 Crimes wine site itself, and a number of other places. The gist of Crime #5 is actually this: Don’t be a gypsy. The Romany in that period were thought to be wandering Egyptians (though they are in fact of East Indian stock) and were accused of all sorts of things, from idolatry to thievery to fortune telling. Like the Jews, they were convenient scapegoats, and subject to many of the same persecutions that Jews suffered down through history. Genetic testing didn’t exist back then, so if you looked more or less like a Gypsy, wham! Off you went to Oz.

It’s unclear from my reading how many of the Romany actually ended up in Australia, so maybe Crime #5 wasn’t enforced as ruthlessly as the other 18. (If any of my Australian readers know more about this, please share in the comments.) In fact, the greatest Romany population of any country is right here in the US, at about a million.

The wine itself is excellent. About $10. Highly recommended.


  1. Jack Smith says:

    I think you overstate the ratio of executions to sentences of transport.

    Originally, transport was to the North American colonies but after the start of the Revolutionary War that became impossible and Australia was substituted.

    A bit of poking around the internet confirmed what I understood the case to be – that between the last decade or two of the 18th century and the first decade or two of the 19th, executions for crimes other than murder became increasingly uncommon and judges were given the power to commute death sentences to transport.

    One statistic I found at :
    “In the decade 1784 -1793, there were 434 hangings ordered by the London and Middlesex Sessions (which became the Old Bailey). In the next 10 years, this dropped to 165 and to 119 in the succeeding decade. Over 162,000 people were transported to Australia up to 1868.”

  2. Tom Roderick says:

    The sometimes missing #5 “Stealing Ore from Black Lead Mines” triggered a memory that probably came from reading Henry Petroski’s book Pencil when it was first published in the early 1990’s. I seem to remember that there was a graphite mine in England that produced the best graphite for pencils in the world and that product was very important to the country so it could very well have been a “special” crime to have stolen it. Of course with time my memory becomes more and more suspect.

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    Lewis Carroll had something to say:

    “Transportation for life” was the sentence it gave,
    “And then to be fined forty pound.”
    The Jury all cheered, though the Judge said he feared
    That the phrase was not legally sound.

    As to gypsies: read George Morrow’s Lavengro (1851), his semi-fictionalized memoir of a year or two on the road in England, much of it in the company of gypsies. In Morrow’s depiction, the gypsies are colorful, generous, talented – and completely sociopathic toward outsiders. Then there’s the Chicago police officer who talked of what happened when a gypsy family moved out of a house in his patrol area: the petty crime rate dropped by half.

  4. Bryan Stark says:

    I can give the answer to Tom Roderick’s comment about Black Lead. This is graphite, and was mined in Borrowdale, England, during that period. It was used for casting iron shot for cannons, which made British artillery (land and sea) the most accurate in the world during the Napoleonic Wars. Such high quality graphite is incredibly rare, mining was carried out under Government licence with armed guards, and shipped to London under armed escort. Theft was tantamount to treason. Get the full story at the Pencil Museum, Keswick. It’s a good place to go if you’re in the Lake District on a rainy day.

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