JOHN BOSTON WAS A TERRIBLE LIAR, AWFUL BREWER AND A DEEPLY UNDERQUALIFIED SURGEON. HE WAS, HOWEVER, A WONDERFUL MAIN COURSE.
John Boston couldn’t perform surgery to save his life. To be absolutely honest, John Boston couldn’t perform surgery to save anyone’s life. This would have been a concern on land. But John Boston was at sea.
Woe betide the sailor who needed medical help as Boston’s knowledge came from an out of date almanac. The truth was that Boston wasn’t a surgeon. He was an out of work farmer from Birmingham.
John Boston claimed to be a lot of things. A chemist. A ship’s surgeon. A brewer. A farmer. He probably lied about the farmer bit, but at least it got him onto a barquentine to Australia where he intended to start a new life. It was an age of liars, pirates and brigands. It was 1794.
After failing to catch fish in Sydney Harbour after claiming that he could and failing to create salt from salt water after claiming that he would, John Boston decided to become one of Australia’s first brewers. Of course, he had no experience of brewing, but after studying the subject he managed to create his first batch from old, Indian corn. It was a deeply unpleasant beer but removed stubborn stains as well as any soap and was a fine laxative.
In 1795, John Boston decided to become a fur trader but sunk his first boat. His second was stolen by the Spaniards. This is roughly the stage where most men would admit defeat.
But John Boston was not most men. He soon set sail for the new world of the United States. It was a pleasant, uneventful journey right up until September 1804, when he put ashore on an island in the South Pacific and was eaten by cannibals.
John Boston was many things, but what he wasn’t was boring. And that’s why we’ve honoured him with the beer he would have loved to make if he’d only had the skill or even the right ingredients. Beer finely crafted with hops, no trace of corn, and infused with lush, tropical flavours that create a wonderful, award-winning range with just a hint of the pacific islands where he was killed and eaten. It’s our tribute to a man that could have been.
In late 2017, a statue of John Boston was finally commissioned. On its voyage from Birmingham it slipped its moorings and crashed through three decks of the ship, sinking it off the coast of Western Africa. The statue of John Boston now lies at the bottom of the ocean. A tribute to the man, the legend, who lied his entire life.*
*The statue bit isn’t true. We lied too.
John Boston’s very last thoughts as he was about to be consumed by cannibals are, obviously, impossible to know although ‘I’d prefer not to be consumed by these cannibals’ would be a good bet. We like to think that as the flames licked higher and the cooking pot started to bubble, he looked back at his odd life, a life filled with untruths, ill-conceived plans and failures so magnificent that being eaten by cannibals was an amusingly appropriate ending for the man, the legend that was John Boston.
In fact, one might question why we’d honour a man like John Boston when there were so many appropriate, heroic and yes, we’re going to use the word ‘proactive’ individuals in the heady days of the colonies during the late 1700s.
Our answer is simple. John Boston represents the side of Australia that doesn’t appear on coins, banknotes and imposing statues. John was a chancer, a grifter, a man who disliked authority but didn’t mind hard work. This was a man who’d rather pretend to be a talented brewer, trader, farmer and soap maker than actually learn about how to be any of those things. He was one of the first battlers. He was one of the first true Australians.
In fact, one might go further and question why we’d brew a fine beer in honour of a man whose very first attempt at brewing was based on what he’d read in an encyclopedia. A beer so utterly foul that it practically hospitalised its first tasters and ended up being used to strip paint. A beer that was described in a 1796 letter as ‘a deeply unsettling viscous liquid that did cause me an immediate and deep despair, followed by a sudden and alarmingly violent evacuation to whence it came.’ It’s fair to say that John Boston was an appalling brewer but at least he gave it a damn good go.
John Boston presumably died in a pleasant reduction of tropical vegetables, herbs and spices but he didn’t die in vain, because we’ve honoured him with a range of beers that are, quite frankly, anything but a failure. These award-winning brews represent this true blue Australian legend, refreshingly crisp with just a hint of tropical fruit. Perfect for a sunny day, with good friends or with a delightfully seasoned piece of meat.
If he hadn’t been eaten, this is the beer that Boston would have loved to drink.
John Boston was a failure. Not in that ‘oh-nothing-ever-goes-my-way’ kind of polite failure. No, his failure was the hard,stubborn kind. The kind that lasts a lifetime and ends with cannibals.
Sometime back in the latter half of the 1700s, John Boston managed to convince a bunch of old bureaucrats in England that he was a handy surgeon who was also very well-versed in the fine art of brewing and deserved to make the voyage to Australia. Not to generalise, but, if a man claims to be steady with a razor-sharp scalpel and a master at concocting yeasty brews from corn and love-apple stalks, one should be sceptical of his proficiency in either task.
Unsurprisingly, John Boston did not quite cut it as a surgeon. And his beer was so bad, so utterly appalling that calling him Australia’s first brewer may be true, but to be honest, it’s a stretch, because what he made on Bennelong Point was very, very far from anything we would call beer. It was, at best, bad beer. It was at absolute worst, worse beer.
But it wasn’t just the undrinkable beer and botched bypasses that earned John Boston the ignoble title of failure.
It was also his gross inability to succeed as an apothecary, a fish-salter (yes, that was a thing), and even as the prosecution in a trial against two men who admitted to shooting his beloved pig.
Even his death came with a big eye-roll. Of all the things that could have killed him back in the 1700s (we’re talking about a time pre-antibiotics), he died simmering in a stew and then being eaten by cannibals. Talk about messing that up too.
So why did we name our beer after this man? Well, John Boston had something that we admire – a devil-may-care commitment to going for it. There’s honour in that. In the stubborn, dogged will to make something. Anything. Even if it’s a terrible, terrible idea.
He’s all of us. He’s the bad day we’ve all had, only his bad day started at birth and ended with a very, very bad day when he landed on the wrong tropical beach and got murdered.
So, here’s to John Boston. A man who should have been forgotten by time. But whose enthusiasm was so wildly resilient, it is remembered in history books and in every sip of our crisp brew.