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This article explores the surprising dominance of the Catholic St Patrick's Total Abstinence Society within the Sydney temperance movement in the 1840s and 1850s. It argues that this success and the corresponding decline of Protestant temperance societies illustrates the importance of temperance as a symbol of respectability for different cultural groups and the significance of sectarian divisions within the temperance movement. Irish Catholics supported temperance as a means of asserting their respectability in the face of sectarian prejudice, whilst Protestants withdrew from a cause that was increasingly perceived as a Catholic political front and a challenge to their cultural hegemony.