The morning after the night before: Anniversary Day 1841

So how was your Australia Day?  From the coverage of Melbourne (Port Phillip)’s Australia Day celebrations, it seems to have been a street parade with different multicultural groups represented, citizenship ceremonies, flags at the Australian Open tennis tournament and Lily Allen in a flag dress at the Big Day Out.

From The Australian, 28TH JANUARY 1841

And as for Sydney in 1841?  There was a long report about the yacht regattas on the Harbour, mention of a cricket match and the dinner that followed it where

Turtle, venison and the other good things of this life were in abundance, conjointly with sparkling champagne &c.; and a more loyal set never yet met at the festive board.  The Queen’s health was drunk with enthusiasm, and Australia, the land of their adoption, was honored with reiterated cheers.  These jovial souls kept up the joyous scene to a late hour, and returned to their homes delighted with their evening’s meeting.  May they meet on many such occasions, is our hearty wish.

then the Harmonic Club who presented a prize to the winner of the sixth race.

There’s then a report about the town itself:

…It was expected that the festivities in celebration of the natal day of the colony would have been concluded with a general illumination throughout the town; but, the the great disappointment of the good folk of Sydney, the streets were all in darkness with the exception of the houses of Mr Diod [?] of Pitt Street who displayed in beautifully variegated lamps, a star, with the age of the colony (53) underneath, supported by the letters A. A. on either side; and of Mr Ward of Bridge-street, who exhibited the Scottish Thistle and the letters V. R. which had a beautiful and dazzling effect, and drew a large concourse of admiring spectators.  Both these decorations were executed by Messrs Wood, of King-street, who have long been known to the Australian public as the most celebrated “illuminati” of the age.  Mr Aldis, the tobacconist had a few lamps in his window; and Mr Carrick, the publican of Bridge-street sported a few tallow candles in the same manner, both of these, however, only sufficed to make the “darkness visible”.

I must confess myself mystified by these “illuminations”- perhaps one of my readers might illuminate me!  From the Sydney Gazette of May 27 1841 it seems that gas was not supplied to Sydney until 1841, although as editorials at the time pointed out, this was a mere 25 years after gas lights were introduced for general use in London.

Many reports of celebrations mention “illuminations” but I’m not sure how they worked.  I see advertisements for “illumination lamps” and “transparencies” and on 21 April 1829 T. Wood the Lamp Contractor advertised that “Persons desirous of illuminating on His Majesty’s Birth Night are requested to make an early application to T. Wood, Lamp Contractor, George-Street who will provide Lamps and Devices at moderate charge” .  Inclement weather tended to extinguish the illuminations. The Colonial Times (Hobart)  of 26 Aug 1834 reports on an illumination at Government House that cost three hundred pounds but could not go ahead for two nights because the wind was too strong, and when the lamps were finally lit, the view was obscured by large ugly pine trees.   There is a long description of the Queens Birthday illuminations on 25 May 1839 (i.e. two years before the Anniversary Day illuminations mentioned above and two years before the introduction of gas):

In the evening the customary birth night ball was given at Government House, and, notwithstanding the unpromising state of the atmosphere, it was very numerously attended. The entrance to Government House was brilliantly illuminated, the gate being surmounted with the word ” Victoria,” in very large letters, and the verandah with a large crown and wreath. In various parts of the town the inhabitants displayed their loyalty in the shape of illumination. The following principally attracted our reporter’s attention : -Australian Club House. – The words ” Vivat Regina.” in large letters, surmounted by a large crown, and star with festoons &c. Mr. James Wood, opposite the cattle market, wine merchant, Crown and V. ; Anchor and Hope (Doran) public house, corner of King and Pitt streets, neat variegated star ; Shakespeare Tavern (Rogers) Pitt-street, letters Q. V. with Shakspeare’s head illuminated. Cornwallis Frigate, (Meredith) Pitt street, the letters V. R. surmounted with large crown and star, a truelover’s knot &c. King’s Arms (Stone) Pitt-street,.Star and Garter with letters V.R.,rows of variegated lamps &c. Garriek’s Head (Murray) Pitt-street, letters V. R. surmounted by Crown. Australian Chop House Pitt street, letters V.R.  and Crown, festoons &c &c ; Mr. Dole, Tobacconist, George-street, opposite Police Office, letters V.R.; Mr. Martin, Castlereagh-street, (publican) near Cattle Market, star; Forbes Hotel (Mrs Barnes) King and York-stree, letters V. R. with handsome crown, festoons of variegated lamps, suspended round the windows. William the Fourth (Morris) Pitt street-, illuminated transparency of Queen Victoria. Mr. Denne, Pitt-street, Brunswick Star. M. Gill confectioner V.R.. and Crown Pitt-street. Crooked Billet (Puzey) George and Hunter-streets, V. R. and Crown. Mr. Samuels V. R. and Crown, George-street.

The devices most attractive to the spectators were a very neatly executed transparency of the noted “Jim Crow” exhibited above the door of the Flower Pot, public house, York-street, and a handsome transparency in Pitt-street, in front of the residence of Mr. Gould, painter and glazier, representing Queen Victoria, with a rampant lion, having  the motto Invicta on the one hand, and  the Royal Arms on the other, each occupying a window.-Two fire balloons were sent up in the course of the evening.

Here we see expressions of loyalty amongst the working people of Sydney, in their pubs and businesses- and quite a collection it is- with many V.R.s and crowns, Shakespeare’s head, lovers knots and a “Jim Crow”.

Anyway, enough of the mysterious illuminations- back to Anniversary Day in 1841 from The Australian.

A number of Australians dined together on Tuesday at the St. John’s Tavern, to celebrate the Anniversary of their Native Land.  There were about fifty present; the dinner was sumptuous in the extreme, and after the cloth was removed, several loyal and patriotic toasts were proposed, which were responded to by the warmest enthusiasm.  During the evening some very eloquent speeches were made, which reflected much to the credit upon the heard and head of the speakers, breathing as they did, a true loyal feeling for their Sovereign, and a love for their Father Land.  The harmony of the evening was enlivened by some very pleasing music.  They kept up the festivities of the day until a late hour, and departed with a feeling of mutual reverence to the Parent Country, and love for Australia and her institutions.

I find it interesting that there is a distinction drawn between the “good folk” of Sydney and the “Australians” who no doubt are the native-born.   Australia is their “Father Land”, but Britain is the “Parent Country”.   The term “the anniversary of their Native Land” (meaning of course only fifty-three years!)  grates harshly on our 21st century ears.


The wonderful National Library of Australia Newspapers page of course!

4 responses to “The morning after the night before: Anniversary Day 1841

  1. Don’t you love what the NLA is doing? I hope you are doing your bit to correct some of the OCR. I have! And sorry, I have no idea about “illuminations”.

    • I’ve done some of them, but it’s very addictive and timeconsuming! I’m residentjudge there too. I wish some other countries would do it- particularly Canada! If anyone knows of Toronto 1820 and 1830 papers that are online- let me know!

  2. Oil lamps and oil/spirit street ‘illumination’.
    Sydney’s first oil lamp was lit in 1829, fuelled by whale oil.

  3. Pingback: How illuminating! | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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