On this day in 1888, Sydney was caught up in celebration of the first hundred years of British settlement in Australia. The Australian Town and Country Journal described the atmosphere at the time,
“Sydney is in as high a state of excitement this week as her nature will permit. She has “gone in” for banquets, shows, illumination, decorations, and everything that may be considered to constitute festivity. Country cousins have poured into the metropolis by the hundred, and kindly visitors from the neighbouring colonies by the score. Everybody is trying to see everything; and, if happiness is to be obtained by looking for it, a general air of hilarity should prevail. And, doubtless, it does to a very considerable extent.” ‘The Centennial Celebration.’, Australian Town and Country Journal, 28 January 1888, p18
A fortnight of festivities commemorated the anniversary, including fireworks, band contests, an anniversary regatta, intercolonial exhibition, intercolonial cricket match, the dedication of Centennial Park, an Admiral’s luncheon on board the flagship Nelson, and a dinner and party at Government House. Not only was this a time for merriment, for some this was also a time for reflection. Great hopes and high ambitions for the future of ‘Australasia’ were expressed, as well as talk of the federation of the colonies.
“…the most important event…”
An extravagant State banquet was also held to celebrate the anniversary, which was said at the time to have been
“…probably the most important event of the kind which has ever taken place in this or any other of the Australian colonies”. ‘THE STATE BANQUET.’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 1888, p3
Around one thousand guests sat down together to dine, including the Governors and leading statesmen of the Australian colonies. The banquet menu card, an example of which is on display in Eat your history: a shared table, tells us what these distinguished guests ate and drank, as well as the toasts that were made and the music that was played.
Although this was a celebration of the settlement of Australia, the food served was not specifically ‘Australian’. (Perhaps except for the ‘Gelée à l’Australienne’, although I am not exactly sure what that is! If anyone knows of a recipe for Australian jelly, we’d love to hear from you!) Instead, the seven courses and the name of each dish are given in French, which was fashionable at the time and expressed social distinction and refinement. However, the menu cards themselves are decorated with Australian flora, scenes from the colonies, the Southern Cross and an allegorical figure representing Australia. As was reported at the time,
“The menu cards, executed by Messrs. S. T. Leigh and Co., were in themselves works of art…” ‘THE STATE BANQUET.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 1888, pp3-5
Even the invitations were described in detail and praised in the newspapers,
“The card illustrates in a remarkable degree the progress which has been made in printing colours, but quite apart from this feature, it will be treasured by the recipients as a memento of the memorable occasion for which it has been produced.” ‘THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 January 1888, p5
You can see an example of the invitation here, also from the State Library of New South Wales.
On the back cover of the menu card, see above, you can see where the banquet was held – the Exhibition Building at Prince Alfred Park. The building was totally transformed for the occasion with fresh paint, red and white cloth, evergreen wreaths, flags, patriotic banners, statuary and portraits of John Macarthur and William Charles Wentworth, among others.
Happy Australia Day from the Eat your history team and Sydney Living Museums!
‘THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 JAN 1888, p5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13679866
‘CELEBRATION OF THE CENTENARY’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January 1888, p4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13677016
‘THE MENU CARD FOR THE STATE BANQUET.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January 1888, p4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13682164
‘NEWS OF THE DAY.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January 1888, p7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13682268
‘NEWS OF THE DAY.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 1888, p7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28346465
‘THE STATE BANQUET.’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 1888, pp3-5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article28346430
‘NEWS OF THE DAY.’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 1888, p13, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13680479
‘The Centennial Celebration.’, Australian Town and Country Journal, 28 January 1888, p18, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71093727