Monthly Archives: October 2010

Hallowe’en

Hallowe’en traditions from Scotland and Ireland evidently did not transplant easily to the Australian colonies. If anywhere in Australia there are long-established Hallowe’en observances, they must be limited to small sections of the population. In recent years some Hallowe’en customs (pumpkins, dressing up, trick-and-treating and the like) have become more widely adopted under American influence, but without the depth of tradition characteristic of the occasion in Britain in former centuries.

From old newspaper reports it is evident that even in Britain customs were changing. There are reports describing how Queen Victoria enjoyed watching the local villagers at their Hallowe’en celebrations, and we learn that she preferred the ‘new style’ celebrations, which apparently involved more bonfires. Descriptions of the occasion at Balmoral Castle were reproduced in the colonial papers in January or February, months after the event, owing to the slowness of communication, but readers were presumably no less fascinated by the details.

In 1867 we find Mr. W. Storrie giving an address at a December meeting of the South Australian Institute on the subject of Hallowe’en. We may surmise that he was sharing his extensive knowledge with an audience that had largely lost touch with the traditions. It seems that his account, like the Balmoral reports, is principally concerned with customs in Scotland. He explains the belief that, with good and bad spirits at large on All Hallow eve, it was possible by certain rituals to provoke them into revealing something of the future, especially with respect to people’s marriage prospects. It is clear that, amid the games and simple customs, the occasion stirred not only a sense of festivity but a frisson of romantic hopes and expectations.

The name ‘Halloween’ was given to a very fast, iron-hulled sailing ship that plied the tea trade between London and Shanghai from the early 1870s until 1887, when she was wrecked on the Devon coast in a gale, carrying over one and a half thousand tons of tea. Her maiden voyage (1871) was to Sydney, and she took back a load of wool. On that occasion she sailed from the Channel to Sydney in 69 days, an extraordinarily fast time, and 67 days in 1872. The State Library of Victoria has a postcard showing the ‘Halloween’, and there are photographs (not many) in some other state libraries.

‘Miscellaneous extracts’, South Australian Advertiser Saturday 9 February 1867, p. 3 (‘Hallowe’en at Balmoral’); ‘South Australian Institute’, South Australian Advertiser Saturday 21 December 1867, p. 3. Cargo of tea: cf. The Treasures of Salcombe (diving information; 1600 tons). 69 days: Submerged (diving website); 67 days: Sydney Morning Herald Monday 9 September 1872, p. 4 (description of ship and cargo).

Recent literature includes: Jason Bivins, Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism, New York – Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008 (on fear, Evangelicalism and American culture).

Flooding in the Riverina

The tendency to flooding on the plains of the Riverina was well known when the railway line was put through from Sydney to Albury in the nineteenth century.

The first section of public railway line laid in Australia was opened in Sydney on 26 September 1855. Twenty-five years later, after a number of stops and starts, the Great Southern Railway line was completed to the border with Victoria.

The line was opened to North Wagga in September 1878, and then to South Wagga in September 1879 after a bridge was built over the Murrumbidgee River, first a temporary timber and then an iron bridge. The bridge over the river needed to be long to span possible flood waters.

Flooding also had to be taken into account in constructing the line from South Wagga to Albury. The plains, being very level, are prone to flooding. Viaducts with flood openings were built to carry the line in a number of places. The largest viaduct was across Billabong Creek at Culcairn. Both have featured in news of recent floods in the area.

A great deal of timber was needed for the various works associated with the railway, including viaducts, stations and buildings.

The completed line was opened in Albury on 3 February 1881. The Premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes, and other members of Parliament left Sydney at 10.00 pm the evening before on a Ministerial train and arrived in Albury at noon. There was also an official party that came by train from Melbourne, under the leadership of the Victorian Premier, the Honourable Graham Berry.

Coffee shops

Along with ships, sealing wax and many other items, Europeans brought to Australia tea and coffee. But it was not yet time for coffee shops on the European model while the infant colonies were struggling to find their feet.

There is an early reference to a ‘coffee house’, in conjunction with a tavern and hotel, in Sydney in 1822. Hobart could boast the ‘Albion Hotel, Tavern, and Coffee House’ at Wellington Bridge as early as 1823.

Then in Sydney in 1826 the colourful Frenchman, M. François (Francis) Girard announced a plan for a ‘coffee room, à la Francaise, where Pastry and Refreshments of any kind will be obtained.’ He set this up at his premises on the corner of Hunter and O’Connell Streets. This was a ‘new plan’ ‘for the convenience and comfort of Ladies and Gentlemen.’

Curiously three years later, in 1829, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser commented that, ‘To those who have a little loose cash, a coffee shop, on the London plan, combining neatness and economy, would prove a profitable speculation’ – as if there were as yet no coffee shop in Sydney. It was suggested that, ‘Contiguous to the Market-place would be an eligible site for such an establishment.’ This was not very far from where M. Girard had established his coffee room.

In 1833, to the surprise of the Sydney Gazette’s reporter, who had risen earlier than usual, a coffee shop, said to be on the London style, appeared in George Street; ‘and certainly, the master of the ceremonies, who dispensed the refreshing beverage in a white apron, did not seem to want for customers. The same person we observe, has, during the day, a supply of cooked meats. We think the speculation is a good one, and will succeed.’

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Friday 6 December 1822, p. 2; Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser Saturday 17 May 1823, p. 1; Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Wednesday 20 September 1826, p. 1; Thursday 18 June 1829, p. 2; Thursday 31 January 1833, p. 3.

Nankeen

The cloth known as ‘nankeen’ was originally made from yellow cotton. It was named after the Chinese city of Nankin (Nanking, Nanjing), from where it was exported to Europe and elsewhere.

The term nankeen was subsequently used for ordinary cotton cloth dyed pale yellow. There is also white nankeen (undyed or bleached?), and blue nankeen, dyed blue except where a paste has been applied to keep the dye out, a process which results in a patterned cloth of traditional design. Nankeen porcelain, usually blue and white, is a type originally from Nanking.

Nankeen cloth has been in very common use for wearing apparel and household items. In early colonial newspapers there are frequent references to nankeen (or nankeens) on sale among ‘piece goods’. Items of clothing made of nankeen include pantaloons, stays, breeches, trousers, pockets, waistcoats, and even shoes. Pieces of nankeen often occur as part of personal and household property. Evidently people often kept lengths of nankeen from which to make or patch their own garments and household items.

Instances of patterned or printed nankeens include ‘superfine blue nankeens’ among imports, and ‘company pieces of nankeen’, evidently made for troops.

The word nankeen also occurs in the names of certain plant and bird species of the Australian region, including the nankeen gum (also called the poplar box or bimble box), the nankeen kestrel or hawk, and the nankeen crane or night heron (also simply called the nankeen bird).

Manna

The manna of the desert described in the biblical books of Exodus and Numbers has some modern counterparts in the form of substances secreted by certain plants and collected for medicinal and other purposes.

These plant products are known from various times and places on a number of continents. Reported locations in the Middle East include not only Sinai, where the Israelites are said to have journeyed, but Arabia, northern Mesopotamia and Persia. In Europe, Sicily and Calabria became known as exporters of the finest commercial manna.

Details in early Sydney newspaper advertisements suggest that manna was chiefly sold as a medicinal substance, for its mild laxative and other properties. It is not clear to what extent supplies imported from overseas were supplemented by varieties of the substance obtained from places within Australia.

There are reports of locally-available substances called manna, derived from certain trees in the colony, mainly some species of eucalypt, and in particular the ‘manna gum’ (eucalyptus viminalis). Sandal-wood is also mentioned, and a grass. Contemporary descriptions indicate some doubt about how manna was formed. Generally it was thought to fall from eucalypt flowers or to occur where insects bored into tree bark and a substance was exuded. It fell to the ground and dried in the sun, and sometimes quite large amounts could be collected. The months from September to December appear to be the main season for manna.

Manna has been found in quantity in a number of places in New South Wales, including the vicinity of Bathurst. Hence one writer proposed in 1830, during a period when stock and grain sales were depressed and whaling could not satisfy the market, that ‘Bathurst manna’, along with some other plant products, could become a profitable export. Eventually a component of manna was artificially isolated and synthesised as ‘mannitol’ (a sugar alcohol) and manu­factured by CSR in the Sydney suburb of Rhodes from 1952 onwards.

Place names include Manna Mountain and Manna State Forest (near West Wyalong and Condobolin) in New South Wales and Manna Hill in South Australia.

Manna for export: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Tuesday 24 August 1830, p. 2.

Macquarie Place

Between Martin Place and Circular Quay lies a somewhat confusing network of streets going at various angles. In the midst of the streets is Macquarie Place Park, a modern version of an open area that originally functioned as a town square. A formal public space was laid out in 1810. Triangular in shape, it was surrounded by official residences, for the Governor and other officials, government bond stores, and buildings leased by merchants.

In 1816-1818 an obelisk was constructed in the middle of the area, on the orders of Governor Macquarie, which recorded that the site was the starting point for the measurement of roads into the interior of the colony. At that time the surrounding grounds were very open and the obelisk was a prominent monument that could be seen from the other side of the harbour.

Newspaper advertisements of the time show the sorts of goods available from the merchants. On 10 October 1818, for example, Simeon Lord advertised for sale at his ‘Auction Mart’:

An Assortment of goods imported by the last arrivals; consisting of telescopes, a barometer, silver watches, silver tea-spoons, table ditto; pocket knives, scissars, razors, copper kettles, sundry Articles of Houshold Furniture; English and Bengal Print; nankeens, English flannel, stationary, colonial cheese, Irish butter, rendered beef suet, tallow candles; a Variety of garden seeds, a few canisters of glazed gun-powder; a quantity of manna, caster oil, empty bottles, and numerous other Articles.—Prompt Payment.

It would be interesting to know where one could find such an assortment of goods in the city today, leaving aside the ‘canisters of glazed gun-powder’. A search for those would inevitably excite remark and rebuke.

Obelisk: cf. ‘When All Roads Led to Sydney Town’, Heritage NSW 17.2, Summer 2009, 4-5, with illustrations. Advertisement: Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Saturday 10 October 1818, p. 2.

Martin Place, Sydney

The fine expanse of Martin Place now lies open to the eye from George Street to Macquarie Street. The best general view is arguably from east to west, Macquarie to George, as the ground slopes downwards. A number of streets pass across at right angles – Phillip, Elizabeth, Castlereagh, Pitt –  without spoiling the effect of a grand open area.

Martin Place is now reserved for pedestrians, except where the other streets cross. Originally it was a much shorter street for traffic between George and Pitt, in front of the newly built General Post Office. That imposing edifice, built in the latter part of the nineteenth century (1866-1892), has a north-facing frontage which required an impressive open space to complement it. Hence the old Moore Street was converted to form Martin Place in 1891.

Even in those days traffic was a problem. On 14 February 1891 the Sydney Morning Herald published a letter signed by ‘Roberto Numdiva’, who complained that the authorities were proposing for what he calls Post-office or Martin-street a promenade 48 feet wide and a roadway for vehicular traffic of only 37 feet. A wider roadway, he argues, would be better for traffic and would also help aesthetically by giving a greater breadth of unobstructed space.

Old photos show vehicles and pedestrians mingling in Martin Place before the days of traffic lights. Eventually lines were marked for pedestrians and a policeman directed traffic. The City of Sydney website has a fine view by night looking from near the top of Martin Place up the hill to Sydney Hospital.

Linked photo on the Dictionary of Sydney website illustrating vehicles and pedestrians: South side of Martin Place from Commonwealth Bank to Prudential Building, ca. 1938, photograph, Australian National Travel Association Collection (Ref.: PXA 907 Box 22/f.41), Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.