Category Archives: Australia

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).

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).