On Saturday 17 March 1810, early in the first year of Lachlan Macquarie’s tenure of office as Governor of New South Wales, the Sydney Gazette reported:
His Excellency was this day pleased to give an entertainment to a number of the Government artificers and labourers, in honor of the day, being Saint Patrick’s; on which occasion true British hospitality displayed itself; and every heart was filled with sentiments of respect and gratitude.
This commemoration of St. Patrick’s Day is presented as a gesture on the part of Governor Macquarie rather than a celebration that arose from within the Irish community.
In 1827 St. Patrick’s Day again fell on a Saturday. According to a report in the Australian newspaper, the day had not been celebrated in Sydney with a public dinner before that time. ‘Saint George and Andrew … have each had their day, and their respective votaries for years back, but in Sydney Poor Pat had no one to give him a dinner in public before Saturday last.’ In that year, a committee of gentlemen arranged for ‘Dinner on table at half-past five,’ and a memorable occasion resulted.
In a lengthy report, the newspaper article describes in detail the dinner and the customs that attended it. Mr. D. Wentworth was President, with Dr. Douglass on his right. St. Patrick is mentioned a number of times. There were ‘such dishes as might have tempted Saint Patrick himself with all his respect for Lent or ordinances of “Mother Church” to the contrary, to break his fast over.’ Mr. Wentworth, with a full glass of Irish whiskey, spoke in memory ‘of one whose fame can never die’, and at the toast the 57th’s band ‘struck up the saint’s favourite air—Patrick’s day in the morning.’ The calls for an encore, and the bursts of applause, ‘would scarce have failed to gratify the Saint, could he but have been present.’ Rev. Mr. Power proposed a toast to ‘Thomas Moore—the bard of the Isles,’ and in response to a request from his countrymen and distinguished visitors he gave them a song ‘in the original erse, with the tone, rich brogue, and humourous spirit, that would go hard towards puzzling Saint Patrick himself to equal or excel.’
Other toasts were drunk to the King, the Duke of York and the rest of the Royal Family, the Army and the Navy, Governor Darling, Mrs. Darling, the ladies of the Colony, Governor Macquarie (‘drank in solemn silence’), Chief Justice Forbes, the Chairman, the former Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, Major Goulburn, Mr. M‘Leay, and others.
It was after midnight before the last of the company dispersed. ‘A feeling for political discussion’ prevailed towards the end of the evening, but it was partial and evanescent, and ‘it may be truly said, that harmony, cordiality, and general good feeling reigned paramount.’
The author of the newspaper article, most probably the editor (Robert Howe, son of the first proprietor George Howe), whose stature would presumably have earned him an invitation to the event, noted that he himself was not Irish: ‘It is rather unfortunate, that we have but a very slight and impartial acquaintance with the “life and adventures” of the “rite merry and facetious” Saint Patrick.’
The Chairman, D’Arcy Wentworth, born in Ireland, was much respected in the colony. He died a few months later (7 July). The reputation of Dr. Douglass with the authorities was variable; he was obviously in sufficient standing at the time to play a prominent part on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852) had by this time become a novelist; his novel The Epicurean was published in 1827.
St. Patrick’s Day was observed by the Bank of New South Wales as a holiday in 1827 (cf. Holidays in Sydney in 1827).
Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 17/3/1810, p. 2. ‘Anniversary of Saint Patrick’, Australian 20/3/1827, p. 3. J.J. Auchmuty, ‘Wentworth, D’Arcy (1762-1827)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1967, pp. 579-582, and online. K.B. Noad, ‘Douglass, Henry Grattan (1790-1865)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1966, pp. 314-316, and online.