On this date in 1836 South Australia was officially proclaimed as a new British colony near The Old Gum Tree in what is now the suburb of Glenelg North. The event is commemorated in South Australia as Proclamation Day. I grew up in Gawler, South Australia so today has something of a resonance for me. I’ve not returned since 1965 but around this time of year I sense the urge to visit once again and get a little nostalgic. Proclamation Day used to be a public holiday, but it was never important for my family because we were on school summer holidays anyway. Still, the founding of South Australia is an important event, rarely noted in the histories (not even in my own history classes), because it was overshadowed by the eastern colonies and cities – Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, etc. – and the eastern explorers.
A group in Britain led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield was looking to start a colony based on free settlement rather than convict labor. Wakefield suggested that instead of granting free land to settlers as had happened in other colonies, the land should be sold. The money from land purchases would be used solely to transport laborers to the colony free of charge; they would be responsible people and skilled workers rather than paupers and convicts. Land prices needed to be high enough so that workers who saved to buy land of their own remained in the workforce long enough to avoid a labor shortage.
In 1830 Charles Sturt explored the Murray River and was impressed with what he briefly saw while passing through Lake Alexandrina, later writing:
Hurried ….as my view of it was, my eye never fell on a country of more promising aspect, or more favourable position, than that which occupies the space between the lake (Lake Alexandrina) and the ranges of the St Vincent Gulf, and, continuing northerly from Mount Barker stretches away, without any visible boundary.
Captain Collet Barker, sent by New South Wales Governor Ralph Darling, conducted a more thorough survey of the area in 1831, as recommended by Sturt. After swimming the mouth of the Murray River, Barker was killed by aboriginees who may have been suspicious of him because of contact with sealers and escaped convicts in the region. Despite this, his more detailed survey led Sturt to conclude in his 1833 report:
It would appear that a spot has at last been found upon the south coast of New Holland to which the colonists might venture with every prospect of success ….All who have ever landed upon the eastern shore of the St. Vincent’s Gulf agree as to the richness of its soil and the abundance of its pastures.
In 1834 the South Australian Association, with the aid of such figures as George Grote, William Molesworth and the Duke of Wellington persuaded British Parliament to pass the South Australia Colonisation Act 1834. The Act stated that 802,511 square kilometers would be allotted to the colony and to be convict-free. The plan for the colony to be the ideal embodiment of the best qualities of British society, that is, no religious discrimination or unemployment. The province and its capital were named prior to settlement. The Act further specified that it was to be self-sufficient; £20,000 surety had to be created and £35,000 worth of land had to be sold in the new colony before any settlement was permitted. These conditions were fulfilled by the close of 1835.
While New South Wales, Tasmania and (although not initially) Western Australia were established as convict settlements, the founders of South Australia had a vision for a colony with political and religious freedoms, together with opportunities for wealth through business and pastoral investments. The South Australia Act reflected these desires and included a promise of representative government when the population reached 50,000 people. South Australia thus became the only colony authorized by an Act of Parliament, and which was intended to be developed at no cost to the British government. Transportation of convicts was forbidden, and ‘poor Emigrants,’ assisted by an Emigration Fund, were required to bring their families with them. Significantly, the Letters Patent enabling the South Australia Act included a guarantee of the rights of ‘any Aboriginal Natives’ and their descendants to lands they ‘now actually occupied or enjoyed.’ These noble intentions were not fulfilled of course.
The western and eastern boundaries of the colony were set at 132° and 141° East of Greenwich, and to the north at the Tropic of Capricorn, (23° 26′ South). The western and eastern boundary points were chosen as they marked the extent of coastline first surveyed by Matthew Flinders in 1802.
In 1836, the John Pirie and the Duke of York of the South Australia Land Company set sail for South Australia to establish the first settlement on Kangaroo Island. Royal Navy Rear-Admiral John Hindmarsh was selected to be South Australia’s first governor. The first settlers and officials set sail in early 1836. A total of nine ships consisting of 636 people set sail from London for South Australia. The ships in the fleet included the Cygnet (carrying Colonel William Light’s surveyors), Africaine, Tam O’Shanter, Rapid, and HMS Buffalo (carrying Hindmarsh). After an eight-month voyage around the world, most of the ships took supplies and settlers to Kangaroo Island. They landed at Kingscote to await official decisions on the location and administration of the new colony.
Surveyor Colonel William Light was given two months to locate the most advantageous location for the main colony. He was required to find a site with a harbor, arable land, fresh water, ready internal and external communications, building materials and drainage. Light rejected potential locations for the new main settlement, including Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln, and Encounter Bay. Light decided that the Adelaide plains were the best location for settlement. Most of the settlers were moved from Kangaroo Island to Holdfast Bay with Governor Hindmarsh arriving on 28 December 1836 to proclaim the province of South Australia.
The date 28 December as a public holiday in South Australia was modified to the first otherwise working day after the Christmas Day public holiday (i.e. usually 26 December). Formal ceremonies involving the most senior current officials and politicians, followed by public celebrations, continue to be held at the still-extant Old Gum Tree at Glenelg on 28 December.
A Christmas bombe is an entirely suitable treat for this day. When I lived in South Australia my mum used to make a full roast dinner for Christmas followed by Christmas pudding, all of which would make the kitchen (where we ate), an absolute furnace. But for my mum tradition was tradition even though it sometimes topped out at 100°F(38°C) and we had no air conditioning; not even a fan. Even so it would have been unthinkable for her to deviate from her British traditions.
When I was raising a family in New York I usually made a traditional British Christmas dinner, but ice cream at Christmas was actually a Victorian favorite, especially chestnut ice cream — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/w-s-gilbert/ — so sometimes I made a bombe. You can make your own ice cream for this, or use store bought. You’ll need a large mould. I used to use a flat-bottomed metal bowl, the same one I used to boil my puddings.
Over the years I made two different kinds of bombes. My original attempts were simply tri-colored bombes. All you need is ice cream of three nicely contrasting colors. Butter the mould well and line it with plastic wrap. Soften one ice cream so that it spreads easily. Then coat the base of the mould with it. Set up the ice cream in the mould in the freezer for several hours. Soften the next color of ice cream, then remove the mould from the freezer, spread the second ice cream inside the first leaving a hollow in the center, and return the mould to the freezer. When the second ice cream has set up, soften the last ice cream. Then fill the hollow with the third flavor, smooth off the bottom, and let the whole set up. To serve, have a basin of warm water handy. Dip the mould in the warm water to release the bombe. Turn it out on a plate, remove the plastic wrap, and serve sliced. If you want you can give guests a fruit syrup. It depends on the flavors of the ice cream.
If you are adventurous you can make mincemeat ice cream with brandied cherries. This takes all of Advent to prepare. First, around 6 weeks before Christmas, fill a large mason jar with pitted bitter cherries and pour good quality brandy over them. Seal the jar and set aside. Every day or so invert the jar so that it spends half the time on its base and half on its lid. Make the bombe 2 or 3 days ahead of time. I always made my own vanilla ice cream and mincemeat for this recipe but you can use store bought if you want. My vanilla ice cream recipe is here, https://www.bookofdaystales.com/helen-keller/ and my mincemeat recipe is here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/first-sunday-advent/
Soften the vanilla ice cream and mix it well with mincemeat. The proportions are entirely up to you but I would not overdo the mincemeat. Butter a mould and line it with plastic wrap. Fill the mould with the ice cream and mincemeat mix, and let it set up overnight. To serve, unmould the ice cream on to a serving platter, and spoon the brandied cherries with some of the flavored brandy over the top.