First formal celebration of Australia Day
Date posted: December 13, 2016
On 26 January 2017 will be the 200th anniversary of the first formal celebration of what would become Australia Day
On January 23, 1817, Isaac Nichols wrote to Governor Macquarie asking permission to officially celebrate Anniversary Day at his home in The Rocks.
Governor Macquarie replied on Sunday, 26 January “highly approving” the celebration.
The following is copied from the “Sydney Gazette” of 1 February, 1817 . . .
“On Monday the 27th ult, a dinner party met at the house of Mr. Isaac Nichols, for the purpose of celebrating the Anniversary of the Institution of this Colony under Governor Philip, which took place on the 26th of January 1788 but this year happening upon a Sunday, the commemoration dinner was reserved for the day following.
The party assembled were select, and about 40 in number. At 5 in the afternoon dinner was on the table, and a more agreeable entertainment could not have been anticipated.
After dinner a number of loyal toasts were drank and a number of festive songs given; and about 10 the company parted, well gratified with the pleasures that the meeting had afforded.
In this account it would be unjust to pass over a pleasant novelty, for which the company were indebted to the muse of Mr. Jenkins (who was one of the stewards and took the chair by an unanimous wish) in complimenting the party with a few appropriate verses on the occasion; which were sung by a Gentleman to the tune of Rule Britannia, with considerable effect, and produced a well-deserved encomium as well to the singer as the composer.
Hearing it highly spoken of, we have applied for and been complimented with a copy of the verses, which appear at the head of the next column.”
SONG (to the tune of Rule Britannia)
When first Australia rose to fame,
And seamen brace explor’d her shore;
Neptune with joy, with joy beheld their aim,
And thus expres’d the wish he bore:
Rise Australia! With peace and plenty crown’d,
Thy name shall one day be renown’d.
Bright Ceres shall adorn thy land,
And gild thy fields with waving grain,
While roving herds shall o’er they meads expand
And range the riches of the plain.
Rise Australia! Etc, etc.
Then Commerce, too, shall on thee smile,
Advent’rous barks thy ports shall crowd;
While pleas’d, well pleas’d, the Parent Isle,
Shall of her distant Sons be proud
Rise Australia! Etc, etc
While Europe’s Pow’rs in conflict dire
Exhaust the Flower of the brave,
Here peace shall flourish, shall flourish – none conspire,
With human blood thy soil to lave.
Rise Australia! Etc, etc
In the following year Official Celebrations were conducted on a larger scale. Governor Macquarie ordered a salute of 30 guns to be fired from the battery at Dawes Point and in the evening gave a dinner at Government House for civil and military officers. A ball followed, hosted by Mrs. Macquarie. During the early years the day was called Foundation Day.
Throughout the early 19th century the day became one for sporting events, with horse races popular from the 1820s and regattas from the 1830s.
Isaac Nichols, the man
A grant of 50 acres of land at what is now the Yaralla Estate, Concord, was made to Isaac Nichols in 1797 upon the expiry of his 7-year sentence. Governor Hunter, in a letter to the Duke of Portland in 1797, said of Nichols that he had a small farm for which he had been allowed the service of two men in lieu of wages in connection with his appointment as Chief Superintendent of Convicts..
Isaac Nichols eventually became a prominent Sydney citizen. He held the post of the first Postmaster of Australia (a position he held until his death), was Chief superintendent of Convicts and in charge of all building in and around Sydney. He was also a successful businessman, hotelier, ship builder and owner of trading ships.
He is the first person officially recorded as having commemorated Anniversary Day (now Australia Day). It would have been held at his impressive home in The Rocks.
There is no record of his ever living on his Concord property. However he was granted a further area of 50 acres adjoining the original grant. It was here he established an extensive orchard as well as raising cattle and sheep to supply Government Stores.