Happy 225th Queen’s and King’s Birthday Holiday

Today, Monday 10th June 2013, is the 225th Queen’s (or King’s) Birthday holiday in eastern Australia (Western Australia has the holiday in September or October, during the wildflower season).  It is Australia’s first and oldest public holiday, having been celebrated and recorded every year since 1788.

Captain Watkin Tench of the Marine Corps wrote the following description of the King’s Birthday in Sydney Cove on the 4th June 1788:

“Hours of festivity, which under happier skies pass unregarded and are soon consigned to oblivion, acquire in this forlorn and distant circle a superior degree of acceptable importance.

On the anniversary of the King’s birthday all the officers not on duty, both of the garrison and His Majesty’s ships, dined with the governor.  On so joyful an occasion, the first too ever [be] celebrated in our new settlement, it were needless to say that loyal conviviality dictated every sentiment and inspired every guest.  Among other public toasts drunk was prosperity to Sydney Cove, in Cumberland county, now named so by authority.  At daylight in the morning the ships of war had fired twenty-one guns each, which was repeated at noon and answered by three volleys from the battalion of marines.

Nor were the officers alone partakers of the general relaxation.  The four unhappy wretches labouring under the sentence of banishment were freed from their fetters to rejoin their former society; and three days given as holidays to every convict in the colony.  Hospitality, too, which ever aquires a double relish by being extended, was not forgotten on the 4th of June, when each prisoner, male and female, received an allowance of grog; and every non-commissioned officer and private soldier had the honour of drinking prosperity to his royal master, in a pint of porter served out at the flagstaff, in addition to the customary allowance of spirits.  Bonfires concluded the evening and I am happy to say that excepting a single instance which shall be taken notice of hereafter [the convict Samuel Payton’s attempt to rob an officer’s tent], no bad consequence or unpleasant remembrance flowed from an indulgence so amply bestowed.”

In one of the more formal rituals on the day Governor Phillip described the boundaries and named the plain around Sydney Cove as the County of Cumberland, in honour of the King’s brother Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland.  This was the first significant regionym (royal or vice-regal placename) bestowed in New South Wales, and the first and oldest sub-division of the colony.  He had also planned to unveil the name of the intended town in Sydney Cove but decided otherwise, although that name was rumoured to be Albion.

Landscape plan of Sydney Cove in April 1788, showing Government House where the Governor entertained the naval and military officers, and the camps where the convicts received their grog.  Image source National Library of Australia

Landscape plan of Sydney Cove in April 1788, showing Government House where the Governor entertained the naval and military officers, and the camps where the convicts received their grog. Image source National Library of Australia

The King’s Birthday was also celebrated in the colony’s other settlement of Sydney Bay, on Norfolk Island, where Lt Governor King recorded the following in his journal:

“Wednesday 4th June 1788, Winds NW, no surf at landing place, fresh gales and cloudy, began breaking up part of the ground on the NE side of the hill [Mt George, now Flagstaff] to sow wheat.  At sunrise hoisted up the colours in observance of the Anniversary of His Majesties Birth Day and gave each of the people some liquor to drink His Majesties health and at their request excused them from any work in the afternoon.”

Map of Norfolk Island (right) and Sydney Bay (left), c1790.  Image source Nationbal Library of Australia map-rm3460-v

Map of Norfolk Island (right) and Sydney Bay (left), c1790. Image source Nationbal Library of Australia

Back in London, on the other side of the globe, there were official ceremonies that were reported in newspapers across the kingdom, of which this is a typical example:

“Yesterday being the anniversary of His Majesty’s birth-day, who entered into the fifty-first year of his age, the drawing-room at St. James’s was one of the most numerous and brilliant perhaps ever seen at the British Court.  Their Majesties, the Princess Royal, Augusta, Elizabeth and Mary, Prince of Wales, Dukes of York, Gloucester and Cumberland, with all the foreign Ambassadors, Envoys, Secretaries, and Consuls, Duke of Orleans, Mons. de Calonne, and other foreigners of the first distinction; the Lord Chancellor, most of the Bishops, all the great officers of State, a number of the Nobility of both sexes, &c, &c, were precient.  Their Majesties, and the Princesses … came to the ball-room … at nine-o’clock, and the Princes and Duke of York a few minutes before them.

The King was dressed in a dark coloured suit, exceedingly plain, not even a diamond.

The Queen was superbly dressed in a blue silver tissue buoy, train and petticoat; the latter entirely covered, in waves, with deep fine blond lace; in front, finer stripes of blue satin ribbon, edged with diamonds; in the middle of the ribbon were roses of diamonds at proper distances, and pendant from each a tassel of diamonds; round the bottom a deep silver fringe; on each extremity on the top of the hoop was a large bow of diamonds; the stomacher one blaze of diamonds, and a large bouquet of diamonds placed on the left-side sleeve knots of diamonds; necklace and ear-rings equally superb.

Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, mezzotint by Thomas Frye, 1762.  Image source Tumblr

Queen Charlotte, the first queen-consort for New South Wales, mezzotint by Thomas Frye, 1762. Image source Tumblr

The Duke of Cumberland appeared in his naval uniform.

The King was surrounded by all his Ministers during the evening, but conversed mostly with Mr Pitt, Lord Sydney and Lord Howe.

Some of the illuminations, particularly at the west end of town, were splendid as were all the places of public amusement.”

Many of the newspapers also printed the ‘Ode for His Majesty’s Birthday 1788’, that included lines such as “What native Genius taught the Britons bold/To guard their sea-girt cliffs of old?/’Twas Liberty …/ The King’s, the people’s balanc’d claims to found/ On one eternal base, indissolubly bound/ … For lo, revering Britain’s cause/ A King new lustre lends to native laws/ The sacred sovereign on this festal day/ On Albion’s old renown reflects a kindred ray/”

George III as the colonists in New South Wales may have encountered him.  Image source Museum of Victoria.

George III as the colonists in New South Wales may have encountered him. Image source Museum of Victoria.

George III as the colonists may have imagined him.  Image source Museum of Victoria

George III as the colonists may have imagined him. Image source Museum of Victoria

But what does it all mean?

Historian McKenna argued in 2004 that the Sir Robert Menzies’ understanding of allegiance to the crown was a means of connecting contemporary Australians with enlightened and noble historical traditions, with a mystical past.  The constitution itself, in the mystical, shakespeareanesque language of its covering clauses and preamble, connected Australians to an ancient and mythological past.  Republicans see this as anachronistic, but overlook its profound appeal, its mythological language of belonging, what might be called a Dreaming.  For Menzies the crown was ‘an element of the spirit, a spiritual and emotional conception’.  Political scientist Judith Brett has written that the crown still fulfils the need to symbolise the foundations of the nation-state by something beyond itself, something broadly accepted and emotionally rich in symbols.  The foundations of this civic creed, as described by McKenna and Brett, flows through the readings of the King’s Birthday celebrations in 1788 in Sydney Cove and Sydney Bay and London.

The colonists, by the act of place naming, imagined into existence new places such as New South Wales, Botany Bay, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, Norfolk Island, Sydney Bay, and Cumberland County.  This is how they imaginatively and intellectually occupied, historicised and inhabited the native spaces of the continent.  The first king’s birthday celebrations added further historical depth to these new/old places.  It was part of the revolutionary transformation of locally indigenous spaces into globally connected places.

Part of the history evoked in these new/old place names, and the serial royal birthday celebrations (as Tench indicated, this was the first of many to come), is a history of a direct mystical connection between peoples and their king, regardless of place or social status.  The king’s ethereality is enhanced by distance and absence, by being in a faraway place, present only in the symbolic representations of royal heraldry and royal portraiture.  For most colonists, his presence can only be imagined, rather than physically encountered as it was by the denizens of St James’ Palace (although even they encountered but a representation, a king ‘in a dark suit without even a diamond’ amidst the silken blue finery of his official birthday party).

The annual Queen’s Birthday holiday reveals, year after year, the enduring founding mythos of a sacred covenant between subjects and their sovereign that extends across time and space, ‘indissolubly bound’ as the Ode declaimed, and which remains at the heart of the society that has evolved in Australia.

Indeed, this mythos is contained in the preamble to the Australian constitution which states the people have agreed (through the Federation referenda of 1898, 1899 and 1900) to “unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown”.  A deep desire to retain this immemorial entanglement was again expressed by the people through the republic referendum in 1999.

Is it possible for a new civic mythos to be imagined, a fusion of indigenous and settler ancientness, another Dreaming that explains peoples and places across the continent and its isles?  Could it be argued that the Queen’s Birthday holiday, pregnant with possible futures, is the real Australia Day?

A re-imaging of the Queen's Birthday holiday in Sydney in 2013.  Image source Keystone Group

A re-imagining of the Queen’s Birthday holiday in Sydney in 2013. Image source Keystone Group

Watkin Tench A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, 1793; edited by Tim Flannery and published as 1788, Text Publishing, Melbourne 1996: pages 66-68

Philip Gidley King Remarks & Journal kept on the Expedition to form a Colony in His Majestys Territory of New South Wales …His Majesty’s Ship Sirius …, 24 October 1786 – 12 January 1789pages 150-151

Historical records of New South Wales, Vol. I, Part II, 1783-1789, Government Printer, Sydney 1889

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 5th June 1788

Chelmsford Chronicle, 6th June 1788

Mark McKenna This Country: A Reconciled Republic, UNSW Press, UNSW 2004, pages 98-101

The dedicated reader will find it useful to have a look at Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme & Power of a Common-Wealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill, first published in London 1651, particularly Part II: ‘Of Common-Wealth’; and (regarding the power of place naming) Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay: An Essay in Spatial History, Faber and Faber, London and Boston 1987.

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Norfolk Island’s historical dilemma

Bruce Baskerville on TVNI

I was interviewed in 2011 for Norfolk Island television station TVNI (click on the TVNI link above) on the periodisation of Norfolk Island’s history, which I argue should be abandoned in favour of a thematic or place-based history.  This is a brief segment of a longer interview, made when I was Site Manager of Kingston & Arthur’s Vale Historic Area on the island between 2008 and 2011.

The Island’s history has, since the 1960s, been presented as a series of ‘Three Settlements’.  The First Settlement was between 1788 and 1814, ending when all the islanders (convicts and descendants of convicts and free settlers) were deported to Van Diemen’s Land.  The Second Settlement was between 1824 and 1856, when it operated as a secondary place of punishment in the New South Wales and then the Van Diemen’s Land convict system.  The Third Settlement has operated since 1856, when the Pitcairn Islanders (descended from HMAT Bounty mutineers and their Polynesian partners) were resettled on Norfolk Island in the convict-built town of Kingston, later spreading across the whole island.

The Lone Pine on Point Hunter, Kingston was a seedling when the Polynesians left Norfolk Island about 350 years ago.  It has witnessed people shaping and reshaping the island ever since.  Photo mrbbaskerville 15 November 2009

The Lone Pine on Point Hunter, Kingston was a seedling when the Polynesians left Norfolk Island about 350 years ago. It has witnessed people shaping and reshaping the island ever since. Photo Bruce Baskerville 15 November 2009

In this interview I argue that this periodisation operates to divide the past into mutually exclusive eras that denies the settlement on the island by Polynesians between c1000 and c1650 (known from the archaeological record), and denies the possibilities for any contact between the convicts and the Pitcairners (which are known from the documentary record to have taken place).  It privileges one historical period over others, to the detriment of all islanders today.  Confronting this dilemma is part of Norfolk Island’s journey into the 21st century.

Necro-Nationalism Struggles to Rise from the Grave

A response to Charles Miranda’s ‘An Admiral Endeavour’,

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 18th May 2013, page 17

So, ten years ago Premier Bob Carr secretly commissioned expatriate lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, Queen’s Counsel, to locate the remains of Captain Arthur Phillip, who died in 1814, and report on sending them to Sydney for reburial.  Secret commissions, exhuming dead bodies, Sydney politicians and lawyers – it sounds like a case for ICAC.  But, as these things are no doubt all perfectly legal and above board, it seems more like a case of necro-nationalism.

Mr Robertson QC was able to locate the gravesite, or at least a gravesite, about which he casts aspersions as to whether it is actually Phillip’s grave.  These aspersions are valid because the beastly British have once again been treating ‘our heroes’ with their usual casual indifference and shabbiness.  Shockingly, Phillip was buried in the graveyard of a country church, beside his wife, just as he wanted.  More evidence of what the British thought of an Australian hero claims Mr Robertson QC.  Phillip should, he says, have been in entombed in London’s Westminster Abbey with other national heroes.

As the British have recently found the remains of some old kings such as Richard III and Alfred the Great, this means that ‘foreign heroes’ should also be dug up and returned to where they came from.  Things get a bit confusing at this point, as Phillip did not actually come from Australia, so ‘repatriating’ his bones (if they’re his) for burial in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney would be deliberately falsifying history.  Still, that has never stopped nationalists from re-writing the past as they think it should have been.  Once safely repatriated in some harbourside Westminster Abbey of our own (was Mr Carr or Mr Robertson QC channeling Henry Parkes’ State House?), Phillip will then, no doubt, be claimed to have always been a republican, and to have intended all along to found a convict republic at the earliest opportunity and rebel against the nasty imperialists in London.  If only grovelling British-minded historians hadn’t written him out of our history.  Repatriating Phillip’s bones would show those awful Brits that they can’t steal our history.

Once the Poms have been forced to give up our hero’s bones, we could then demand the repatriation of all our vice-regal heroes.  Poor Lachlan Macquarie lying in his cold mausoleum in Scotland, or James Stirling and John Hindmarsh in neglected church paddocks on the English south coast.  Gosh, Britain must be full of the bones of our founder-heroes just aching for repatriation.  But, why stop there?  Lord Sydney, suitably restyled as Tommy Townshend, would be an obvious candidate for liberation from his English family tomb.  Of course, these hero’s descendants, and local people who honour their gravesites today, might object but really, this is our great national project.  They’ll just have to get out of the way, those foreigners, those thieving Brits with no right to purloin our heroes.  Clearly, they learnt nothing from transporting our innocent convicts.

Some of Phillips relics have already been repatriated, such as the bricks from a shed once on Phillip’s farm in southern England.  These were a bicentennial gift to Australia, and some of the bricks ended up on the waterfront in Kingston, Norfolk Island, where they were made into a combined seat and monument to HMS Sirius (a British ship wrecked there in 1790).  Today the bricks are eroding away, not being made for a harsh seaside environment. Phillip never went to Norfolk Island (a tiny detail), but a vice-regal successor, Governor-General Sir William Deane, unveiled the enigmatic seat-monument on the anniversary day of the island’s British settlement in 1788, during the Centenary of Federation celebrations in 2001.  Its meanings remain as confused as the righteousness of necro-nationalists.

Mr Robertson QC, who has been on this heroic quest for some time, told Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes program in 2007 that “The moral of this story is that we can’t trust the English, the Church of England, the British, to look after our national treasures”.  But before we go off body snatching in the cause of the endless nationalist quest to traduce Britain and all things British, perhaps Mr Robertson QC could again be secretly commissioned to report on the fate afforded by ‘us’ to the remains of Henry James O’Farrell, ‘our’ failed assassin of Prince Alfred in 1868.  Sure, anti-heroes are not the stuff of heroic necro-nationalism, but perhaps that’s the point.  Throwing stones about neglecting to tend the graves of the long-departed, heroes or otherwise, will soon reveal myriad glass houses.

Phillip was an Englishman of German and Huguenot heritage who did his job as a professional officer in the Royal Navy.  We should understand him for who and what he was, in his own times.  Trying to saddle him with retrospective Australian nationality and herohood does, I think, a disservice to the man, his memory and his many fine achievements, not all of which were in Australia.  He continued to advocate for New South Wales after he returned to London, but never expressed any desire to return, and certainly not to have his remains transported across the seas to a republic of thieves that he never founded.

Monument to Captain Phillip in St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo Adrian Pingston 2006, Wikipedia Commons

Monument to Arthur Phillip in St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo Adrian Pingston 2006, Wikipedia Commons

Australia Chapel, St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo  Adrian Pingstone 2006, Wikipedia Commons

Australia Chapel, St Nicholas Church of England, Bathampton, England: photo Adrian Pingstone 2006, Wikipedia Commons

I say, leave Admiral Arthur Phillip RN to rest in his grave in England, beside his wife, as he wanted.  The local people there respect his memory, tend his grave and take pride in a shared history between our two countries.  We can probably learn something from their generous spirit.  Nature should be allowed to get on with quietly reclaiming his remains and his headstone free of the not-always tender mercies of heritage restorers and body snatching necro-nationalists.  Dust to dust is at least an honest epitaph.