I toddled down to Light Square and arrived at the Court House at about four o'clock. This seemed like a damned early start, but I was assured by the organisers that so many well wishers wanted to make speeches to me that if we didn't start early then we'd still be going come New Year.
There were nearly fifty of the leading gentlemen of the colony there to greet me and they all queued up whilst I passed down the line with a pleasantry for each one. Bingham Hutchinson was in the line up and I greeted him with "Shouldn't you be home working on your report?" and when I reached Strangways I chaffed him and asked if he'd drowned any more Judges of late, which left them somewhat shamefaced. We all stood about chatting while good old Freddy Allen and a number of his lads from the Southern Cross Hotel pottered about see that we all had a glass of sherry to sip on.
All of the usual sort were there. I counted: Jickling; Wrigley; Bingham Hutchinson and Bewes Strangways, (the daring explorers); Charlie Howard; Gilles, (still sober, though I didn't hold out much hope); Wyatt; Scoop Stevenson; Captain Lipson, (who had traveled up from Port Adelaide for the occasion); Captain Watts; Captain Nixon (of the 96th Regiment and recently arrived from England on board the Navarino); Captain Warming; and a number of others. Of Fisher and his crew of reprobates there was no sign. Well, the evening was for gentlemen.
And then, wonder of wonders, a four course meal followed by dessert. I have not eaten so well in months and all memory of Widow Harvey's horror of a Christmas meal was erased from my memory. We had a White Soup, Pigeon Pie, Roast Duck, Roast Leg of Hogget and for dessert a port wine flummery. Plenty of food for all and it was washed down with some wines brought in from Sydney.
I did take issue with one aspect of the meal. Normally I might have expected any vegetables served with the meats to be placed in separate dishes so that those who did not wish to bother with such fripperies as vegetables, but concentrate instead on the essential parts of the meal, that is, roast meat, might simply ignore them. Instead, the duck arrived at table with a roast onion and some carrot pieces next to it and the hogget was served with roasted potatoes sitting on the plate.
I spoke with Freddy Allen about this later and he assured me that serving vegetables actually with the meal was the latest trend in the best eateries in London. He then said something about "a sensory experience" that "took the dish on a journey to another level" and "put 100% of himself on the plate". I had no idea what he meant but gather that this sort of blather is common amongst professional cooks. I hope Widow Harvey does not take this up. The idea of her serving up some tasteless gruel and telling us about the "fusion of flavours on the plate" hardly bears thinking of.
Then Freddy and his boys cleared the table, pulled off the cloth and kept the wine flowing. Port and Indian Brandy were also available and quite a few of the colony's leading gentlemen availed themselves of one or the other. Or in Gilles's case, both, or whatever he could get his hands on.
Jickling then rose to his feet and proposed a toast to Her Majesty's health which received great acclaim as did a second toast to Her Majesty's Ministers.
Jickling then made a short speech about ME!!. He said things that were most complimentary and caused me to blush with modesty. I blushed even more when he proposed "the health of his Excellency the Governor" and was met with great cheers and loud applause that went on for some time. There followed much beating of hands on tables and stamping of feet as the assembled gentlemen unexpectedly called for a speech from me. Fortunately I had a few impromptu notes prepared and rose to my feet signalling for silence.
I gave them the usual flannel about the future looking bright and the achievements of us all showing what Englishmen can do in adversity and everyone signalled their approval. I went on to say (and I copy from my notes)
"Much of the cordiality of this day I attribute to the circumstance which I am sure you all believe, and which, one day or other, will, in spite of misrepresentation, be the undisputed fact, namely, that I labour for the best interests of the province without any selfish view whatever. In my situation as Governor I have duties to perform to her Majesty and to the colonists, and I will always strive to do both to the best of my judgement.
In these efforts I have always been assisted greatly by the support of many, I may say all, of you gentlemen present, and I rely on you all for a continuation of these meritorious exertions. The dissensions which have unhappily arisen despite my best and most considered efforts, I trust will be transitory; at all events they can not affect the progress of the settlement of our adopted country.
I know the Commissioners at home well; and I can safely say that they have never meant to separate their interests in the colony from those of the Sovereign and the people."
This was greeted with wild applause and cheering and I was clearly the darling of the multitude.
By this point the wines and spirits had flowed freely enough to loosen tongues and the people were popping up all about the room making toasts on anything that came to mind.
Someone proposed a toast to the Army and Navy, someone else Colonel Torrens and the Colonisation Commisioners, someone else "prosperity to South Australia", someone else "Mrs Hindmarsh and the ladies of the colony".
It had reached the point where people were toasting " the ships of South Australia" when, before anyone could wrestle him to the ground Charlie Howard stood and started to give a speech of unfeasible length and dryness with many a Biblical illustration regarding the education of the children of the colony and how it was his great regret that we had not yet done enough for the young ones who were the future hope of us all. He was really just getting going after about twenty minutes when Stevenson, in a show of common sense, leaped to his feet and shouted "To the future!" to great acclaim and everyone breathed a sigh of relief as Charlie sat down, clearly frustrated at being cut off in his prime.
Since Stevenson was on his feet and not to be outdone by Howard, he started in on a speech about the natives and our relation to them, rejoicing that we had made them our friends and companions without the deleterious effects to native life found in the older colonies. "It is impossible", he said, "to overrate the importance to the colony of friendship with the natives; and I sincerely hope that the same judicious system which has been practiced from the first will be persevered in". He then produced a deal of froth about "taking the olive branch" and "bringing the blessings of civilisation" to which everyone gave mutterings of "hear hear!"
I was just thinking what one of the natives might have to say on the matter when Wyatt, clearly jealous of his position as Protector threw a cat amongst the pigeons by declaring that at next year's celebration he hoped to bring a native to join us and tell us exactly how grateful he was.
At this point some damned fool proposed a toast to "civil and religious freedom" and Howard, seeing his chance, was in like a ferret up a drain. He was on his feet in a flash and spoke at great length - GREAT length - in a sort of fantasia of themes which all revolved about the topic of freedom of religion without ever quite making contact. Eventually I think people stopped listening and just let Charlie drone away in the background while they got about the business of finishing all the available drink.
By about a half past the hour of ten we decided to shut Charlie down and those still sober enough to walk steadily assisted those who were less stable out to the road and poured them into various donkey, horse and ox carts that were waiting. I hope I do not hear stories of some being poured into the wrong carriage. Who knows what level of hilarity (and in one or two cases, amorous hi-jinks) might ensue if they arrived at what proved to be the wrong wife in the wrong house.
A splendid evening had been had by all (well, most... I feel that Howard did not have the best time of it and while Gilles had had a delightful evening I suspect that tomorrow morning will not be quite so jolly for him) and we move into the second year of the Colony with, if not enthusiasm then at least determination.