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The First Queensland Christmas

Story: Richard Lancaster
Nov 28, 2018
The First Queensland Christmas
Preparations are already underway in most Redcliffe homes for the festive season. There will be family get-togethers, Christmas lights, carols in the park and a host of other celebratory activities that traditionally herald Christ’s birthday.

However, few of us will reflect on how Queensland’s first Christmas was celebrated, by a small detachment of soldiers, their wives and children and the twenty or so convicts they were charged with guarding. All arrived around three months before that first Christmas, to create the lonely convict outpost at Red Cliff Point. When Christmas arrived, most were still living in tents on the banks of Humpybong Creek, although a few bark huts had been constructed.

Sadly, no history remains. “Unfortunately Commandant Henry Miller’s diary has been lost and no details of that first Queensland Christmas at Red Cliff Point is available,” says local historian, Pat Gee.

However, based on a description of the first Christmas, at Sydney Cove in New South Wales, as experienced by the 1788 First Fleeters some thirty-six years earlier, Christmas in the colonies was a rather more dismal event than today. Soon after sunrise on Christmas day 1788, Pastor Johnson preached a Christmas sermon, but as most convicts were described as `practically pagan`, the religious service would have had little significance. Two female convicts celebrated Christmas by engaging in sex with two soldiers. They were rewarded with shirts as Christmas presents. Convict Michael Dennison received some Christmas goodwill – after having been found guilty of stealing a pound of flour, his sentence was reduced from 200 lashes to 150!

While the officers dined on exotic dishes such as roast turtle, and toasted King George with fine wine and spirits, convicts celebrated Christmas with bread, salted beef and peas. Thus, the Christmas fare of the 1824 Red Cliff Point settlers would have been simple. A few chickens, ducks and locally-caught fish and maybe a few locally-grown vegetables.

So, when you raise your glass this Christmas Day, spare a thought for those early souls who allowed us to celebrate what we have today.