On Christmas Day in 1844 several dozen Aboriginal men and women entered the back yard of Charles Smith’s residence and butcher shop opposite the Sydney Markets (todays QVB). They were said to have come from the ‘tribes’ of Woolloomooloo and the Shoalhaven, and were probably all living in the various Aboriginal settlements close to Sydney town at the time. Under an awning in Smith’s yard was a large table decked out for a Christmas lunch. Before the food was served, the men were shaven and washed and presented with a boxed Christmas present of a new shirt. At 2pm they all sat down to a full Christmas lunch of roast beef and lamb, plum pudding, beer and wine, all served by Smith and his domestic staff while visitors from around the town looked on. You can read an account of the feast here - http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37124291.
How did this feast come about? Well, Charles Smith was one of several prominent and wealthy Sydneysiders who had a sympathetic attitude to local Aboriginal people. He was an ex-convict turned racehorse breeder and butcher, and was known as a philanthropist. How he first came to know Aboriginal people is not clear, but like other men of the time he was often accompanied on fishing trips by expert Aboriginal fishers. He set up a butcher shop in the 1830s on the corner of George and Market Streets, and by the 1840s, the steps of the Sydney Markets opposite his shop were a popular place for Aboriginal people to meet up when they were in town. They sold fish at the markets and also visited Smith, whom they regarded as a friend. One of their group, William Annan, was one of Smith’s fishing companions, and it may have been Annan’s death about six months earlier that inspired Smith to hold the Christmas feast.
Sadly, for reasons I will reveal in the next post (with my own short break for Christmas), this was the only time Charles held such a feast.