Icecream stories from nineteenth-century Australia

15 Feb , 2021 History

Ice-cream conjures images of creamy white desserts with all sorts of flavour combinations. It has become the ultimate sweet dessert with artisan ice-creameries becoming increasingly popular for their unique flavours and creativity in presentation.

However, ice-cream, as it is known today, is not the same as it was in the early 1800s. This applies equally to its means of production as much as taste. One description of early forms of ice-cream describes it thus: “cream, perhaps sweetened, set in a pot nestling in ice to cool it down”.1 By the 1800s, it appears that ice-cream had advanced from this rudimentary form to become ‘an iced and flavoured confection made from full milk or cream”.2 

The history of ice-cream is an interesting topic and the purpose of this post is to explore early mentions of the word ice-cream in Australian newspapers. The importance of the above descriptions will become evident later.

The first mention of ice-cream in an Australian newspaper occurred on Wednesday 2 April 1828.3 The article in question discussed a dinner held for the Lord Mayor of London and Westminster, Alderman Lucas, during November 1827.4 Amongst the delicacies offered for dessert, at this dinner, were 200 ice-creams.5 The question posed in the article was about when the same standards of culinary delights could be delivered by a Sydney based company.6

The second article to appear in an Australian newspaper about ice-cream supports the rudimentary description of ice-cream provided in the opening paragraph. It appears that Mr Martin, of Parramatta, developed the habit of leaving a quantity of milk out each night under a tree in the garden.7 Each morning, he would pick fruit in the orchard and eat the ice-cream that had been produced overnight.8

Producing ice-cream through utilising weather conditions does not seem unusual during this period. In 1834 a story recounted by an American, identified only as “an inhabitant of the vicinity of the Hudson”,9 was published. He recounted, “Why I had a cow on my lot upon the river, and last winter she got in amongst the ice, and was carried down the miles before we could get her out again. The consequence has been, that she has milked nothing but ice-creams ever since.”10 If only it was possible to produce ice-cream in this way. It does raise the question about how ice-cream, including its meaning and composition, has changed over time.

The third mention of ice-cream comes from a letter written by Miss Fanny Kemble to a friend in England, that tells of President Andrew Jackson’s visit to New York City 11. Published on 25 April 1834, the article talks of hot air balloons and how they are “inflated”12 in what used to be a fort on the bay13. The article goes on to explain that this fort was converted into a public ice-cream garden14.

The most descriptive observation of reactions to ice-cream comes in the form of a short story penned by Mr Galt for The Lady’s Magazine, titled The Sequel of the Kraken, and subsequently published in The Hobart Town Courier on 13 June 183415. This observation likened the eyes of the kraken, a type of Scandinavian sea monster that lived off the coast of Norway and Greenland, to “those of any young lady in a confectioner’s shop swallowing an ice-cream”16 when it saw a fish rise up with the perceived intent of devouring the ship upon which he stood as bait17.

Ice-cream also attracted the attention of entrepreneurs, particularly in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1840, the Commercial Journal and Advertiser reported the advent of a new company18. It appears that the intention of this new company was to provide a means of transport for residents of New South Wales to visit other areas of the continent that lay to the south.19 The vessels employed would serve another purpose – to provide the residents of New South Wales with ready-made ice-cream.20 The vessels would leave New South Wales stocked with currant jam, raspberry jam, and milking cows.21 The ice-cream would then be produced in what was being referred to as the “Land of promise”,22 before being shipped back without the “trouble and expense of an ice-house”.23 It is believed that they were relying on the climate of the destination to produce the ice-cream as there was an emphasis on providing the staff of the vessels with adequate warm clothing while on board.24 It is not known how successful this venture proved to be.

There were also other approaches. One of these, discovered by a Mr Lillibridge of New York, was to use steam to produce ice-cream25. This might have been one of the first examples of attempting to lower the cost of ice-cream for consumers as he proposed to “cool the parched throats of the people at half the former rates.”26 Using technology to cut costs is a common theme in early attempts to produce ice-cream.

Reducing the price of ice-cream appeared to be very much at the forefront of endeavour during this period. In 1850, after an encounter with an iceberg, the crew of an American ship set to bring as much of the iceberg as they could into Sydney as cargo.27 Prices of ice-cream fell to sixpence in Sydney as a result of this “American enterprise”.28 The article doesn’t explain the original amount required to purchase ice-cream at this time. It could be assumed that the price was significantly more.

Fiction during the nineteenth century provides information omitted from factual reports about ice-cream. In 1844, a short story about Mr Slackwater losing a half-dollar due to having a hole in one’s pocket provides insight into how much ice-cream cost at the time in America.29 He announces to his wife that he must have a hole in his pocket because he cannot find the half dollar she gave him earlier that day. 30 He was later reminded, by an acquaintance, that he spent the money on ice-cream.31 The side effects of eating too much ice-cream are discussed at length by Ethan Spike in 1847 with the apt conclusion that he “shall never forget that all-fired ice-cream”.32 Today’s audiences reading his account titled “An American Story”.33 would likely equate his experiences with symptoms of lactose intolerance.

The story of ice-cream in Australia during the nineteenth century was certainly not dull and appears to have traversed its way into cultural life at the time. The attention it receives in both factual accounts and fictional stories provides testament that it was very much known about, even if it was still considered a luxury.

Footnotes

1. AYTO, J. 2002. An A to Z of Food and Drink, Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, p.167

2. DAVIDSON, A. 1999. The Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press, p.392-3

3. 1828 ‘CIVIC FEASTING.’, The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), 2 April, p. 4. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37072182

4. Ibid

5. Ibid

6. Ibid, p.4

7. 1830 ‘NEW SOUTH WALES.’, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 22 April, p. 3. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2194957

8. Ibid.

9. 1839 ‘MISCELLANEOUS.’, The Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen’s Land Gazette (Tas. : 1839 – 1840), 29 November, p. 4. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8748136

10. Ibid

11. 1834 ‘NEW YORK.’, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), 25 April, p. 4. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4185420

12. Ibid, p.4.

13. Ibid

14. Ibid

15. 1834 ‘Sequel of the Kraken, from the pen of Mr. Galt, in the Lady’s Magazine.’, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), 13 June, p. 4. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4184738

16. Ibid, p.4.

17. Ibid

18. 1840 ‘CHINA.’, Commercial Journal and Advertiser (Sydney, NSW : 1835 – 1840), 28 March, p. 2. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article226453282

19. Ibid

20. Ibid

21. Ibid

22. Ibid, p.2

23. Ibid, p.2

24. Ibid

25. 1847 ‘SCIENTIFIC.’, Hobarton Guardian, or, True Friend of Tasmania (Hobart, Tas. : 1847 – 1854), 24 November, p. 4. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article163501525

26. Ibid

27. 1850 ‘Australia and the Americans.’, The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News (Perth, WA. : 1848 – 1864), 26 April, p. 3. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3171522

28. Ibid, p.3

29. 1844 ‘THE HOLE IN MY POCKET.’, The Bee of Australia (Sydney, NSW : 1844), 26 October, p. 4. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article228130697

30. Ibid

31. Ibid

32. 1847 ‘AN AMERICAN STORY.’, Sydney Chronicle (NSW : 1846 – 1848), 8 May, p. 1. , viewed 15 Feb 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31751852

33. Ibid, p. 1

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