Picnics and Celebrations | State Library of New South Wales

Picnics and Celebrations

The social highlight of the year was the annual Sunday school picnic day. This tradition had begun in England alongside the development in rail transport. Urban children were transported to the countryside on race day, in order that they avoid 'the demoralising fascination of the race-course day'.

The first Australian Sunday school picnic was organised by Thomas Hassall in 1821, where the children were served a picnic dinner of roast beef and plum pudding.

For many years the Sunday school picnics were a popular local pastime, held on Parsonage Hill at Parramatta, a particular favourite of the Rev. Marsden.

Get the latest Flash player to view this interactive content.

Get Adobe Flash player

Children were transported to Sunday school picnics on hay wagons, paddle-wheelers, steam trains, ferries as well as on foot. The picnics would begin with hymn singing before lunch; grace was then said, followed by grand feasts of turkey, goose, sandwiches, puddings, tarts, cakes and buns. Afterward there were nut and lolly scrambles, foot races, tug-of-wars, croquet and cricket matches.

By the mid 19th century, the largest Sunday school in Sydney was St Barnabas’ Broadway which had 1,750 children and 300 teachers in its heyday. All traffic came to a standstill on George St west when the children of St Barnabas and their teachers left for their annual picnic. Carrying banners and accompanied by a brass band, Sydney’s main streets would be closed to traffic until the parade had passed.

Garden Palace Centenary Celebrations

In July 1880 worldwide celebrations were held to mark 100 years of the Sunday school movement, which had been founded by Robert Raikes in England in 1780.

In Sydney over 10,000 children, representing 61 schools, were mustered in Hyde Park and marched with banners down Macquarie Street toward the Exhibition Building singing hymns.

The International Exhibition, from Lady Macquarie's Chair, 1879-1880, by Charles Bayliss

The International Exhibition, from Lady Macquarie's Chair, 1879-1880, by Charles Bayliss, Albumen photoprint, SPF/265

This impressive structure had been built to house the International Exhibition of 1878-1880 and encompassed a huge seven and a half acres of floor area with four massive towers supporting a central dome. It dominated the city during its short life. It was destroyed by fire in 1882.

On the afternoon of the 26th of June, 1880, the Naval Brigade Band and the processing children filled the Garden Palace to capacity. The space was so limited that some children were accommodated in the orchestra area and some climbed on to the Governor’s platform.

Hymns and speeches by guests of honour, including the Governor, were conducted and appropriate mottoes and inscriptions were displayed in front of the galleries. The celebration was generally viewed as highly successful and very well organised, considering the numbers of attendees, estimated by newspapers as being 30,000.

Town and Country, July 1880

Centenary of Sunday Schools in 1880 - celebration, Town and Country Journal, 3 July, 1880, p. 24, Newspaper, TN83

Separate centenary celebrations took place in Newcastle and at St Leonards on the North Shore, 'For some reason or other the Sunday school workers on the other side of the harbour did not find the arrangements of the general committee sufficient for their purpose and they resolved upon a special celebration on their own account.' Town and Country journal, July 3, 1880.