The celebrations over Christmas and New Year proceeded somewhat differently in Ballarat back in 1858 as this January excerpt from The Miner and Weekly Star illustrates. Very little drunkenness was seen and temperance seemed to be popular, although there was the odd bout of drunkenness and brawling. Sports of all kinds were very popular. The Star reported that throughout Saturday and Sunday the Main Road presented a ‘remarkably lively appearance. Everybody seemed to be out for a general holiday, and although the shops were nearly all open’ they did not think that the proprietors reaped much benefit from it, ‘for people who are out for amusement are seldom in the mood for shopping’. The neighborhood of the theatres in Main Road was a principal point of attraction where a busy throng had assembled. The bars of the public houses were of course crowded, and the paper reported ‘a rich harvest must have been gathered by the publicans’. The refreshment houses, where only temperance (or soft) beverages were dispensed, ‘received a fair share of public patronage’. Many people made their way to the Turf Inn, and other country places ‘where the sports of the season were advertised to be kept up’.
Very little drunkenness was observed throughout the day, and what was seen was principally at the west end of Main Road. Among other amusements were “Punch’s theatre from London” around which numerous children and others assembled.
There were plenty of policemen were riding and walking about, but they seemed to have very little to do, for everything proceeded in a very orderly manner. One accident took place on the Main Road; a baker’s cart having run over one man and injured another in the eye. The driver was immediately taken into custody, while the injured men received due attention in the shop of Messrts Poynton and Sheppard. A fight in Arcade Street, the haunt of prostitutes, also took place.
The principal sports of Boxing Day were the wrestling at the Washington Hotel and Charlie Napier Theatre. There were sports of every description at the Star, billiards, bagatelle, skittles and many other sports in endless variety. In fact, the reporter wrote that ‘everybody seemed to be in a perfect holiday frame both of body and mind, and evidently bent on having amusement at all hazards. Those who had money to spend patronised the theatres and places where a charge was made for admission; those who had not, contented themselves by witnessing the performance out of doors’.
The three theatres, and the Star Concert Hall were crowded to the doors in the evening. Many people were sent away from the doors, not rejoicing, but grumbling that that the theatres were not bigger. ‘Immense numbers of children in arms were also present, much to the disgust of the :old bachelor” portion of the audiences; although such little specimens of humanity are not at all times pleasant in a theatre, still we think our single friends should make some allowance on “Boxing Night” when one and all, man, woman and child, are supposed to be in a happy state of enjoyment.’ Having given the readers the general idea of the celebrations and Christmas festivities, the reporter proceeded to describe the various amusements.
Photograph (right) Christmas Tree, Geelong Foreshore, Dorothy Wickham 2018