The Old Gum Tree

"An image of the historic Old Gum Tree, a gum tree that has grown in a shape which appears as an 'arch', at Glenelg and surrounding hut dwellings. The artwork was created at the time of the South Australian Proclamation, 1836. The image is hand painted in colour, directly onto the gum leaf support. Brushstrokes and marks are visible. The artist is currently unknown but the archivist believes the artwork may be attributed to Mary Hindmarsh (1817-1887) or Jack Balitho [see B 44055]. The leaf is assumed to have been sourced from the site of the Old Gum Tree. There is a verso inscription on the leaf "Christmas at Glenelg / 1836 / three days before the state / was proclaimed". Following conservation the gum leaf, showing the painted side, is mounted on a tissue support on mat board. A black and white photograph of the verso is included in the housing. The envelope in which the gum leaf was donated has also been retained. It is addressed to Mr M. S. Fisher, c/- Advertiser, Adelaide and postmarked 24 August 1949." State Library of South Australia.

See also : Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954), Friday 28 December 1951, page 2 

The Old Gum Tree, Glenelg

Is the patched and stayed Old Gum Tree at Glenelg actually the tree under which the Proclamation was first publicly read on December 28, 1836?

This has been a subject for debate with each recurring 'Twenty-Eighth' for nearly a century. The latest contribution to the debate comes from Mr. J. S. Rees. who was a foundation member of the SA Pioneers' Association, and who has collated evidence for and against the claim that the Old Gum Tree is genuine, and produced it in booklet form. 'I confess that before the research undertaken in preparing these records,' said Mr. Rees, 'by virtue of early instruction, general hearsay, and by personal inclination, I was a stout supporter of the claims of the Old Gum. 'However, from the information gathered, the coordinance of definite views and the circumstances attendant on the ceremony on December 28, 1836, I admit my conversion to the opposition.' 

Mr. Rees says that his conversion was clinched by a copy of a watercolor by J. M. Skipper (late 1836 or early 1837) of Robert Gouger's tent and hut under a large clump of gum trees, with the Old Gum nearby.  This reproduction has been in the possession of the National Gallery since 1914 and 'in view of the controversy which has from time to time centred around the Old Gum Tree,' says Mr. Rees, 'it is remarkable that the existence of this picture is not more widely known.'

Mr. Rees claims that as that first 28th was a hot day, and as Gouger, the first Colonial Secretary, records that the Government of the Province was proclaimed 'from his tent' it is natural to deduce that the colonists, to hear the Proclamation read, gathered in the shade of the group of spreading gums beside the tent, rather than round the bent, almost shadeless gum some little distance away. 

'It is not generally known that with the approach of SA's 100th birthday, and the consequent revival of the question as to whether the old bent tree at Glenelg did mark the actual spot where the Proclamation ceremony was conducted, the Council of the SA branch of the Royal Geographical Society appointed a sub - committee consisting of Mr. F. L. Parker (president) and Drs. Charles Fenner and A. Grenfell Price (chairman of the Historical Memorials Committee) to thoroughly examine the evidence' says Mr. Rees. 'The report, given at some length, does not support the contention that the Old Gum Tree was the actual tree involved.' 

In summing up the case for No, Mr. Rees in his booklet quotes the views of several who were present at the first Proclamation ceremony, and who contradict the claims for the Old Gum Tree. 

One of them, Mrs. Mary Thomas, after a visit to the site in 1857, wrote:— 'There certainly was an old trunk which appeared to have been decaying for centuries, but nothing like the flourishing tree I had expected to find. 'If still standing— though I very much doubted it— the original tree most likely would be still in full vigor, and not a decayed old trunk with not a branch left, nor would such a one have been selected where so many others were in full growth.' 

R. G. Symonds, a pioneer surveyor, has written:— 'Although the settlers did not assemble under the old bent tree, they were under the shade of a gumtree so near it that the old wooden arch is historically associated with the event.' This was recorded by Giles Strangways, another pioneer: —'Regarding the historic tree; the ceremony was not performed under it as so many would like to believe, but not far away . The Proclamation took place under a tree nearby which gave better shade.' 

And T. B. Strangways had this to say:— 'The Proclamation was read under the shade of a clump of gum trees, some of which were very large. The main body of that clump was north easterly of the old tree'. 

Mrs. Helen Mantegani, sister of Mrs. Thomas, wrote:— 'I write from personal knowledge mostly . . with regard to the claim of the Old Gum Tree to be the one to which the Proclamation was nailed it is a mistake, but as showing the locality of the first encampment of the first settlers it is valuable. 'The real tree was one of a number close to Mr. Gouger's tent. That tree (the Old Gum) would have offered no shade whatever on the very hot day the Proclamation took place.' Mr. Rees echoes Mrs. Mategani's appreciation of the value of the old arched tree as a historic landmark when he says:— 'My regard, respect and reverence for the Old Gum is none the less, in fact more so with the knowledge that it is beyond dispute the sole relic of the pioneer encampment, and was so close to the actual site as to warrant its preservation for so long as that is actually possible and ultimate replacement by a permanent, sculptured replica.'

The Old Gum Tree, Glenelg (1951, December 28). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954), p. 2. 
Old Gum Tree at Glenelg SLSA [B 38035A] 1910
Mrs C.F. Rischbieth with Mary and her mother, Mrs W.I. Newman, pictured at the old Gum Tree at Glenelg.