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"Those bloody poofy woolly biscuits."

Who really invented the lamington, widely regarded as one of Australia's culinary gifts to the world? For those unfortunates who have yet to taste one, it's a small cube of sponge cake coated all over with soft chocolate and desiccated coconut. It was named after the second Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland from 1895 to 1901. Australia, New Zealand, England and Scotland have all been suggested to have originated the recipe.

"The world-famous Australian Lamington turned 100 years on 19 December 2001," says a story on (of all unlikely places) the Ipswich (Queensland) City Council's website. "The national icon, consisting of sponge cake dipped in chocolate and liberally sprinkled with fine desiccated coconut, was created through an accident at work by a maid servant to Lord Lamington.

"The nervous maid servant was working at Government House in Brisbane when she accidentally dropped the Governor's favourite sponge cake into some chocolate. Lord Lamington was not a person of wasteful habits and suggested that it be dipped in coconut so as to cover the chocolate to avoid messy fingers.

"The maid servant's error was proclaimed a magnificent success by all! And so the humble lamington was born!"

That's a good story, but sadly that's probably all it is - a story. Here's another version:

John Hepworth (1921-1995) journalist, playwright and poet was for many years editor of the Nation Review, which he helped establish. In its July 1977 issue, he records this incident as having occurred at a glittering banquet in the outback town of Cloncurry (Queensland):

An irascible diner seized a piece of spongecake which had dropped into a dish of brown gravy and hurled it over his shoulder in a fairly grumpy manner. The soggy piece of cake landed in a dish of shredded coconut which was standing on the sideboard waiting for the service of an Indian curry.

A certain Agnes Lovelightly, in a flash of genius, saw the possibility of substituting chocolate sauce for the brown gravy, and so the lamington was born.

It would have been nice ... had this great good gateau been named for the humble genius whose invention, or divine perception, it was. But in the snobby bumsucking manner of the day it was named in honor of Baron Lamington, who was Governor of Queensland at the time.

For many years lamingtons were served on state ceremonial occasions in Queensland and won universal approbation. But Baron Lamington himself could by no means abide them. He invariably (and somewhat oddly) referred to them as "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits."

Quoting that extract from Hepworth's article, Frederick Ludowyk, editor of the Australian National University's Ozwords, (who modestly signs his article with his initials, F.L.) added: "The village of Lamington in Scotland may be a false eponym, but [in England] there is Leamington (Spa) in Warwickshire, and Lemmington in Northumberland. It is just possible that the lamington has its origin in a British place name. Do any readers have an ancient English recipe book which includes a recipe for a lemmington (or leamington) cake?".

Some Scots claim that a sheep shearer's wife in the village of Lamington made the cake for a group of itinerant shearers. We decided to Ask Jeeves about Lamington, Scotland, and found that it's a village in Lanarkshire on the left bank of the Clyde, 37 miles south of Edinburgh. Alexander Dundas Ross Cochrane Baillie was Conservative member for Bridport, Lanarkshire, Honiton, and the Isle of Wight at various periods from 1846 to 1880, when he became the first Baron Lamington. He held 10,833 acres in the shire. "His mansion, Lamington House, finely-seated on the hill-slope a little E of the village, is a modern Elizabethan edifice, with pleasant grounds."

As for New Zealand, many Kiwis firmly believe they invented not only lamingtons, but also that other famous Oz delicacy, the pavlova.


Story first posted July 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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