The City of Sin, Sweat & Sorrow: Trollope and Rockhampton

The City of Sin, Sweat & Sorrow: Trollope and Rockhampton
29 October 2012

The National Library recently acquired a beautifully designed 2012 letterpress broadside of the visiting English novelist Anthony Trollope's famous 1871 quote describing Rockhampton as “The city of sin, sweat & sorrow.” The broadside was printed by Derek Lamb in Rockhampton with antique wood poster type on an 1887 Alexandra hand press.

City of sin, sweat & sorrow broadside

The fingers holding the poster do indeed belong to the printer.

Rockhamptonites seem to have mixed feelings about this sibilant put down, sometimes citing it with mixed pride. Liz Huf, Lorna McDonald and David Myers used it for the title of their 1993 book on the making of Capricornia, Queensland 1840s-1940s. However research using the digitised newspapers in Trove (limited by its current coverage of Rockhampton newspapers, and the vagaries of text recognition) indicates the attribution to Trollope is probably apocryphal. Trollope visited Rockhampton in August 1871, but “sin, sweat and sorrow” does not appear in his 24th August speech at the Leichhardt Hotel in Rockhampton or his travel book, Australia and New Zealand (1873), in which Trollope made several negative comments about Rockhampton, including retelling the old joke about the inhabitants of a hot place who arrive in hell and find it so chilly they "are said to send back to earth for their blankets." Trollope is unlikely to have personally experienced anything approaching hellish temperatures during his visit, presuming conditions were in keeping with the Bureau of Meteorology’s climate statistics for Rockhampton from 1888 onwards. They report average maximum temperatures for the month of August of around 25°C. Perhaps Trollope was exaggerating something he had been told about the summer months by someone living further south. In his travel book, which the National Library also holds at MS 187 in the form of an incomplete manuscript, marked up ready for printing, Trollope reserves most of his disapprobation for Rockhampton’s railway, while the closest he comes to “sin, sweat and sorrow” are references to Rockhampton’s “not so excellent” jail, and the “hotter northern lands” desire for separation so that “The sweat of our brow shall no longer go to Brisbane.” As for sorrow, Trollope drolly disparages Gladstone, which he passed through on his way to Rockhampton, as a particularly “melancholy town.” Probably inspired by the biblical account of the Gethsemane (which refers to sin in the form of temptation, sweat like great drops of blood, and sorrow), a reference to “the valley of sin, sweat, and sorrow” had previously appeared in Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser, 8 April 1871, p. 5, in conjunction with the visit of another dignitary, the Hon. J. M. Thompson, M.L.A. Shortly after Trollope's visit, the Rockhampton Bulletin, 6 Nov 1875, p. 2, referred to Rockhampton as “the city of sin, sweat, and sorrow” without citing Trollope. However the phrase later seems to have been fairly firmly associated with him (see The Queenslander, 2 July 1887, p. 17; Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld.: 1878-1954), 19 Jan 1929, p. 8), even though one local historian had already questioned the source of the “glib gibe which has come by tradition to be associated with his name” Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld.: 1930-1956), 23 June 1949, p. 16.