Museum of Brisbane

Sunday Stories | The Great Lamington Debate

Described as ‘an Australian classic’, the much-loved Lamington is not only covered in chocolate and coconut, but also in controversy.

Debate and discussion about the ‘true’ origin of the delicious dessert have been circulating for over a century. Impassioned Queenslanders have long argued over the origins of the Lamington, staking their local claim in what has become The Great Lamington Debate.

One thing all invested parties can agree on, is the Lamington is named after Lord or Lady Lamington. Lord Lamington, otherwise known as Charles Cochrane-Baillie, served as the Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901.

Some sources believe the much-loved cake originated from a maid-servant’s accident in Lord Lamington’s kitchen, dropping a piece of sponge into chocolate by mistake. Others suggest the origins lie with a cooking instructor from Ipswich Technical College, Amy Schauer. Another contender is Lord Lamington’s chef, the French-born Armand Galland.

All these suspects prepared a version of the cake between 1890 and 1910, according to recent research by Professor Maurice French. The Toowoomba history professor published his work, ‘The Lamington Enigma’, investigating these claims. In this book, he claims that the Lamington was created by Fanny Young, a temporary cook at Lord Lamington’s Toowoomba residence, Harlaxton House. Toowoomba and Ipswich residents are so convinced of their local claim to the original Lamington, the municipal members from both cities have declared plans to erect giant Lamington statues in acknowledgement.

Despite the ongoing debate, according to historians the most likely and widely believed origin story of the Lamington lies with Armand Galland. The legend claims when Galland was called upon last minute to feed unexpected guests, he cut left-over sponge cake, dipped the pieces in chocolate and coated them in coconut. Many historians argue that Galland’s confident use of coconut, a unique ingredient for the time, is accounted for by the familiarity with the ingredient by his French Tahitian wife.

It is believed that this occurred at Government House in Brisbane, in 1900. Lord Lamington was the 8th Governor of Queensland, serving for 5 years before leaving a much-loved legacy of an Australian culinary icon.

The cake is loved so much, it enjoys its own National Lamington Day on 21 July. Learn more about the rich and evolving history of food in Brisbane with our latest online exhibition, A Taste of Brisbane.


Image 2: Lord and Lady Lamington, their children, staff and guests at Government House, Brisbane, 1899, courtesy Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.