There are various stories (probably apocryphal) about how lamingtons were invented. However, it seems likely that they were devised by Armand Galland, the French chef to Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. There is debate about whether lamingtons were first served at Government House, at the opening of the Ipswich Technical College or, as the locals claim, at the governor’s country residence at Toowoomba. Lord Lamington reputedly referred to the cakes as “those bloody, poofy, woolly biscuits”.
Locals get quite passionate about where lamingtons made their first appearance. Some stories say they were invented by accident at Old Government House in Brisbane when a servant accidentally dropped some pieces of sponge cake into chocolate icing and the coconut was added to avoid messy fingers. It seems much more likely that the lamington was devised by Armand Gallard who, when called upon to feed some unexpected guests cut up some left-over sponge cake, dipped the slices in chocolate and covered them in coconut. Gallard is said to have had a French Tahitian wife, which accounts for his familiarity with coconut – an unusual ingredient at that time.
There are other cities that claim to be the birthplace of lamingtons, however. One story says they were introduced at the opening of the Ipswich Technical College. However, the college opened in 1901 and the fact that the first published recipe appeared in 1900 (in the Country Life newspaper) seriously undermines the Ipswich claim.
A more serious contender is Toowoomba, the location of Harlaxton House, the Governor’s summer retreat. So convinced is Toowoomba of its claim that there are proposals to erect a Big Lamington in commemoration.
In 2014, The Guardian published an article claiming to show that lamingtons were actually invented in New Zealand where they were originally known as ‘Wellingtons’. Their evidence was, they said, a 19th-century painting including a depiction of the Wellington cake. First the pavlova and now this! There was outrage. Then people noticed the date of the article – April 1st. Whew!
July 21st has been designated National Lamington Day by the Australian Lamington Appreciation Society. Sadly, the Society seems dedicated to myth rather than fact when it comes to the cake’s origins. They subscribe to the careless servant theory, while Old Government House in Brisbane has confirmed the Armand Galland story with first-person accounts from Lord Lamington’s granddaughters.