Jan 21, 2009

The First Royal Visit

Known as "Affie" and also considered to be the handsomest among his numerous kin, Victoria and Albert's second son spent three early Autumn days in the Christchurch of 140 years ago.

His Royal Highness Alfred Ernest Albert, Prince of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Saxe-Coburg, Gotha, Saxony, Edinburgh, Strathearn, J├╝lich, Angria, Westphalia, Cleves and Berg, Earl of Ulster, Kent, Ravensberg, Henneberg and of the Mark, Lord of Ravenstein and Tonna, etc.

Beneath a most amiable exterior Prince Alfred (1844-1900) would appear to have concealed a rather dissolute character; prior to his arrival in New Zealand, he'd kept his escorts and the New South Wales Governor's carriage waiting for three hours in front of the home of a well known Sydney prostitute. Alfred's only son would later be involved in a similar scandal, but lacking his father's cavalier disdain for bourgeois convention, shot himself during his parents' Silver wedding anniversary celebrations.

Affie's mum might have been able to rule her daughters with a rod of iron, but the philandering lads proved to be an embarrassing problem, which , like her Empire, was best viewed from some distance. Thus it was that in 1867 the 23 year-old prince found himself in ostensible command of H.M.S. Galatea (below), a 4,686 ton Ariadne class auxiliary steam frigate, with a compliment of 450 to try and keep him out of harm's way.

Subsequent to economies in order to reduce the number of ships on foreign stations, Britain's Royal Navy had compensated by forming a Flying Squadron, which undertook extensive world-wide cruises for training and flag waving purposes. And so, after leaving Sydney on the 6th of April, 1869, the squadron warships Challenger, Rossario, Blanche and Galatea reached Port Nicholson five days later.

Departing from Nelson at 11 pm on the 21st of April, and with her 800 horsepower engine maintaining a speed of 13 knots, the ten year-old Galatea, in company with H. M. S. Blanche, arrived at Lyttelton at 8.00 am on the following morning. The frigate anchored off Little Port Cooper and her escort moved further up the harbour to Camp Bay.

The steamers Gazelle, Moa, Comerang and Betsy Douglas took passengers by the first train from Christchurch to view the largest warships to have entered the Port. (Galatea was to be opened for public inspection for several hours on the days of her visit).

The paddle steamer Gazelle, with about fifty passengers aboard, was the first to leave the wharf, and only having been launched from the Lyttelton slipway the previous day, looked like a gaily painted yacht. It was expected that the Prince would land from his Captain's barge, and the passengers aboard the small steamers were anxiously watching for him to disembark. However, the Gazelle, which had been engaged by the Government to convey the baggage of the Prince and his suite ashore, when going alongside the Galatea, offered to place the vessel at the disposal of the Prince for his own conveyance, and upon the offer being accepted, the Gazelle's passengers were transferred to the Moa.

At twenty minutes past ten, the Galatea's guns fired a royal salute to announce that the Prince had left the vessel, but the mode of transport chosen by the royal party was unknown to the crowd assembled at the wharf. Their confusion was increased as the paddle steamer, which was flying a Union Jack instead of the royal standard, came alongside the wharf. But when the Governor, Sir George Bowen, was recognised among the passengers, they were finally convinced that the Prince and his entourage, who were dressed in plain suits, were aboard.

The landing steps were covered with red and blue cloth and a pathway of shells led through a triumphal arch, decorated with ferns, Nikau fronds, Flax and Toitoi, to a small red dais bearing the royal arms. On the side of the arch fronting the water were the words, "Welcome, Victoria's Son" and on the reverse side, "God Bless Prince Alfred." On the dais the Prince was received by William Rolleston, Superintendent of Canterbury, while a local band belted out God Save the Queen and a guard of honour from the Lyttelton Volunteer Artillery presented arms. It would be a long remembered day for the 400 Lyttelton children who had been given a school holiday to view the ceremony.

After a speech from the Mayor of Lyttelton, the royal party boarded a special train for Christchurch (above), where they arrived at 11.20 am on that Thursday morning. At the railway station (below) the Prince was received in a tent pavilion, filled with the rarest plants and a bevy of provincial Mayors, with yet another speech by John Anderson, Mayor of Christchurch. Army volunteers presented arms, another band played the National Anthem, the Artillery fired a royal salute and, seated in a carriage, the Prince was escorted through the town by a procession, which included four Bands, and was more than a Kilometre long.

Film speeds in 1869 were extremely slow by modern standards and so long shutter exposures prevented the capture of movement. Accordingly, there are no known photographs of the procession, but here are three photographs of the triumphal arch in High Street, between Hereford and Cashel Streets.

With 56 hotels serving a boozy population gradually approaching 7,000, an enthusiastic crowd of more than 8,000 Cantabrians lined the muncipality's streets. Sorely in need of a breather, the royal party retired to the Clarendon Hotel (below), where a suite of rooms had been reserved, to be recieved by the somewhat theatrical owner, George Oram, who was dressed as a Footman in breeches and a powdered wig.

At 1.15 pm, the Prince left the hotel to attend a Civic Reception in the Canterbury Provincial Council Chamber, at which many local dignitaries were presented. After lunch, accompanied by George Bowen and William Rolleston, the Prince travelled down Lincoln Road and on to Governors Bay, returning to his hotel at about 5.30 pm.

During the day a free dinner for a thousand citizens was given at Barnard's horse repository in Cashel Street (below), and the Oddfellows held a fete at their Lichfield Street premises, but the Prince didn't attend either function.

On Friday, the 23rd the Prince was obliged to sit through speeches by local Maori and West Coast politicians. In the early afternoon, driving himself by four-in-hand to Riccarton, he attended the Autumn race meeting of the Canterbury Jockey Club.

That evening the Banks and principal buildings were brilliantly illuminated, and crowds promenaded the streets 'till a very late hour. There was a Royal Ball for 300 guests in the Provincial Council Chamber, where the Prince's host at the Clarendon Hotel got sloshed and assaulted the artist John St Quentin. George Oram was subsequently fined 20 shillings in the Magistrate's Court.

Below: the fourth triumphal arch at the intersection of Colombo and Armagh Street.

For the benefit of the hoi polloi, on the morning of Saturday the 24th the Prince attended a Pigeon racing match in the Botanical Gardens, where he also planted an English Oak and a Giant Sequoia on the Armstrong Lawn, facing Rolleston Avenue. Passing through the fifth triumphal arch at the intersection of Cashel and Colombo Streets (below), he later attended a children's function in the Garrison Drill Shed in Montreal Street, where Master Samuel Thomas Stansell of the Durham Street West Wesleyen School made a speech and more than 3,000 young Cantabrians rendered another version of the National Anthem. That evening he was guest of honour at a private dinner given by the members of the Christchurch Club in Latimer Square.

The royal visit ended the following morning when Prince Alfred boarded the Eclipse class sloop HMS Blanche (below) bound for Port Chalmers, where he arrived at 12.30 pm on Monday the 26th of April.

In retropect it would be considered an era when pioneering hardiness deemed our far-flung colonials more robust and thefore less accustomed to nervous strain than their seemingly effete English contemporaries. Accordingly, a degree of culture shock appears to have prevailed between the prince's overly civilised suite and their local hosts. Amongst themselves, the royal party joked about the excrutiating pomposity of local dignitaries, but the prince's successors on more than fifty subsequent royal visits would come to accept such tedious pretension as just another occupational hazard of the job.

Prince Alfred at the time of his visit.

Photographic credits: the photographers Alfred Charles Barker (1819-1873) and Daniel Louis Mundy (1826-1881) and the Artist William W. Stewart (1898-1976), the photographic collections of Anthony Rackstraw, the Christchurch City Libraries, the Canterbury Museum, the Alexander Turnbull Library, the Australian Mariners' Welfare Society, the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, et al.


Early Canterbury Photography said...

After deducting a Government grant and the cost of the timber arches and reception tent which could be used for other council projects, the visit cost of the visit to the Christchurch City Council about £66.
Papers Past - The Star, 4 May 1869, Page 2.

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