Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Prince Alfred

In 1867 the people of Western Australia were in a constant state of excitement. The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Alfred; the second son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) was sailing his ship ‘Galatea’ around the world and was planning to visit the Australian Colonies (the very first Royal to do so).

No news had yet been heard. It was a time before email, telephones and even the telegraph and the only form of communication was by letter. With travel being only by ship, it meant that letters could take months to arrive. Rumours were rife but as the east coast of Australia had not yet heard anything either, the people of WA seemed content to apply the saying ‘no news is good news’.

The newspapers soon turned to discussion about giving the Duke the best welcome possible for when he arrived. It was fully expected that all the settlers should come out to greet him but it was further stressed that perhaps something more could be done to entertain him. A careful provision was placed at the end of the article:

It will be seen that the visit is but a probability, nevertheless we should be prepared [f]or a reality.

Eager to please and desiring to show a visiting Royal just how loyal the people of WA were to Queen Victoria (and perhaps a little concerned at not being prepared should he arrive) articles began to take on a slight change of tone.

Prince Alfred Visit

Despite again stating that the visit was ‘probable’ the rest of the article implies that there was an awful lot of excitement despite the lack of confirmation.

Committees were soon formed and meetings were held for the purpose of superintending the arrangements for the Duke’s reception.

Every effort will be made to give the son of our beloved Sovereign a warm and hearty reception. Among the arrangements in contemplation are the formation of a Body Guard and the erection of a large banqueting room at Government House.

By early August the Committee had decided that a speech on behalf of the settlers should be given; that decorative arches be constructed and placed at points around Perth, Fremantle and Guildford; that arrangements be made to house members of the Duke’s staff who could not fit in Government House; that the expense of entertainment associated with the reception be paid for by the public funds and all other expenses be paid for by Governor Hampton; that banners be constructed; that a number of Aborigines be invited to hold a grand corroboree in the Duke’s honour and that as many children as possible be gathered in one spot to wait for his arrival so that when he went past them they could salute him and begin singing the National Anthem.

Furthermore, the new Causeway Bridge was nearing completion and it was decided that the honour of officially opening it should be given to the Duke of Edinburgh. It would mean waiting a little while longer before it could be used by the public, but all agreed that such an honour would make it worth the wait.

If the word ‘probable’ had raised any doubt as to whether or not the Duke would visit WA, a notice sent to the Governor sometime later providing instructions on how to receive the Duke (should he arrive) would likely have quelled such fears.

Government Notice

Days passed, preparations continued and the initial trepidation as to whether or not he’d visit WA, seemed almost to vanish. The papers began reporting on the Duke’s whereabouts in the world and the reception he received at that particular place. Such was the excitement that details of his life were published as well as anecdotes which illustrated the type of man he was. Royal fever had well and truly hit the Colony and various memorabilia commemorating the Duke’s visit began to show up in the advertising columns.

By September, construction of the arch on St Georges Terrace had begun and all were pleased with the preparations that Western Australia had undertaken.

The preparations for the reception of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh are nearly completed, and all things considered, they are truly on a scale that does credit to the Government and the loyalty of the people.

There was still an undercurrent of worry that WA would be missed completely and so (in the same article the above quote was obtained from) the newspaper sought to show just how bitterly the slight would be felt. It went even further and indicated that should the Duke stop at King George Sound in Albany, a Despatch would be given to him (stating that the people of Perth were expecting him) in the hope that such knowledge would induce him to make a visit (even if it wasn’t planned).

Sincere Regret

By late September, all the decorations were completed and the people of Western Australia had nothing more to do than to wait (and hope) for the arrival of the Galatea within the next fortnight.

Adelaide Terrace Decorations

Decorations on Adelaide Terrace – Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia

Prince Alfred Arch

The Arch on St Georges Terrace – Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia

September came to an end and October began. The days slipped away and October soon reached its end. The preparations had been finalised but the Galatea still had not arrived in WA. All were eagerly awaiting but in the latest mails there had been…

…no despatches to the Government, no letters for the Prince, his officers, or crew; and more, we had tidings of a rumour at King George’s Sound that the vessel had passed on her way to Port Adelaide…

Again the people of WA refused to accept that they wouldn’t receive a visit by the Duke and decided that, after all, such talk was simply rumour. Until they knew for sure, they would remain hopeful. It wasn’t until the start of November that all hope vanished with the receipt of a police express letter sent on horseback from Albany to the Government in Perth. The Duke had been in South Australia since the 29th of October. He had completely missed Western Australia.

Letter from Albany

All were disappointed and none more so, it seems, than those at The Inquirer and Commercial News who became rather melodramatic about the whole affair.

Our flags are half-mast high, and our decorations left to wither in the summer heat. There is but one course left to us, and it is a very simple one: — say nothing more about it.

Embarrassed, the reaction by the Government was swift.

Almost immediately on receipt of the intelligence from Albany that the Galatea had arrived at Port Adelaide, a large number of prisoners were at once detached to demolish the canopy in St George’s Terrace, over which so much labour had been expended to make it becoming the occasion.

After only a few hours the arch on St Georges Terrace was no more. Disappointment had turned into anger and what was left of the arch as well as the other decorations were soon set on fire as a demonstration of the resentment felt by some of the citizens in Perth.

So, what happened? Was Western Australia one of the places that the Duke was expected to visit? Or, was there some misunderstanding? As it turns out (and if you haven’t already guessed from the inverted commas surrounding the word ‘snub’ in the title) it was the latter.

The confusion, it seems, arose from the wording of the letter from the Admiralty which stated that the Duke would proceed to the “West Coast of Australia” and would be visiting “Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land and also Auckland and Wellington”. While ‘proceeding to’ and ‘visiting’ are rather different terms, the word proceeding in itself is quite vague. Coupled with the Governor’s receipt of various despatches (which apparently shouldn’t have been sent in the first place) it is understandable to see how the misunderstanding could arise. In a time where such matters couldn’t be cleared up with the sending of an instant text message, perhaps those in Western Australia (who also harboured doubts as to the wording) decided it was better to be sure than sorry. After all, what if the Duke had visited and no preparations had been made. That, too, would’ve been embarrassing.

Personally, I find the whole affair of 1867 to be highly amusing (and slightly cringe worthy). Western Australia has long been nicknamed ‘Wait Awhile’ and, for those of you wondering, the people only had to wait a little while before the Duke of Edinburgh would make an informal visit. In February 1869, just over a year after his first visit to Australia, he finally arrived in WA and WA finally had the opportunity to show just how loyal they were to Queen Victoria.



One thought on “The Royal “Snub”

  1. Eddie says:

    Reblogged this on Dodgy Perth and commented:
    The amazing story of the royal visit that wasn’t.

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