WA History

The Royal “Snub”

Prince Alfred
Duke of Edinburgh circa 1865.

In July 1867 the people of Western Australia were in a 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 member of the Royal Family to do so).

Governor Hampton had received a letter from the Secretary of State and in it the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos stated that the Duke “will probably visit the Colony under your Government in the course of the present year.” In contrast, an enclosed letter from the Admiralty was vague and simply said he would proceed to the west coast. Regardless, it was assumed the Duke would visit and it was hoped that both the Government and the citizens would band together, pool their funds and endeavour to make the “reception truly a public one, and creditable to the community.

H.M.S. Galatea circa 1868. Courtesy of the State Library of Queensland.

Aside from the initial correspondence no further news had been received. Nevertheless, the newspapers turned to discussion about giving the Duke the best possible welcome when he arrived. It was expected that all the settlers would come out to greet him but it was further stressed that perhaps something more could be done to entertain him. A careful provision (with words emphasised) 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.

The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Times (WA : 1864 – 1874); 19 July 1867; Page 2; Perth Gazette & W.A. Times

Eager to please and desiring to show a visiting Royal just how loyal the people of Western Australia were to Queen Victoria, articles began to take on a change of tone. The word ‘probable’ was used however its inclusion seemed almost pointless considering many articles read as though a visit was definitely expected.

By the end of July a committee was 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.

The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901); 31 July 1967; Page 2; Visit of the Duke of Edinburgh

The committee continued with their preparations despite not knowing how long exactly the Duke would stay or if indeed he was coming at all. By early August they had decided that:

  • A speech on behalf of the settlers would be given;
  • Decorative arches be constructed and placed at points around Perth, Fremantle and Guildford;
  • Arrangements be made to house members of the Duke’s staff who could not fit in Government House;
  • The expense of entertainment associated with the reception be paid for by public funds and all other expenses be paid for by Governor Hampton;
  • Banners be constructed;
  • A number of Aboriginal people be invited to hold a grand corroboree in the Duke’s honour;
  • And 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.

Many other matters were mooted, in which balls and dinners, cricket matches, and kangaroo hunts, were included…

The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901); 7 August 1867; Page 2; The Visit of the Duke of Edinburgh

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

With preparations slowly getting underway, not many people gave much thought to the original wording in the Admiralty’s letter. A writer for The Herald however was wary. While satisfied with the plans and hopeful of the visit, they recommended that “some communication should forthwith be forwarded to some starting point westward of this continent, informing the Prince that Perth is the capital of Western Australia, and specially invite him to pay us a visit…

Any anxiety that the Duke would bypass the State evaporated when a supplementary despatch sent from Downing Street to Governor Hampton arrived in mid August. It provided instructions on how to receive the Duke from the moment of his arrival until his departure.

Days passed and 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 those seeking a memento of his visit had the opportunity to purchase a tinted portrait from Fremantle lithographer, George Barrow.

By 11 September construction of the arch on St Georges Terrace had begun and vast quantities of everlasting flowers from Toodyay were used to decorate it. Everyone was pleased with the preparations 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.

The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA :1855 – 1901); 25 September 1867; Page 3; The Duke of Edinburgh

By the end of the month the arches and decorations in Perth were nearing completion. Most of the plans were put in place and there was nothing left to do than to “await on the tiptoe of expectation for the signal that the Galatea is in sight…

There was still however an undercurrent of worry. It was noted that if the Duke missed Western Australia “there will be but one feeling of disappointment and regret through the colony.” Preventing that outcome was paramount. Should the Duke stop at King George Sound the Government Resident of Albany was under instruction to give him a despatch from the Governor stating that the people of Perth were expecting him. It was hoped that such knowledge would induce him to make a few days’ visit even if it was not planned.

Adelaide Terrace Decorations
Decorations on Adelaide Terrace. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (6909B/42).
Prince Alfred Arch
The arch on St Georges Terrace. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (6909B/25).
The arch on St Georges Terrace with ‘Long Live Prince Alfred’ written at the top. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (6909B/116).

September came to an end and October began. The days slipped away and October soon reached its end. The preparations were finalised but the Galatea still had not arrived. It was all anyone could talk about. Everyone was eagerly awaiting the Duke’s arrival 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…

The people of Western Australia refused to accept that they would not receive a visit from the Duke and decided that such talk was simply rumour. Until they knew for sure, they would remain hopeful.

We may be disappointed, but our hope is not yet damaged by anything that bears consideration…

The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901); 23 October 1867; Page 3; The Duke of Edinburgh

It was not until about 7 am on 5 November that all hope vanished. A police express letter sent on horseback (arriving in record time) contained disappointing news from A. T. Cockburn Campbell in Albany. The Duke had been in Adelaide since 29 October. He had completely bypassed Western Australia.

Letter from Albany

Everyone was disappointed and none more so than those at The Inquirer and Commercial News who were rather melodramatic about the whole affair when they stated, “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 from the Government was swift and convicts were immediately dispatched to deal with the decorations.

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.

The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901); 13 November 1867; Page 2; Local and General News

After only a few hours the arch on St Georges Terrace was no more. Disappointment 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 citizens in Perth. Everything was demolished until “…nothing remained to remind them that their labours had all been in vain…

Days later, Mr Carey, a passenger to Albany from eastern ports, recounted that the Galatea had pulled alongside the steamship he was on and that the officers aboard informed them that “there never had been any intention of visiting this Colony.” The people of Western Australia (and especially the press) had made a mistake.

The confusion arose from the wording in the letter sent by the Admiralty as well as the receipt of despatches sent by the Secretary of State. The letter from the Admiralty stated that the Duke would “proceed to the West Coast of Australia” and would “visit Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land and also Auckland and Wellington…” While ‘proceeding’ and ‘visiting’ have quite clear meanings, the fact that the Governor continued to receive various despatches (which should not have been sent at all) no doubt brought about the misunderstanding. With no way of quickly clearing up the uncertainty perhaps those in Western Australia felt it was better to make plans than to face the possibility of being caught unawares.

On 21 November the committee in charge of organising the Duke’s reception wrote a report which stated that their expenses amounted to nearly £2,000. Furthermore, 75 convicts were removed from public projects and provided labour for 90 days at an estimated cost of £1,000. Adding an assumed private expenditure of £2,000 brought the total spent to £5,000. According to the newspapers, blame lay squarely on the Secretary of State.

…£5,000 of fruitless expenditure has been made in this small and poor colony, owing to the blunder and carelessness of the home authorities, in forwarding to the Governor copies of the same despatches as were sent to those colonies which were intended to be visited…

The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times (WA : 1867 – 1874); 29 November 1867; Page 2; Perth Gazette & W.A. Times

It was noted that Governor Hampton intended to seek reimbursement of the public expenditure (£2,000) from the Secretary of State and was also going to submit a protest that Western Australia was “saddled with so serious a charge…” A confirmation of that reimbursement was sent in a letter dated 3 March 1868. In it the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos expressed “much regret” and explained that the reason the Duke had bypassed Western Australia was because of the “indifferent nature of the anchorage at Fremantle and King George’s Sound for so large a ship as the ‘Galatea’.

While disappointed at the time, Western Australians did not have to wait too long to pay their respects to the Duke of Edinburgh. In February 1869 (just over a year since his first visit to Australia) he formally visited Western Australia and Western Australians finally had an opportunity to show him just how loyal they were to Queen Victoria.



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