Tag Archives: Prince of Wales

Dancing till dawn – another look at the 1860 visit of the Prince of Wales

“Thy grandsire’s name distinguishes this isle;
We love thy mother’s sway, and court her smile.”
Banner hanging in the ballroom of the Colonial Building, Charlottetown 1860.

A recent posting on this site featured American accounts of the 1860 visit of the Prince of Wales to Charlottetown and highlighted, perhaps unfairly, the carnival-like atmosphere, overcrowding  and drunkenness which the journalists from the States chose to make a centerpiece of their reporting.  For the Americans, the Prince’s visit was a unique experience and their florid accounts strained to find moments of interest in what was oftentimes a repetition of the rounds of addresses, salutes, dinners and balls which would characterize the events across two nations as the Prince travelled to Canada and the United States.

Prince of Wales receiving addresses at Colonial Building 1860. London Illustrated News

For the English media, royal appearances were less of a one time event and more of a continuation of the emergence on the Royal family into the public world.  Though the visit to North America was a new location it may have been less of a new story for readers in the United Kingdom. In contrast to the brash sensationalism of the New York Herald and the New York Journal the accounts in the Times of London were more subdued and polite. Instead of a drunken mob the Times correspondent wrote of a Charlottetown population that was considerably “wetted” and were consequently very “fresh.”

Not that the English journalists were uncritical;  the writer for the Times noted of Charlotte Town that “such a little group of houses can be called a city,”  that the entire governmental structure with its miniature House of Lords and Commons was “like putting paddle engines on a canoe,” that in the overcrowded ball held at the Colonial Building it was impossible to tell who was dancing and who was simply trying to find the door. It was with only a slightly condescending manner that the ball and the visit was termed a decided success.  All in all, the English account was less of an embarrassment to the Island population than  those of the American cousins.

Published serially in the Times as the visit progressed, the writings of “Special Correspondent” Nicholas Augustus Woods were published in book form in London the following year as “The Prince of Wales in Canada in the United States.”  An on-line copy can be found here. The section of the book describing the Prince’s visit to Prince Edward’s Island follows:

This province is considered the most fertile of all the English North American possessions, and is one of the dozen claimants that insist on being called the garden of Canada, though the only portion that has any really justifiable pretensions to that high title is the magnificent tract of land that extends over the whole country lying between Toronto and Hamilton in Upper Canada. Still Prince Edward Island is the most fertile of the provinces, though immeasurably behind St. John in everything but the value of its soil for agricultural produce. The whole island is, in fact, a large dairy farm, only wanting emigrants to turn its rich resources to account. The great fertility of the soil is in a great measure due to the abundance of streams that cross it in all directions, while the island itself is so deeply indented by bays and inlets, that it is said no part of it is more than eight miles distant from the ebb and flow of the sea tide.

Charlotte Town itself, if such a little group of houses can be called a city, stands on the junction of the Hillsborough, York, and Elliott rivers. Beyond it all the country seems like a gigantic park, so richly is it wooded, so fertile are its wide extent of meadows and soft grassy uplands. The whole population of the place, however, is very small, scarcely more than 90,000, very far less than that of any of the Metropolitan boroughs. Yet Prince Edward Island has not only its members, but its Upper and Lower Houses of Assembly—a House of Lords and Commons for 90,000 widely-scattered agriculturists! It seems like putting paddle-engines into a canoe. But, poor and small as Prince Edward Island is, compared to other provinces, far more was done for the Prince in the way of state preparation than could have possibly been expected. It rained, of course, just as the Prince landed, and continued to pour in torrents all the rest of the day and night. Fortunately, the arches and other decorations were of too solid a character to be easily washed out, but, on the contrary, looked all the better and the fresher for their wetting. The same remark may apply to the people, who appeared to have been “wetting” considerably, and who consequently were very “fresh” indeed. Before the ball, which took place on the night of the 10th, His Royal Highness reviewed the Volunteers, who, though far from numerous, were, in all relating to equipment and discipline, a credit to the colony. After this small military display, every one made up their minds for the féte of the evening, which, if all I heard was true, must have been anxiously looked forward to all over the island since the previous Christmas. The ball, therefore, was in its way a very gay affair. As at Halifax, it took place in the rooms where the Legislative Assembly meet semi-occasionally for transacting the affairs of the island. Certainly, whatever other advantages these rooms possessed, they were not large. So the ball-room was very crowded, and not many could get in, or, being in, get out. But people like being crowded at a ball, especially when dancing is not their forte, and thus even the most critical at Charlotte Town could not detect whether the bewildered individuals, pushing here and there, were really involved in the mazes of a quadrille or only trying to gain the door. The Prince was there, too, laughing and dancing as much as any, and the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Dundas, the Lieutenant-Governor, were equally amused and equally complicated among the crowd. So the whole féte was voted a decided success, and “the festivities prolonged to an advanced hour.”

Saturday, the 11th, was a quiet day—that is, the Prince only received visitors and embarked in state on board the “Hero,” which, with the “Ariadne,” ” Cossack,” and “Flying Fish,” and a French 42-gun frigate, “Pomone,” were all dressed in colours, had yards manned, and saluted. This made a good spectacle of the departure, and the crowds of people lining the shores finished the effect, and made the whole ceremony one of considerable state and éclat, in spite of the rain, which had, of course, been dropping all the morning, and which the thunder of the guns brought down at last with drenching vehemence. At two P.M. the signal was made to weigh anchor, and in half an hour afterwards the squadron was steaming quickly down the straits, with light winds, thick, rainy weather, a little cross sea, and a decided prospect of each and all getting worse as the night drew on.

 

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