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Monday, 12 August 2013

THE PRINCES’ VISITS TO THE BLUE MOUNTAINS NEW SOUTH WALES AUSTRALIA – 1868 AND 1881


These two events have become confused in the minds (and writings) of some over the years. I hope this brief account will clear things up for you.

Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, arrived in Australia on 29th October, 1867 for an extended tour, part of which included a train trip to Weatherboard (now Wentworth Falls) on 31st January 1868. He was accompanied by a substantial crowd of people who were considered to be important in those days. A banquet was laid on for the hungry visitors presumably on the site of what is now the Wentworth Falls picnic area and a viewing area was provided at what we can guess is now known as Prince’s Rock lookout. If the weather had been kinder, no doubt the Prince would have appreciated the view of the falls from this spot even more.
 
Wentworth Falls before 1890

You can read an account of the outing in the “Empire” (Sydney, NSW: 1850 - 1875), Saturday 1 February 1868, page 4. Search in Trove (http://trove.nla.gov.au) for this and other reports of the visit. The account from the “Queanbeyan Age” for January 18, 1868, makes it clear that the Prince would have liked to have visited Govett’s Leap and the Zig Zag as well, but as the railway had only been opened to Weatherboard by the time of the royal visit, he had to be satisfied with a wet day at Wentworth Falls.

It has often been said that the track down to Breakfast Rock (below Govett’s Leap Lookout at Blackheath) was first constructed for Prince Alfred’s visit. If so, it was somewhat premature, since the logistics of bringing the Prince and his entourage there before the railway had opened beyond the Weatherboard, and with very limited accommodation at Blackheath (presumably only Gardiner’s Inn), defies the imagination. It would be nice to think that someone was patriotic enough to have made the preparations – just in case.

From the point of view of historians, the highlight of Prince Alfred’s visit occurred at Clontarf Beach near Sydney on 12th March when he was shot by Henry James O’Farrell, an Irish Fenian (today we might say terrorist, or republican, depending on which side you are on). The Prince survived; O’Farrell was hanged on 21st April. “Such is life”, as another celebrated Australian is reputed to have said.

Prince George and Prince Albert
The second (and last) nineteenth century visit by members of the Royal Family to Australia occurred in 1881. The two eldest sons of Edward, Prince of Wales, visited Australia as part of a British Navy tour of the distant colonies. They were both teenagers – Prince Albert Victor (more often known as Edward) was 17 and Prince George 16 at the time. It is almost as if they were destined to visit those places that their Uncle Alfred missed in 1868, since they skipped Wentworth Falls and went to Blackheath and Lithgow. They weren’t alone, of course, and were accompanied by numerous officers from the fleet which was in Sydney Harbour at the time. Many of the street names of Blackheath bear witness to the occasion, including (of course) Prince Edward and Prince George Streets.
Govett's Leap in 1886

The special train (having spent some time at Faulconbridge and Lawson), arrived in Blackheath in the late morning and the party made the trip out to Govett’s Leap before moving on to Lithgow. The pottery seems to have been the major point of interest here.

Extracts from the diary of James Silcock, master potter at Lithgow at the time, were published in the Australian Bottle Review in 1979/80. His entry for 20th July 1881 reads as follows: “Same day was invited go and make some ware for the Princes, Albert Victor and George. Sir Henry Parkes and officers of the parliament were there. The shop was crowded, a many being outside. The Princes expressed great surprise at the process.” 

The “sumptuous luncheon” in the dining car which was attached to the train at Lithgow might have been more appealing to the two young men. It seems to have been a slow trip back to Sydney, as the Sydney Morning Herald report of the day’s activities states that the train left Lithgow at 2.30 pm and arrived in Sydney at 7.15. It is just possible that the train stopped long enough at Weatherboard for a quick trip out to the Falls, where rumour has it that the Princes each planted a tree, but I doubt that there was time for this. It’s more likely that Prince Alfred planted a tree there in 1868 and memories of the two events have become intertwined. 

Princess Mary and Prince George 1893
Prince Albert became engaged to Princess Mary of Teck in May, 1891. Unfortunately, he died of influenza soon after. Princess Mary later married his brother George, who became King George V in 1910 on death of his father, Edward VII. King George and Queen Mary are Queen Elizabeth II’s grandparents.
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