Defin­ing mo­ments

Australian Geographic - - Contents -

ON 31 OC­TO­BER 1867, Prince Al­fred, sec­ond son of Queen Vic­to­ria, ar­rived in Ade­laide, South Aus­tralia. As the first mem­ber of the Bri­tish royal fam­ily to visit Aus­tralia, he at­tracted huge crowds wher­ever he went.The tour was marred by ri­ot­ing, farce, tragedy and Aus­tralia’s first po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt, which saw the Prince being wounded at a Syd­ney pic­nic.

In Jan­uary 1867, HMS Galatea, with Prince Al­fred at the helm, set sail from Ply­mouth on a round-the-world voy­age.The Prince docked in Glenelg, SA, on 31 Oc­to­ber and crowds lined the road all the way to Ade­laide.

As dark­ness fell, 40,000 gas lights il­lu­mi­nated the colony’s pub­lic of­fices and huge por­traits of the Prince adorned many of the build­ings. Al­fred spent three weeks in SA, and left with a very pos­i­tive im­pres­sion, say­ing in a let­ter to the press, “I have no­ticed in Ade­laide an ab­sence of the poor and rowdy class, so nu­mer­ous else­where”. Con­sid­er­ing the SA Par­lia­ment had just leg­is­lated to keep the colony con­vict-free, his com­ment met an ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence.

On 24 Novem­ber, the Prince ar­rived in Mel­bourne to more ea­ger crowds. But tragedy was to fol­low.

The fa­cade of the Protes­tant Hall in Stephen Street was dec­o­rated for the Prince’s visit with an im­age of Wil­liam of Or­ange, the 17th-cen­tury English king, de­feat­ing Catholic armies at the Bat­tle of the Boyne in Ire­land. It was a provoca­tive ges­ture, given the on­go­ing ten­sions between Aus­tralian Catholics and Protes­tants. Crowds of Ir­ish Catholics gath­ered out­side the hall, singing Ir­ish repub­li­can songs and throw­ing stones at the build­ing.

As the group was dis­pers­ing, peo­ple in­side the hall opened win­dows and fired shots into the mob. A Catholic boy was killed, and a riot broke out.

There was more may­hem on 27 Novem­ber at a free pub­lic ban­quet the Prince was sched­uled to at­tend. The or­gan­is­ers planned for 10,000 peo­ple – but 40,000 ar­rived ex­pect­ing free food and wine. When the Prince pulled out due to safety con­cerns, the an­gry mob charged the bar­ri­ers and an­other riot broke out as thou­sands fought over the food and wine.

The catas­tro­phe-dogged royal visit went from bad to worse. In Bendigo, there was to be a fire­works dis­play cen­tred around a model of the Prince’s ship Galatea. Trag­i­cally, three boys climbed into the model and set off the fire­works.They were trapped in­side and burnt to death.

Two days later, a ball was planned at the newly built and named Al­fred Hall. Un­for­tu­nately, it was a tim­ber build­ing lit with gas lamps, and some cal­ico sheet­ing in­side caught fire. The hall burnt to the ground.

In March 1868, af­ter months of un­re­lent­ing pub­lic en­gage­ments,

Prince Al­fred’s staff re­quested a less de­mand­ing sched­ule.

The royal tour com­mit­tees con­curred, but one event the Prince had agreed to at­tend was a pic­nic to raise funds to build a sailors’ home. It was sched­uled for 12 March at Clon­tarf on Syd­ney’s North Shore.

Yet again, larger than ex­pected crowds ap­peared early at the scene. Dur­ing a post-pic­nic walk a man ap­proached from the crowd, pulled out a pis­tol and shot the Prince in the back at close range. Al­fred fell to the ground, cry­ing out, “Good God, I am shot… My back is bro­ken.”

The as­sailant, Henry O’Far­rell, an Ir­ish Catholic, was tack­led by a by­stander who wrested the weapon from him as he tried to fire a sec­ond round. A med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion con­firmed the Prince’s in­jury was not life-threat­en­ing and he was es­corted back to his launch.The pre­dom­i­nantly Protes­tant crowd al­most lynched O’Far­rell on the spot.

Prince Al­fred made a full re­cov­ery and O’Far­rell was con­victed of at­tempted mur­der, even though he ex­hib­ited signs of men­tal in­sta­bil­ity. The Prince asked for clemency but the re­quest was ig­nored. Al­fred sailed for Eng­land on 4 April and O’Far­rell was hanged in Dar­linghurst Gaol on 21 April 1868.

Con­cern for Prince Al­fred and the re­lief felt when it was known he would sur­vive saw the pub­lic con­tribute large sums to funds that were estab­lished to build hos­pi­tals in his name.

Prince Al­fred joined the Royal Navy at 14 and by 1866 had at­tained the rank of cap­tain, in com­mand of HMS Galatea, a steam-pow­ered sail-equipped frigate.

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