Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
We are living again today the exciting events of 1870, 1901, 1927 — years made memorable by royal visits
By D. Napal
We are living again today the exciting events of 1870, 1901, 1927 — years made memorable by royal visits. Only thrice in the past, since its conquest by the British, our island has been honoured by royal visitors.
The memory of every one of these visits lives today in some way. For example, one need not be a history enthusiast to know that the Royal Alfred Observatory in Pamplemousses bears the name of the second son of Queen Victoria, the Duke of Edinburgh who visited us nearly a hundred years ago and laid the foundation stone of that Observatory on the occasion of his visit.
Everybody went mad with excitement at the announcement of the projected visit of the Duke. Newspapers consecrated their headlines to the big news. A correspondent of the Cernéen wrote that there was but one thing foremost in the minds of people — the visit of the Royal guest, the public service was disorganised, no business was enacted, that the heart beat but for him. Here was an indirect but eloquent homage to the royal visitor.
The Duke was out to make a voyage round the world in the warship, HMS Galatea, which he himself commanded. He landed in Port-Louis on 24th May 1870. Many ships which then found themselves in the harbour, went up to Tombeau Bay to escort him. As soon as he set foot in the Government House, addresses were presented to him from different quarters — the Council of Government, the Municipal Corporation, the Chamber of Agriculture, etc.
All addresses had one theme in common – the expression of loyalty, to the rule of his mother, Queen Victoria and the gratitude for the happiness and prosperity which the people enjoyed during her reign.
The Governor of the island at that time was Sir Henry Barkley, who on the occasion of a banquet offered in honour of the Duke by the Municipality spoke eloquently of the warmth of affection shown by all classes of people to the Duke. He also promised that on his return to the home country he would testify to the success of his visit in the island. The ten days which the Duke spent in the island was a period of rejoicings — hunting parties, races, banquets dancing and other pleasures.
More than half a century was to elapse after the departure of the Duke of Edinburgh, before we had other royal visitors. This time it was the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, Princess Margaret’s grandfather and grandmother, who were destined to be King George V and Queen Mary. They were expected to arrive in Port-Louis on 5th August 1091. But they came a day too soon.
The next day the Capital as well as the suburbs were the scene of rich decorations. Most of the principal buildings of the town were hidden under green twigs, flowers and flags. One could see a crowd of faces at the windows, on the balconies, on the street pavements. Opposite to the quay an arch of triumph was raised on which was hung the picture of a girl gracefully dressed, her hand lifted and holding a red plate on which were written in yellow. “Welcome to our Highness”.
The royal guests on entering Government House raised Sir Charles Bruce, the governor, to the dignity of the distinguished order of St Michael and St George, the chief judge Victor Delafaye to that of knight bachelor and Dr Edwards and P.E. de Chazal to that of C.M.G. Then addresses were presented to them by religious bodies, the Chamber of Agriculture, Commerce and Agents the government artisans, the representatives of the different communities of the island and by the Lodge of Freemasons.
The Duke made a speech to the addressees in which after thanking them for welcoming him and his wife and expressing their loyalty and attachment to his father, King Edward VII, he went on to say: “I note with special satisfaction, from the addresses of those non European communities who have made their home among you that they are living in contentment under the rule of their King-Emperor in Mauritius. We have looked forward with keen interest to visiting your beautiful island, rich in its honourable traditions, in the history of literature and statesmanship, proud of its association with naval achievements that shed equal glory on England and France… I fervently trust that under divine providence the people of Mauritius may even remain a united, loyal and prosperous community.”
After that, they proceeded to lay the foundation stone of the pedestal which was to serve for the statue of Queen Victoria to be placed before Government House. This done, thousands of school children went in procession before the Duke and Duchess, each one leaving at the Duchess’ feet a nosegay. After the children came the artisans of Port-Louis to the number of 300, and then the members of the Hindu and Chinese community. The Duke and Duchess then drove through Pope Henessy Street to the Champ de Mars. On both sides of the street were stationed the soldiers of the 18th Bengal Infantry and the 27th Madras Infantry.
On the sixth they were present at boat-races held in their honour at Mahebourg. M. de Coriolis on that occasion made a speech, noted for its eloquence. He said among other things: “Vainqueurs, les Anglais le sont encore, puisque après avoir fait flotter leur pavillon sur cette Ile, ils ont conquis nos cœurs par leur esprit de tolérance et de justice et qu’ils récoltent aujourd’hui le bénéfice de leur sage politique par l’imposante et enthousiaste manifestation qui a prouvé à vos hôtes royaux notre affectueuse loyauté et notre dévouement à l’Angleterre.”
On the 8th August they departed and Leoville L’Homme under the pen name, Leon Lauret, paid a fitting tribute to them. He grew particularly poetical when he wrote of the Duchess: “La Duchesse a conquis les cœurs par sa grâce et par sa charité. Aux gens du monde qui se sont pressés autour d’elle dans les réceptions, il lui a suffi d’adresser un mot ou un sourire pour faire des heureux. Aux pauvres, aux malades, aux déshérités du monde, qu’elle n’a pas voulu oublier, sa charité a versé le baume souverain qu’il apaise les colères, fait oublier les injustices du sort, et mène doucement à croire qu’après tout, le monde n’est pas si méchant qu’on a coutume de le dire.”
The second son of George V accompanied by his wife visited us. Mauritius at that time did not know him as the heir presumptive to the English throne. But Prince Edward having to choose between Mrs Simpson and the Crown preferred to abdicate. The result was that our royal visitors of 1927 became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
The visit entailed the same round of happenings — archs of triumph, presentation of addresses and parades. Once more Mauritians did not fail to give proofs of their loyalty to the crown and the throbbing joy with which they could welcome a member of the Royal Family.
The princely couple landed at Port Louis on 1st June 1927 from HMS Renown and drove through the streets of Port Louis, before entering Government House. On the same day was held at the Champ de Mars races in honour of the princes. The Duke and Duchess attended all the races, leaving the race-course only at 4.30 p.m. for Reduit. In the night Port Louis was richly illuminated and fireworks were displayed at the Champ de Mars. It is said that nearly one third of the total population of the island came to Port Louis to witness the fêtes in honour of the royal visitors who remained here only for three days. They left Mauritius on the 3rd June.
Exactly twenty six years after the second royal visit came to our island George VI and his wife. Twenty six years more have elapsed and we have in our midst a princess of royal blood. What a strange coincidence! Will we have other royal visitors twenty six years hence? Only time can tell.
* Published in print edition on 28 December 2018