Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897"
Angela E.M. Files, February 1997, Vol.9 No.1, Pages 11-13
One hundred years ago, on June 22, 1897, some 5 million Canadians and 320 million citizens of a global empire took a holiday to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria. The messages sent and received via the Atlantic cable reflected the genuine affection of the time and the telegraph itself conveyed the Victorian sense of confidence in scientific, technical progress and pride in the marvels of Great Britain's vast imperial enterprise. In London, the capital of the world, and throughout the British Empire, Jubilee planners resolved that the celebrations were to be a rejoicing and exaltation of the imperial idea.
If the twentieth century has belonged to the United States, it was Great Britain that basked in the sunlight of great power during the nineteenth century. A small island nation, she transformed the world and left a legacy of material change, language, law and political ideals which many former colonies have only partially absorbed and adapted. The British Empire was acquired piecemeal by commercial venturers and sometimes rascals who often relied on little more than sheer bluff. It was an empire which came to be guided by the principle of Pax Britannica. Eton-, Oxford- and Cambridge-educated idealists sought to bring the unquestioned benefits of British civilization to the "inferior peoples" of the world. Evangelical missionaries poured into the hinterlands of the Empire, waging war against "primitive ignorance" and brining salvation in Christ to the "oppressed heathen masses" of India, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. They also brought schools, hospitals, clinics, new agricultural practices, emergency relief and, in fairness, they more often tan not, practiced what they preached. Backing up the enterprise was a huge navy and a thin red line of colourful colonial regiments. The commissioned career men intuitively understood that six-foot-plus screaming warrant officers, operatic uniforms and plenty of pomp and circumstance were the best preservers of peace, order and good colonial government.
Yes, the British Empire was the white man's burden -- arrogant and racist, exploitative and rapacious, often administered with incredible stupidity and, here and there, with astonishing brutality. Nevertheless, the Empire was also an idea and, especially in its waning years, it came to represent a moral as well as an imperial force in the world. The ideals of constitutional democracy, freedom, equality and justice were taught and promulgated by the Empire's defenders and administrators. Thousands of young men and eventually many young women, representing the linguistic, racial and cultural mosaic of the Commonwealth, received their higher educations at the great centres of learning in Britain. These world citizens and their children led the way towards independence in the twentieth century. Today, intellectual and popular fashions have focussed on racism, class, exploitation and the myriad real or imagined injuries of the colonial period. The British Empire has become the Evil Empire. Still, countless people lived through the last decades of time and remember, with much affection and respect, the Union Jack and the imperial union which once united all of us in a wider patriotism. This was the Empire, for better and for worse, that was already taking shape on June 20, 1837 when Victoria, at the age of eighteen, was informed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chamberlain of the death of William IV and that she, Victoria, was now Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
Born May 24, 1819 at Kensington Palace in London and christened Alexandrina Victoria, she was only eight months old when her father, Edward, the Duke of Kent, died. Her mother was Princess Mary Louisa Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the widow of Prince Ernest Charles of Leiningen. On the accession of George IV in 1820, Victoria became third in line of succession after the Duke of York (died 1827) and the Duke of Clarence (William IV) whose children died in infancy.
Cautious in her relationships, often impetuous and slow to forgive, she nonetheless assumed her role as Queen with grace and demeanour. Her accession to the throne and her coronation on June 28, 1838 were greeted with much enthusiasm by the public. Victoria's popularity plummeted in 1839 over the Hastings affair when she forced Lady Flora Hastings, a maid of honour, to undergo a pregnancy examination. The Queen's suspicions were unfounded and the gossip was further fuelled by Lady Flora's death later in the year. The "bedchamber crisis" arose when Sir Robert Peel, the Conservative leader, insisted on the dismissal of the Whig ladies who had been deftly ensconced under the direction of Victoria's close friend and confidante, Lord Melbourne. The Queen denied Peel's request to remove the ladies of the bedchamber and Melbourne resumed office. The monarchy, in the early century, was still a powerful political institution. By the time of the Jubilee in 1897, it had been largely transformed into the centre of society in Britain and political decision-making was vested in parliament.
Queen Victoria gave meticulous attention to her daily journal and through these journals and correspondence emerges a picture of the developing relationship between Victoria and her cousin, Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Albert arrived at Windsor in late 1839 and by all accounts, Victoria dispelled any possible doubts about the man who would become her husband. "Enraptured", to borrow one of W. S. Gilbert's favourite blooms on "true love", best reflects Victoria's feelings towards her cousin. She proposed to Albert on October 15 and they were married on February 10, 1840. Her choice for a lifelong mate was excellent. Albert, male chauvinists take note, was the temperate power and, very often, the brains behind the throne until his untimely death in 1861. Albert's political acumen and wisdom more than once prevented the Queen from precipitate and rash action with her ministers and, shortly before his death, he deflated her potentially dangerous reaction to the United States over an incident in the opening year of the American Civil War.
Victoria and Albert had nine children and at her death in 1901, she had 37 great-grandchildren. Her daughter, Victoria, the Princess Royal, married the Crown Prince of Prussia and their son (the grandson of Queen Victoria) became Kaiser Wilhelm II, who led Germany into war with Great Britain and France in 1914. Victoria, with nine children, was widowed at the age of 42. She retreated into depression and experienced a lengthy period of mourning over the loss of her beloved Albert. Dr. Jenner diagnosed the Prince Consort's illness as typhoid fever and although there was temporary hope for his recovery, Albert succumbed to his illness on December 14, 1861.
Despite her grief, Queen Victoria slowly emerged from her reclusiveness and took an increasing interest to the "business" or efficient side of British constitutional life, often to the neglect of the "theatrical" or dignified activities which the British people needed and desired. Ironically, after the Reform Bill of 1867, a wider electorate and superior party organization were clearly democratizing the British constitution. Her relationship with Benjamin Disraeli was in marked contrast to her hostility towards Prime Minister William Gladstone. The Irish question, the abandonment of Kahandar in Afghanistan in 1881 and the Third Reform Bill of 1884 were only a few of the issues which invited Victoria's invective against Gladstone. She was delighted at his defeat in 1874 and just as equally dismayed at his return to power in 1880.
Victoria took Walter Bagehot's three "crown rights" quite seriously. She demanded to be consulted, she insisted on encouraging and if necessary, warning governments and ministers of the day. In her youth, she favoured the Whigs but in her later years she was clearly a Conservative, and naturally tended to "encourage" Conservative administrations while "warning" the Liberals. Victoria, despite her mild distrust of democratic monarchy, nevertheless brought great respect to the institution of the Crown in British life and by her lengthy and wise reign she ensured the continuance of the monarchy into the twentieth century. Queen Victoria, beloved throughout the British Empire by the time of the Diamond Jubilee of 1897, died on January 22, 1901 and was buried beside Prince Albert at Frogmore near Windsor Castle.
Throughout her life, Queen Victoria took immense interest in many humanitarian projects. During the Crimean War, the Queen worked tirelessly, assisting the women who provided relief for the wounded. She visited soldiers who were returned to the hospitals and gave full support to the work of Florence Nightingale. This interest in simple, charitable work probably reached its zenith in 1897, the year of the great Jubilee festivities.
The Queen was less interested in pomp and circumstance than she was in the promotion and lasting establishment of institutions for the benefit of her people around the world. "Do something for humanity, especially for afflicted humanity", she said and the Empire's people responded with enthusiasm in 1897. How many "Victoria Streets", how many "Victoria Parks" and "Queen's Parks" exist around the world dating from that event a century ago? How many hospitals and other civic and humanitarian projects exist today in memory of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee? It is too easy to dismiss the event as patriotism engineered on unwitting captive audiences by class-conscious imperialists. The Diamond Jubilee was also a grassroots movement which offered people a chance to improve their communities, celebrate and simply have some fun! There is also something remarkably democratic about all those "Victoria Parks". They have served rich and poor, young and old, men and women, and the same parks today hum with the picnics and games of many different people, a great deal of whom are children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of a world-wide Empire.
Women and mothers, perhaps feeling some natural identity with the person of the Queen, were among the leaders who instituted and brought to fruition some of the Jubilee organizations which have so improved our lives. In the young Dominion of Canada, the energetic and indefatigable Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Governor-General organized the Victorian Order of Nurses, a community-based health organization which was instrumental in pioneering home-centred nursing care. Today's VON is a product of the Diamond Jubilee, and among its prominent founders we should remember Adelaide Hoodless who also organized the first Women's Institute at Stoney Creek in 1897.
The great celebrations in London and other parts of the British Isles were organized throughout the winter and spring of 1897. By May 24, the Queen's 78th birthday, the arrangements were near completion. The accession date (June 20) fell on a Sunday and the main festive occasions were set for Tuesday, June 22. The Queen and the Royal Family gathered on Sunday for a service in St. George's Chapel at Windsor. On Monday she left for London with huge crowds greeting and cheering her from Paddington to London. A state dinner was held that evening and among the invited guests were a number of colonial premiers and their wives, including Canada's Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier and his wife. The next morning, following a huge and colourful parade of troops from everywhere in the British Empire, Queen Victoria, with the Princess of Wales and Princess Christian opposite, departed in the state landau. At her departure from Buckingham Palace, the Queen pressed a button and the message which she had prepared was instantly telegraphed to the far corners of her Empire: From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them...
On June 22, 1897, the Dominion of Canada was nearing its 30th birthday. The nation had been preparing for the Jubilee for months. The Post Office issued a special Jubilee stamp to honour the occasion of the Queen's sixty years on the throne. Celebrations large and small occurred throughout the country. Flags, bunting and banners covered buildings and adorned the streets by day, while electric lights, Chinese lanterns, fireworks and great bonfires illuminated the night sky. Toronto featured a huge parade into Exhibition Park. Veterans of imperial wars paraded into Prospect Park and included several old soldiers who were present at the coronation of Queen Victoria on June 28, 1838.
In the outlying regions, people gathered in "calithumpian parades" while many flocked into the larger towns and cities to enjoy the Jubilee. Thousands of children holding flags and banners proceeded to parks or civic centres to sing the old patriotic songs of the day, listen to brief addresses and receive souvenirs.
In Brantford, the celebrations began at the break of day when the great bell of the Central Fire Station pealed sixty times. By eight o'clock, the entire city was decked with streamers, flags and bunting. Both public buildings and private residences entered into the spirit of the day. At ten o'clock, on a signal from the fire station, every bell and steam whistle in the city burst forth for fifteen minutes. At 10:30 a.m., about 3000 school children carrying banners or flags marched to the new Queen's Park to take part in the dedication ceremonies. The mayor hoisted the Royal Union flag and declared the park officially open. Other celebrations followed throughout the day which concluded with fireworks, displays and bonfires.
In the small town of Waterloo, the festivities began at 12:30 (noon) and continued into the late hours of the evening. Jubilee flags were presented to the school children and a procession of 800 children marched from Central School headed by the Waterloo Musical Society Band. At 1:30, the children and visitors gathered at the park to sing "God Save the Queen", "The Maple Leaf Forever", "Rule Britannia" and "The Red, White and Blue". A programme of afternoon sports was opened with the band playing the "United Empire March", composed for the occasion.
At ten o'clock in Berlin, a procession of about 1200 children bearing flags and headed by local companies of the 29th Battalion marched from the school to the new Victoria Park (opened in 1896). Mayor Breithaupt and other members of the Park Board were present to dedicate a new pole and flag, which was raised to "Rule Britannia" and the crowd gave three cheers for the Queen. The ceremonies closed with the Jubilee March, rendered by the battalion band and the crowds dispersed to picnic and to continue local celebration for the remainder of the day.
The festivities in Galt began on th evening of June 21 with an illuminated character costume and bicycle parade. On June 22, a programme of sports at Dickson Park was organized under the auspices of the Galt Athletic Association. A county baseball match between Berlin and Galt ended with a 17 to 7 win for Galt. Open air concerts and the usual "pyrotechnic exhibitions" and bonfires lit up the night sky in the parks and hills surrounding the town.
Owen Sound opened the day with a royal salute at sunrise. In the morning, "old time events' were held on the main street followed by a parade and 21-gun salute at noon. In the afternoon, sailing races were held in the bay and a baseball match between the Owen Sound Clippers and the Toronto Wellingtons was won by the Wellingtons, 9 to 8. The day concluded with fireworks and a huge bonfire on West Hill.
The children who marched in those Jubilee parades one hundred years ago are long gone. They were our grandparents, great-grandparents and even great-great grandparents. Search the attic trunk, open the drawer in many an old bedroom dresser or diningroom hutch and you may find a souvenir, an old medallion, a button, or a photograph perhaps of a Jubilee Day event which has been long forgotten. The world of Victoria did not, in fact could not, last. Yet the legacies of Queen Victoria and her era remain with us today.
The centennial of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee will go unmarked this June. On June 30 and July 1, many people throughout Canada will take time from their Dominion Day celebrations to watch the lowering of the Royal Union emblem on Victoria Island in Hong Kong, as the old Crown Colony is formally returned to China. Were she alive, Queen Victoria would most certainly not be amused or in the least happy about the end of the Empire, but her wisdom would prevail. She would understand. Victoria was a great monarch, a Queen for the people, an honest, charitable and virtuous woman who set an example of genuine leadership for her age. In many respects Queen Victoria was Canada's finest and most honoured head of state. We do well to remember her and a very special event in our country's heritage, the Diamond Jubilee of 1897. On June 22, 1997, I invite that dwindling number of monarchists, loyalists, Victorian curmudgeons, cranky traditionalists and other eccentrics (including of course, yours truly) to fly the Royal Union flag from your pole or veranda, and in the wee small hours of the evening, lift a glass and join me in a toast to our late, great sovereign and empress of the Empire across the sea:
• Recommended websites •