Museum of Brisbane

Sunday Stories | Visit from the Duke and Duchess of York

Over the years, Dukes, Duchesses, Princes, and the Queen have visited Brisbane as part of official Royal Tours or special commemorative events. On these visits, members of the royal family have always been received with great fanfare in our cities and towns.

At the turn of the 20th century, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and his wife Alexandra, were busy planning for a tour of the Empire that demonstrated an appreciation for the role of colonial forces in the Boer War. In 1901, these plans were derailed on 22 January with the death of Queen Victoria, forcing the Prince of Wales to shift his planning focus to his own coronation.

The Prince of Wales sent his son, Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York (the future George V) and his wife Mary, Duchess of York, to undertake the tour in his place. Much of the tour was spent in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa, although there were brief stops in Gibraltar, Malta, Aden, Ceylon, Singapore and Mauritius.

The distances required to travel between the coal ports of these countries were too great for any of the yachts owned by the monarchy in 1901. To complete the voyage, the Duke and Duchess chartered an Orient steamship liner purposed for transatlantic travel, the SS Ophir.

The lease of this vessel incurred a significant cost, which intensified media attention on what became the longest and most lavish royal tour undertaken by the monarchy at its time. According to the Daily Telegraph’s ‘London correspondent’ in 1901, “The tour of the Duke and Duchess of York is likely to cost the British ratepayer a cool quarter of a million pounds…with the hire of the ship alone costing £70 000” for the eight month journey.

The expense and length of the royal tour piqued public interest, as an heir to the throne had never before made an official visit to so many colonies during a single tour. The Duke and Duchess made the most of their time abroad through a series of public appearances and official duties.

After first landing at Albany in Western Australia, the Duke and Duchess sailed to Melbourne where they opened Australia’s first federal parliament. From 20 May, the Duke and Duchess visited Brisbane for five days, where 3,700 men paraded and 200 soldiers who had just returned from South Africa were awarded medals by the Duke. The Duke and Duchess completed official duties such as opening the Brisbane Agricultural Show, presenting an address at Government House and laying the foundation stone of St Johns Cathedral.

The royal couple made many public appearances, including attending a children’s fete where a choir of over 5,000 children performed and a municipal concert in the Exhibition Hall. From Brisbane, the Duke and Duchess travelled by train to Warwick for the future King to attend a private shooting party close to the regional town.

For many living in Brisbane at the time, the Duke and Duchess’s visit was a cause for celebration and excitement, decorations filled the city alongside crowds eager to catch a glimpse of the couple.

A rare collection of glass plate negatives taken by Alfred Elliott, found under a Red Hill home in 1983, capture moments from the Duke and Duchess’s visit 80 years prior. Explore the rare photographs of this significant event in incredible detail in our latest online exhibition, The View From Here.

Image 1: Alfred Henry Elliott (1870 – 1954), Victoria Bridge, decorated for the visit of the Duke of York 1901, photographic print, City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane. Image 2: Alfred Henry Elliott (1870 – 1954), Grand Arch, Queen Street, for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York 1901, photographic print, City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane.