A Right Royal Welcome to Port Melbourne
Recently the PMHPS acquired a magnificent picture showing a distinguished visitor being officially welcomed to Port Melbourne. But who is this dignitary resplendent in his ostrich feather festooned bicorne hat? Is it the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1920 or the Duke of York (later George VI) in 1927? Turns out it was their younger brother Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, and the year is 1934. He was here representing the king, George V, to mark the Centenary of the Victoria.
The first royal visitor to Melbourne was Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (uncle of George V) in 1867 for whom a grand triumphal arch was erected across Bay St near the former toll gate to welcome him. Other royal arrivals included the Duke and Duchess of Cornwell and York (later George V) in 1901 for the official opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament at the Exhibition Buildings, the Prince of Wales in 1920 to mark the foundation of Canberra as our Capital and seven years later the Duke & Duchess of York (parents of Queen Elizabeth II) to open the new Parliament House in Canberra.
In each case, the capital ships which brought these royal visitors docked at Port Melbourne, but only the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867 and the Duke of Gloucester in 1934 landed here and processed through the streets of Port Melbourne. All the others took a small launch from their arrival ship to St Kilda to be welcomed there before travelling to Melbourne. As you can imagine this snubbing of Port Melbourne did not go down well.
So the greeting afforded Prince Henry on October 18, 1934 by Cr Walter replete in his splendid mayoral robes holds special significance for this community.
His arrival was highly anticipated in the local press. The Duke’s carriage travelled from Princes Pier along Beach Street and his procession marked the first use of the just completed Centenary Bridge. They stopped and alighted at the Rotunda to be officially welcomed to Port Melbourne and indeed Australia. Prince Henry thanked the Mayor for his good wishes and added, “I trust that Port Melbourne, forming as it does one of the vital links of our Empire, may enjoy continued and increased prosperity.”
The Herald reported that thousands of Victorians had gathered at Port Melbourne to “hear the Duke’s voice for the first time”. However the drone caused by the many aeroplanes and flying boats overhead prevented all but a comparatively few people from hearing a single word. Fortunately for us, we do know what Prince Henry said as the Mayor received a signed copy of the speech which is now preserved in the PMHPS collection.
Following this official welcome, the royal entourage was greeted by enthusiastic crowds all along the Port Melbourne foreshore, down Beaconsfield Parade as far as St Kilda whence they proceeded to Government House. Over the following month the Duke travelled extensively around Victoria, attending many formal and community functions.
On November 11, he officiated at the dedication of the Shrine of Remembrance, attended by an estimated 300,000 people, nearly a third of the population of Melbourne at the time.
Prince Henry returned to Australia in early 1945 to become our eleventh Governor General, a position he held for two years. Being wartime, his travel plans to Australia were top secret this time. Nevertheless his ship was threatened by a German U-boat which was located and sunk, although we were not told about this incident until the end of the war.
The grand welcome the Duke of Gloucester received on his first visit to Australia back in 1934 was a proud moment for the citizens of Port Melbourne, an occasion for public celebration and joy. This was a bright spot in the midst of the difficult days of the Great Depression.
There was one sour note however. A week or so after the Duke was formally welcomed to Port Melbourne by the Mayor, the Town Clerk, the councillors, their wives and others, a disgruntled Fredrick Evelyn Liardet wrote a pointed letter to the editor of the Record (Emerald Hill) stating that;
“…not one member of the Liardet family was invited, to my knowledge, by the Council to the ceremony. I consider it an insult to the memory of my great-grandfather, Captain W. F. Evelyn Liardet, who spent so much time and money for the benefit of the community”.
It seems unlikely that the Liardet family will ever be omitted from an anniversary celebration in Port Melbourne again!