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The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in Melbourne – May 1901

Chinese Citizen's Arch
Chinese Citizen's Arch

Melbourne’s History Through Photographs

George Frederick Ernest Albert (Later King George V), Grandson of Queen Victoria was third in the line of succession to the British throne behind his father, Prince Albert Edward, and his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor. Unexpected death of his elder brother in 1892 put him second in succession.

Decorated Royal Train
Decorated Royal Train . Courtesy: State Library of Victoria


In 1901, after the death of Queen Victoria, his father ascended the throne as King Edward VII. George inherited the title of Duke of Cornwall and was known as the Duke of Cornwall and York. In 1901, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and his wife Alexandra were planning an Empire tour, but in the event of the death of Queen Victoria on 22nd January 1901, Edward’s son Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York, and his wife Mary, were assigned to undertake the voyage.

Arch on the Corner of Russel and Collin Street. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria


In 1901, Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York travelled the British Empire which included Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said, Aden, Ceylon, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mauritius, South Africa, Canada, and the Colony of Newfoundland. The Royal couple left England on 16 March 1901 in the Ophir, an Orient liner of 6,910 tons specially converted for the purpose.

Arch at Bourke Street
Arch at Bourke Street. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

The Royal yacht ‘Ophir’ carrying the Royals arrived at Port Phillip Heads on 5th May 1901. Ophir was escorted to Mornington by warships. Later in the day Governor General, the countess of Hopetoun and Rear Admiral Beaumont visited the ship. On 6th May, a large crowd gathered at St Kilda Pier where the Royals were to land.  The streets began to fill with dense crowd through which the Royal procession was to pass.

Collins Street Arch
Collins Street Arch

The streets were decorated at a very lavish level. The G.P.O, Exhibition building, Law court and Railway buildings were all illuminated at a budget of around 30,000 pounds and arches were built at many points welcoming the royals. At the Princes Bridge where the Royal party made the entry to the city, the arches and decorations were superbly grand.

Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

At the intersection of Swanston and Flinders street was the magnificent Kings Arch. At Burke Street near the post office was the single span arch, “The Duke of York’s” Arch. At the intersection of Collin Street and Russel street was the splendidly designed “Queen Victoria” Arch.

Crossing the Bridge. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

The Government, corporates and private individuals together spent around 200,000 pounds for the decorations and other preparations welcoming the Royals. Parliament house was outlined in coloured lights.

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

The Duke and Dutches were conveyed to St Kilda Pier on 6th May by steamer Hygeia at around 2pm. As they stepped ashore the guards presented the arms and the bands played, “God Save the King”. The procession began and when it reached the Domain, around 35,000 Sunday school children sang “God Save the King” and then waved little Union Jacks. It was estimated that around half a million people were on the streets welcoming the Duke and the Duchess.

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

Unaware of the impending danger, the Chinese Australians were also very much excited about the possibilities of Australia’s Federation and hoped that they would become Australian Citizens of Chinese Origin. The Chinese Community raised £800 for the construction of a ‘Chinese Citizens Arch’, one of eight celebratory archways that were erected along Swanston Street.

Chinese Citizen's Arch
Chinese Citizen’s Arch. Courtesy: State Library of Victoria


According to the “Australian Star” in 1901, The arch was built in Pagoda style in strict conformity with Celestial ideas of Architecture. It stretched completely across the thoroughfare at the intersection of Swanston and Little Bourke Street. Over the centre of the main span was a band house, where Chinese musicians will discourse sweet music – according to eastern ideas of harmony. The two planking towers are to be filled on each fete day with gorgeously attired Chinese. Across the arch was a weird and awful looking dragon. The whole structure was decked with rich silks, bells and symbols dear to the Chinese heart.

The opening of Parliament
The opening of Parliament

The first Parliament was opened at noon on 9 May 1901, attended by over 12 000 guests, in the Exhibition Building.

In his address to the gathering the Duke said,

“It is His Majesty’s [King Edward VII] earnest prayer that this Union, so happily achieved, may under God’s blessing, prove an instrument for still further promoting the welfare and advancement of his subjects in Australia, and for the strengthening and consolidation of his Empire.”

Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

The Duke declared the Parliament open. The inauguration of the Parliament was held there because, The Royal Exhibition building was the only building in Melbourne that could accommodate 13,000 guests. After the official opening, the federal parliament moved to the Victorian State Parliament house and the Victorian Parliament moved to the Exhibition building.

On 16th May, the Royal Couple left for Brisbane by train and travelled on to Sydney on 27th May.

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