A recent article in the Wanganui Chronicle develops a most interesting discussion of the formidable succession of royal visitors to Wanganui in past years.
Yet most surprisingly, the article omits all mention of HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII. On 4 May 1920, the Chronicle was not to be misled and devotes an entire page to the Prince’s visit to Wanganui. Perhaps the most striking column discusses a Citizens’ Loyal Address to the Prince, edited by the distinguished historian, T W Downes, and illustrated by twelve watercolour sketches of scenes in and about Wanganui by artists of the calibre of Charles Duncan Hay-Campbell.
Since no trace of this brilliant illustrated address has been discovered to date, I have been writing to possible libraries and art galleries in the UK in order to discover its present whereabouts. The most likely reply was sent to me in 2009 by Brigadier John Smedley, Private Secretary to the Earl and Countess of Wessex: “I am sorry to say that no trace of the Loyal Address has been found in the Royal Archives or elsewhere although extensive searches have been undertaken. I understand that the moves and disruption during the Second World War resulted in many losses, and it is sad that the Wanganui Address is among them.”
Yet there has been some compensation in the fact that a collection of the intensely revealing letters written by the Prince to his mistress at the time, Freda Dudley Ward, has been recently purchased by the Alexander Turnbull Library. These letters were usually dashed off late at night and with utter frankness by Prince Edward, and reveal his spontaneous and at times peevish responses to the carefully planned events of the royal tour.
Thus, on 4 May, the Prince writes from the Imperial Hotel, Wanganui (at 1.00 am): “such a pompous address beloved, but it’s really a miserable hole; no electric light & the hotel boilers elected to burst before dinner so no baths & a vewy nasty dinner!! But we are all pretty peeved tonight as we’ve really had a desperately twying day…”.
A useful image of the Imperial Hotel, Victoria Avenue, survives in this photo by Frank Denton, dated 1913. Two motor cars flank the hotel. (Could they be a pair of Willys-Overland Roadsters in the 1910 model?) Whatever the case, the hotel was already showing signs of decay and the Prince would have been conscious of this when he addressed the assembled crowd from the first floor balcony.
Next day the Prince and his entourage moved on by car to Palmerston North, where HRH presented his own message to the ”Children of New Zealand”. A finely coloured leaflet was circulated among the children gathered at Palmerston North, and this survives in a number of libraries. He wanted them all to bear in mind that they should “never do or say a dishonest thing” and “always remember other people’s interests when pursuing your own” and “play for the side and play the game.”
Precepts 2 and 3 may seem ironic in the light of Edward’s later life and abdication.
Perhaps a more apt and indeed lyrical summation in 1990 in Philip Zeigler’s official biography, King Edward VIII is “Edward’s character was evanescent, bewildering, rippling and swirling like a mountain stream which is whipped by the wind and broken by the boulders in its path”!
By Ian Laurenson
Ian Laurenson was formerly Senior Lecturer in English at Monash University, Australia. He is now living in retirement, writing about a collection of annotated postcards from World War I. He contributes to the Museum’s research programme.