On Friday 3rd of January 1868 our Library played host to our first royal visitor, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, and at that time second in line for the throne. 1 This was a rather seemly event in the midst of a sometimes chaotic tour, replete with drama and tragedy.  

Prince Alfred, portrait
H.R.H. Prince Alfred, K.G., Duke of Edinburgh. (1867); H8397

At the Library Alfred was addressed by a group of ‘old colonists’, resident in Victoria for 25 years. Librarian Augustus Tulk escorted the Prince around the Library, Gallery and Museum and the Library trustees presented a unique book they had commissioned – Biographical Charts of Italian Painters of the Old Schools

Torch parade outside the Library
Visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh. The German torchlight procession in front of Public Library. Drawing by W. A. Cawthorne. (1867); IMP27/12/67/181

In addition to the above, presentations of handsomely bound copies of the Library catalogue were made to be taken back to England as gifts for Her Majesty the Queen, Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, and Her Royal Highness the Princess of Prussia. It is unclear how interesting the royals found this gift.

Prince Alfred did not have the soft pampered life one may expect of a royal. At the grand old age of 12, he joined the Royal Navy. He was 22 when appointed captain of HMS Galatea, just in time to take command of the ship on a voyage around the world. The ship docked in Adelaide in October 1867. There was great enthusiasm in Australia for the arrival of the Prince and he was warmly welcomed. In Victoria though, things did not go smoothly.

Prince Alfred's ship Galatea in Hobson's Bay
HMS Galatea in Hobson’s Bay. Painting by G. F. Gregory. 1868; H36535

Galatea docked at Hobson’s Bay on 23 November to a city eager to impress their royal guest. Buildings were illuminated, often with lighted transparencies depicting Alfred.

The Herald proudly reported that

“the Duke of Edinburgh has stated that he has only seen two sights to surpass that of Monday during the reception, and they were the entrance of the Princess Alexandra into London, and the Duke of Wellington’s funeral” 2

Illumination in front of Sands and McDougall Buidling
Illuminations in Melbourne. Messrs. Sands and M’Dougall, Collins Street. 1867; IMP27/11/67/5

Tragedy was not far from the tour though. Sectarian tension was high between Protestants and Catholics.  One of the city illuminations was an image of King William III, placed by members of the Orange lodges in front of the Protestant Hall in Stephen (now Exhibition) Street. Catholics considered this an enormously provocative political act, and protesters gathered outside the building.  Orange lodge members within the hall fired shots into the crowd, wounding several protesters and killing a nine-year-old boy. Several men were apprehended and charged with murder but found not guilty.  As the Australasian remarked:

The lamentable fact that a spirit of brutal ignorance, based on intolerance and fanaticism, is silently nurtured in the city has been laid bare.  3

The Prince continued with his public royal duties before large crowds, including laying the foundation stone for the Melbourne Town Hall.

Prince Alfred laying the foundation stone for the Melbourne Town Hall
Laying the foundation stone of the Melbourne Town Hall by Prince Alfred. [29 November 1867]. Photo by C. Hewitt; H20722

On 28 November a huge free banquet was held on the banks of the Yarra near the current location of Flinders Park Tennis Centre.  Unfortunately the banquet wasn’t huge enough. Expecting 10,000, a crowd estimated at 70,000 turned up expecting both the Prince and free food and drink.  Given the size of the crowd it was considered expedient for the Prince to avoid the event, a wise decision as the banquet descended into a riotous and “disgusting debauch”

“….In the course of a few minutes the tables were cleared, not only of the meats, but also of plates, knives  and of everything that had been laid upon them…[until] there was nothing there to be eaten, wasted or stolen” 4

Princes Bridge decorated with an arch to welcome the Prince
Triumphal Arch for Prince Alfred on Prince’s Bridge. Artists Robert Bruce and A. C. Cooke. 1867; IAN20/12/67/SUPP/4

The Prince continued his tour to country Victoria and in Bendigo tragedy struck 5 A model of the royal ship Galatea, crewed by young boys, was the centrepiece of a reception. The Bendigo Volunteer Fire Brigade put on a demonstration with lighted torches which were carelessly extinguished, embers floated onto the model ship which quickly caught fire. Witnesses also reported that firecrackers were being thrown. Three boys in the model ship were burned to death and several others injured. 6

Alfred Hall, adjacent to the Town Hall had been erected specifically for Bendigo’s celebratory ball to be attended by Alfred.  15 minutes before the ball was due to commence the building caught fire and was burned to the ground. Despite this disaster, with great resilience, supper was held in the Town Hall which was then cleared for the ball to take place. 7

Sandhurst school children greeting the Prince in the Camp Reserve.1868; IAN04/02/68/5

After such a chronicle of misfortune, Alfred may have been happy to travel from Victoria, but for him, worse was to come. His tour took him to Tasmania, then Queensland via Sydney, returning to Sydney in March 1868.

On 12 March Alfred attended a public picnic at Clontarf. Amongst the vast throng of well-wishers was was one man who decidedly did not wish well. Henry O’Farrell approached the Prince, drew a gun, and fired from close range. By-standers quickly overpowered the gunman. Alfred was rushed to medical care. Miraculously the bullet had not hit any vital organs and he recovered quickly.

Attempted assassination of Prince Alfred at Clontarf Sydney
The attempted assassination of H.R.H. Prince Alfred at Clontarf, near Sydney. 1868; IAN30/03/68/9

His would-be assassin, O’Farrell, suffered from mental illness. The Prince himself wrote to Lord Belmore, Governor of New South Wales, urging clemency. Alfred was concerned that the trial was being hastily conducted and suggested the matter be referred to the Imperial Government. In England attempted murder was no longer a capital offence. 8

Such appeals fell on deaf ears. O’Farrell came from an Irish-Catholic background. Sectarianism, so prevalent in Australia, became a blind crescendo and nothing was going to save him from the gallows. New South Wales Colonial Secretary Henry Parkes relentlessly and unsuccessfully tried to prove a Fenian conspiracy, but ultimately O’Farrell was a sad and disturbed man who acted alone. He was hung on 21 April 1868.

Prince Alfred set sail for home on 4 April 1868, taking with him the good wishes of a rather embarrassed Australia, much impressed with the royal stoicism during such a turbulent tour. In 1893 Alfred took up the Dukedom of the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, inherited through his uncle. He predeceased his mother Queen Victoria, dying in July 1900.

Further Reading

For a detailed day by day account of Prince Alfred’s visit to Victoria see Knight, John G. (1868). Narrative of the visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to the colony of Victoria, Australia Melbourne: Mason, Firth. Available online through our Library catalogue.

See more about Prince Alfred’s visit to Bendigo in our blog Prince down a mine shaft!


  1. To avoid confusion our blog refers to Alfred as ‘Prince’ rather than ‘Duke’
  2. General illumination The Herald 27 November 1867 p.3
  3. Muderous outrage in Stephen Street.” The Australasian 30 November 1867 p. 18 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article137569089
  4. Prince Alfred in Victoria.” The Age 29 November 1867 p. 4
  5. At that time Bendigo was known as Sandhurst, but for simplicity we have used Bendigo. See our blog Bendigo or Sandhurst? History through newspapers
  6. Bendigo Advertiser 20 December 1867 p.3
  7. See more about Prince Alfred’s visit to Bendigo in our blog Prince down a mine shaft!
  8. Amos, Keith. (1988). The Fenians in Australia 1865-1880 . Kensington, N.S.W: New South Wales University Press. P 71. Footnote cites Prince Alfred to Belmore, 5 April 1868, Colonial Secretary Correspondence, 1869, 4-646, NSW State Archives.

This article has 6 comments

  1. Graham Pilkington

    So it is not just our present day that produces remarkable news events. Great story, thanks.


    Prince Alfred also visited Ballarat on this tour
    A local photographer took photos of local places and people.In return Prince Alfred asked for photos of councillors to be taken.Ballarat was split at this time-Ballarat and Ballarat east.My greatgrandfather ,James Eddy was a Ballarat East councillor and in this group of photos we located a named photo of him.Thanks Prince Alfred

  3. I think that mention of Intercolonial Exhibition held in Melbourne October 24, 1866 until February 23, 1867 may have been a significant reason for HRH Prince Alfred’s visit.
    See this interesting article by Heather Arnold:

  4. Apparently Galatea Street in Diamond Creek was named by the Surveyor Barge when he mapped the town out in 1867 in honour of the Royal visit.

  5. Fiona O'Doherty

    So interesting and so chaotic! Thank you

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