[from W Ralph Hall Caine Isle of Man]
ON Sunday, August 24, 1902, incredulous eyes discerned on the horizon the approach of the King's yacht, with a cruiser and a couple of destroyers following in her wake.
The Victoria and Albert, showing the Royal Standard at the main and the White Ensign fore and aft, steamed round Douglas Head shortly after five o'clock in the afternoon, and came to an anchorage in the north bay. The escort consisted of the Crescent (a cruiser of the first class, 7,700 tons and 10,000 horse-power, carrying 13 guns), and the torpedo-boat destroyers Gipsy and Lively.
From the Fort Anne Hotel a royal salute was fired. Douglas was instantly cast into a state of ferment. Bunting was quickly displayed from every point of vantage. An eager, expectant throng crowded the pier and promenades encircling the bay.
' Will the King land?' was the inquiry on every tongue.
' The Lord comes to Man for the first time for untold centuries, and there is no Governor to receive him or bid him welcome.'
The welcome, however, which awaited the King was exactly the spontaneous outburst of popular enthusiasm any monarch might envy. The people stood in one great mass on the Victoria Pier. They crowded every yacht, fishing or rowing boat standing for hire in the bay. Nothing in the harbour that would float and carry frenzied sightseers to a nearer view of the royal yacht -and her distinguished passengers was left at its moorings. The Victoria and Albert was soon the centre of an immense flotilla, every unit in the fleet of small boats carrying its eager, admiring, inquisitive freight.
Sir James Gell, the aged and revered Clerk of the Rolls and Acting Governor, was at his home at Castletown. In his absence the Speaker of our elective House of Keys made his way to the royal yacht.
The King received the spokesman of Man with cordiality, and after presenting him to the Queen and Mr. Austen Chamberlain, the Minister in Attendance, desired the address of the Acting Governor. The King may have been dismayed at the surging throng gathered on the pier. For the magnificence of the bay, with its background of purple hills, the King had only words of admiration.
Government House, then unoccupied, on the hills near Onchan, was pointed out. When Castle Mona, the palace of the Duke of Athole, as the last Lord or King in Man, had to be identified on the sea-front amid a group of boarding-houses and in proximity to another palace-the great glasshouse devoted to dancing-the King was greatly amused.
The Speaker left at 6.20 p.m., as the royal yacht drew away from her moorings and steered a northeast course, wide of Bank's Howe.
Off Ramsey, an hour later, the yacht came to a safe anchorage, about a mile from the Queen's Pier. Signal guns were fired from the lifeboat house, and soon our northern capital was ablaze with the surprising intelligence of the King's arrival. Evening services were interrupted by the booming of cannon. Sermons were curtailed in the face of such unwonted excitement; elsewhere the preacher found his congregation vanish as by the play of magic art.
The Queen's Pier was besieged by the enthusiastic people, and when the darkness of a beautiful summer evening fell upon the scene, every window on the sea-front was illuminated. Even the Albert Tower sent forth its gleam of light for this gala night.
The King had not forgotten the occasion of which the beacon is a lasting memorial.
' I well recall the incidents of that visit,' said the King in conversation next day. ' It was in 1847. I was a little boy of seven, and the Queen was unwell. We children were not allowed to land; but the Prince Consort did so, I remember, quite unexpectedly, and there was no one here to receive him. So, in the guidance of the local hatter or barber, he marched up the hill for a better survey of the surrounding country.'
Immediately the Acting Governor was apprised of the arrival of the King on board the royal yacht he came up to Douglas, proceeding thence to Ramsey. It was now after 10 p.m., but the genial and gallant old Manxman, who has long since passed to his rest, did not hesitate to row out and have an audience of the King.
Sir James Gell returned to Ramsey with the news that it was the King's intention to land. Should the weather continue favourable the King and Queen would come ashore next day, and their Majesties would make a brief tour of the island. The visit, however, was merely a health or holiday excursion, and it was the King's desire that no formal address or welcome should be presented.
Ramsey did not sleep a wink that night. When the morning broke, the purple haze of the uplands faded in the warm sunshine.
Certain leading residents gathered on the Queen's Pier, and there was a profusion of bouquets for presentation to Her Majesty. At about 11.30 eager eyes caught sight of the steam launch rounding the stern of the royal yacht, and soon the chief occupants were identified. The party consisted of the King and Queen, Princess Victoria, the Portuguese Minister (the Marquis de Soveral), Mr. Austen Chamberlain (Chancellor of the Exchequer and Minister in Attendance), Sir Francis Laking (Physician to the King), Captain the Hon. Seymour Fortescue and Captain F. Ponsonby (Equerries), the Hon. Charlotte Knollys (Lady in Waiting), the Hon. Derek Keppel and Mrs. Keppel.
On arrival at the pier, the Queen, attired in a tailor-made costume of black cloth, with embroidered grey revers and French sailor hat, was the first to land. The Princess followed.
The King, bronzed by the sun, and rapidly regaining strength after the dangerous operation that had delayed the Coronation and menaced a precious life, was in high spirits. His holiday dress consisted of a light grey tweed suit, grey overcoat, and bowler hat of like shade.
The Acting Governor tendered the island's welcome, and the Queen graciously accepted several gifts of flowers.
The King shook hands with Sir James Gell. It was very good of you,' said the King, ` to have come such a long way last night.'
The King next greeted the Bishop. The Mayor of Douglas was presented. His Majesty commanded the Acting Governor, the Speaker, and a certain other resident whose name and work are associated with the life and romance of the island, to join the excursion.
The visitors entered carriages in waiting. Coastguardsmen drew the vehicles down the pier. Round the gates there was a frantic mass of people, tourists trying to rival, if that were possible, the islanders in the cordiality of their welcome to the Lord and Lady of Man. The singing of the National Anthem was lost in the ringing cheers.
Their Majesties showed every appreciation of this great popular ovation. The King repeatedly raised his hat, and the Queen bowed and smiled her acknowledgments again and again.
In the midst of such a swaying, tumultuous throng the horses were harnessed with no little difficulty. Thus the royal picnic in Mona began under the most happy auspices.
The route from the pier was via Waterloo Road and Parliament Street into the country. Thereafter the road is a leafy archway for miles. Giant trees, protected from the fury of our winter gales, thrive along this road as they thrive nowhere else save in the heart of our glens.
Northward and westward the country lies like a plain, broken on the skyline by such landmarks as the campanile at Kirk Andreas and the promontory on which stands the parish church of Jurby.
Southward we have an almost unbroken terrace of hills, all a part of our central mountain group. At certain points the hills rise from the roadway, rugged and bare. Elsewhere they are clothed in fern, and bracken, and gorse, and pine.
Past the ivy-mantled tower of Lezayre, over Sulby Bridge (presenting a sharp turn, and a terror of motorists speeding the other way), through the newer Ballaugh village (the old village and the beautiful and quaint old church, which no visitor should miss, lie a mile or so nearer the sea) and over another narrow bridge to Kirk Michael.
At Bishopscourt a halt was made, and the King and Queen made an inspection of the chapel and ancient home of the Bishops of Manxland.
His Majesty assented to a photograph being taken.
' There are two good folk one cannot escape if one would,' said the King-, the photographer and the journalist.'
The King smilingly took up a position, with the Queen alone standing at his side. His Majesty, however, desired his friends and guests to take places on either hand. An interesting memento of the King's visit has been thus preserved.
The drive was resumed, passing on the left the White House, the old home of ' the Manx Diamond King.' Mr. Mylchreest has left an imperishable memory among his countrymen. He was essentially a man, in mere physical proportions not less than boundless heart.
In the village of Kirk Michael, an incident occurred, trifling in itself, but worthy of record because it is typical of many like acts of kindly instinct which must pass without remark.
A little boy made an effort to throw a sprig of white heather into the royal carriage. The little chap failed, and regained possession of the precious token which had cost him that morning no little anxious search. The King stopped the carriage, and the youngster handed up his tiny favour.
'Thank you very much, my boy,' said the King. This will bring me luck.'
At Peel, which was reached about two o'clock, there was an impression that the King and Queen would cross the harbour by the little ferry. The carriages, however, were driven round by the railway-station, over the bridge and along the quay, under the hill, to the gates of the old castle.
Luncheon, sent on from the yacht, was set out on a table in front of the nave of the tiny old Cathedral, to the left of the guard-room. To the list of guests already named or indicated there must now be added Miss Gell and Miss Amy Gell, daughters of the Acting Governor.
The King confesses his surprise that he has a distinct Kingship in Man, and admits Norse geography does not enable him to locate ' Sodor.' Why are Judges in Mona called ' Deemsters'? Is Tynwald a court of law or a Parliament, or do its functions partake of both? and is there any Norse prototype of the ancient ceremony surviving to this day ?
The Queen shows by her conversation that through the medium of the printed page she is already familiar with a good deal of Manx lore, character, and custom. Can she look into the prison chamber beneath their feet ? But having inspected the rather gruesome approach to the subterranean vault, both the King and Queen agree to take much for granted, and accept the vivid description of Cashen, the custodian, without question.
Luncheon over, cigars are served. The King asks the custodian of the old castle to talk in Manx. Cashen gives some splendid examples of the strong, rude, guttural accents of a dying speech. He recounts some of the legends associated with the historic islet. The custodian's humour is fresh and irresistible, and the King is touched with merriment.
Cashen has his reward. Both Kin and Queen favour him with their autographs, and the King supplements this mark of appreciation by the gift of a sovereign.
The Venerable Hugh S. Gill, the Archdeacon of Man; Mr. Alfred N. Laughton, the High 22
Bailiff of Peel (both have rendered the community long service in their different capacities) ; LieutenantColonel William Freeth, the Chief of Police; and other presentations are made. Meanwhile the Princess is busy taking a number of snapshots.
The royal party return to the carriages, and a fresh start is made via St. John's and Greeba. At the Quarter Bridge the turning to the left was taken, in order that a halt might be made at Cronkbourne ; this visit being interpreted as a compliment to the Speaker, whose office is more or less practically in the gift of the people or their elected representatives.
After tea the King and Queen inscribed their names in the visitors' book, and resuming the drive, traversed the chief streets of the upper town and the whole length of the front-Woodbourne Road, Buck's Road, Prospect Hill, and Victoria Street, to the Loch Promenade-a cheering multitude lining the entire route.
At the electric-car station at Derby Castle there was a wholly inadequate body of police to cope with the immense throng, and some of the less easily recognized members of the yachting party had no little difficulty in making their way through the crush.
At Ramsey the King expressed his delight with Mona to one of the guests whose presence I have indicated. ' I have found the island perfectly beautiful,' said His Majesty, ' and most interesting in every way.
The same evening Mr. Chamberlain, writing from the yacht by command of the King to the Acting Governor, said: ' Their Majesties highly appreciate the loyal welcome everywhere offered to them on this the first occasion of their landing in Man, and greatly admired the beauty of the scenery through which they drove, the richness of the landscape, and the healthy appearance of the inhabitants.'
The concluding act of the Sovereign was an intimation of His Majesty's desire to include in the Victorian Order, according to grade, the names of those gentlemen who had so successfully made out the arrangements for the holiday trip.
The visit forms a great episode in our history. Not for 600 years had the supreme Ruler set foot in Man. And how long before that-who can say?