The Botanic Gardens in Dunedin are 150 years old this year and the Otago Daily Times newspaper had an article about the first public event held there. It was for a tree-planting ceremony to mark the marriage of the Prince of Wales and the Danish Princess Alexandra on June 30 1863.
We might think royal weddings and royal babies are given over-the-top media and public attention nowadays, but the 19th century showed how it was really done. A public holiday was announced in Dunedin. the most populous NZ town of the time. The government contributed 500 pounds with the stipulation that no part of it was spent in illuminations (too many wooden houses). An organising committee of 61 men was formed and decided on a feast for school children, two oak trees be planted, the poor of Dunedin should participate in the general rejoicing. [One wonders if there was all that much for Alexandra to rejoice in really.] Then there was a ball, 'junketings at Vauxhall Gardens across the harbour, a wedding cake with gold rings,and a ceremonial roasting of a whole ox in the Octagon [equivalent to most cities' squares]. Flags were made, branches of fern and cabbage trees [how odd I should mention cabbage trees in two consecutive posts!] wound round verandahs and on house fronts and shop frontages, a procession before which workmen had to work by moonlight to clear the streets of mud. "The two oldest gardeners in the province were the bearers of the two sapling oaks which future generations will, it is hoped, look up as gigantic trees, living memorials of the events of the day." There were mounted police, highland pipers, school children, volunteer fire brigade people, Oddfellows members and the Ancient Order of Foresters, the town board, members of the legal profession, gentlemen on horseback and foot. The windows were filled with ladies waving their handkerchiefs, which resulted in 'musically crowing cheers of the school children'. The modern newspaper rather sardonically adds, "This is presumably when the children were not "trilling the National Anthem". The procession grew and the trees were duly planted but one did not survive a flooding, and the surviving one was transplanted, as was the rest of the garden to a more suitable spot. It doesn't say just how the poor people joined in these celebrations but I suppose they joined the procession. And did only men walk to the gardens? It's not quite clear. Surely 'children' included girls.
The ODT explains this excess of celebration by the fact that the settlement was only 15 years old at the time and people were a little homesick and wanted to show their Britishness. Seven and a half newspaper columns were dedicated to the event with the expectation they would be read in England and show the "strong and lasting attachment of the people of Otago - and of New Zealand, of which it is the wealthiest and most populous province - to the throne and to the empire." One speaker hoped that "when the last branch of the last survivor shall have fallen to the ground and become incorporated with its native soil - that then, and for ages afterwards the descendants of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra of Denmark may sit upon the throne, maywear the Crown and may sway the sceptre of England over a loving people." So far, so good. He hoped they would be known and respected as "The Royal Oak" and the survivor is.
One minor problem with the trees as a memorial is that it is generally thought the Royal Oak commemorates the garden's beginnings, and the marriage has been forgotten.