The Royal Tour – Harry Price

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The facsimile of the diary kept by Petty Officer Harry Price on board the H.M.S. Ophir during the Royal Tour of 1901 was printed in 1980 by Webb & Bower of Exeter. Harry had died back in 1965 and it was his son Jack Price who showed it to the publisher and which led to the facsimile printing.  Sadly it’s no longer in print but it is readily available on the secondary market for just three or four pounds, which considering how attractive the book is has to be one of the great book buying bargains.

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Harry was a talented artist and had attended Birmingham School of Art before joining the Royal Navy where he rapidly progressed to Petty Officer before joining H.M.S. Ophir just in time for the nine month long world voyage of Prince George and Princess Mary. George held both titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of York hence the slightly odd description given and he would later become King George V on the death of his father in 1910.

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The tour was started just two months after the death of Queen Victoria and was probably seen as an opportunity to introduce the younger Royals to the Empire after the end of her sixty three year reign. The diary is in Harry’s handwriting just as he originally wrote it as the voyage was progressing and provides a fascinating view of the trip and the various onshore excursions he managed.

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According to the list at the front of the diary, the route was as follows: Portsmouth, Gibraltar, Malta, Port Said,Suez Canal, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Albany, Melbourne, Sydney, Hawksbury River, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton, Hobart, Adelaide, Albany, Freemantle, Mauritius, Durban, Simonstown, St Vincent, Quebec, Halifax, St. Johns and then back to Portsmouth.

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I am including pages in sequence as the trip progresses so we have already reached New Zealand where he comments on the weather on the right hand page above. The style is quite chatty and it is clear throughout the book that he is intending this to be a souvenir that he can show to other people rather than a private diary. To this end he records his personal experiences but as though telling the reader about them.

The sketch below was taken up the river, some fifteen miles above Christchurch where as you can see the scenery was most bewitching, but a hard frost setting in as the sun went down made matters a little bit disagreeable, to us, who only a short time ago, were under a scorching tropical sun.

The date at this point was the 27th June so midwinter in New Zealand.

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Returning to Australia Harry produced the very attractive full page picture of the various arms of the Australian states inspired by examples displayed along the banks of the Adelaide River, this time he didn’t get ashore but they did have ‘a visitors day’ where local townspeople could tour the ship and this proved so popular that they were almost overwhelmed by the numbers.

It is quite enough; when I say that quite a number of ladies fainted, and the bluejackets and marines had their handsfull

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I remember this book coming out and the original volume by Harry Price being shown on various TV programmes, the reproduction is extremely good but it can’t have been a particularly sound financial proposition for the publisher as it must have been expensive to print and it soon slipped from the list of titles they had available even though it clearly sold well judging by the number of copies available on abebooks. I bought my copy a few years later second-hand for £4, I know I wanted one at the time but I suspect it was beyond my teenage finances.

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The crossing from Australia to Mauritius was surprisingly good for the Southern Indian Ocean but they hit bad weather crossing from there to South Africa as can be seen in Harry’s picture of their escort ship the St. George. It seems odd that South Africa was on the itinerary at all as the Boer War was in full progress with guerilla activity led by Louis Botha and Jan Christiaan Smuts in both the Eastern and Western Transvaal’s and Cape Colony respectively against the British occupation although by now the fighting really was going against the Boer forces. H.M.S. Ophir was protected by several British warships whilst in South African waters and the Royal couple had a significantly stronger armed guard with them whilst ashore whereas before the soldiers with them were largely ceremonial.

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Harry Price even included an image of one of the POW ships moored off the coast, in total they spent less than two weeks in South Africa and three days of that was moving from Durban to Simonstown which was then (as now for the South African Navy) the main naval dockyard. They then set off for Canada via the Caribbean.

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The strength of the Royal Navy at the time that the book was written can be judged by the fact that even leaving the small Caribbean island of St. Vincent there were four other naval ships available to escort the Ophir as it left the territory two of which are described as over 12,000 tonnes and in excess of 500 feet in length. There then followed a journey of ten days solid cruising up the eastern seaboard of the United States to Canada during which the American President William McKinley was assassinated and it is specifically mentioned that all the Royal Naval ships waiting for them in Quebec were also flying the American stars and stripes at half mast in respect.

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For the visit to Canada the Duke and Duchess disembarked and travelled for over a month via railway all over Canada. The Ophir waited for their return in Halifax, Nova Scotia and during that period was fully repainted and all needed repairs done. Discipline was clearly somewhat more relaxed than when the royal couple were aboard and this provided a break for the crew apart from their duties refurbishing the ship in dry dock.

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The final page I have included features a set of stamps issued in Canada to mark the royal visit and describes preparations to leave Canada and sail back for home. The book is a fascinating and beautiful historical document with almost every page decorated by Harry’s watercolours and one I like to pull off the shelves quite often, not just to read but sometimes just to enjoy the pictures.

The Original Alice

Almost everyone knows the children’s tale Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll either having read the book, or seen or heard, one of the many adaptations over the years.  Most readers will know that Alice was a real person, one of the daughters of Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church college at Oxford and the stories were told to entertain her and her sisters.  They will also know that Lewis Carroll was really the reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a 24 year old mathematics lecturer at Christ Church when he first met the Liddell’s. But what is less well known is that when the stories were first written down they were intended to just be a one off book as a gift to Alice and the title was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

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The book was handwritten and illustrated by Dodgson and was given to Alice for Christmas in 1864 when she was 12 years old, although he originally came up with most of the story when she was 10 on a trip up the river for a picnic. Alice treasured the little book for decades but eventually in 1928 at the age of 75 and now a widow needing money she sold it at auction for £15,000 (approximately £860,000 today). The book was bought by Dr Rosenbach, who was an American book dealer, and he subsequently sold it in the US.   The private collector who owned it died in 1948 and the book was again put up for auction this time making $50,000 (roughly $508,000 or £363,000 nowadays) and Dr Rosenbach was the top bidder at this auction as well.

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This time however was to be the last time it will ever come to the market. Several American benefactors led by book collector Lessing Rosenwald obtained the book in order to give it to Britain in thanks for the gallantry of the British people during the Second World War.  In November 1948 the book was brought on the liner The Queen Elizabeth across the Atlantic and presented to the British Museum with the Archbishop of Canterbury representing the country by receiving it.  The book is now part of the national collection (catalogue ref MS 45700).

In 1997 The British Library published a book by Sally Brown entitled The Original Alice, which now sadly out of print but fairly easy to find on the second hand market.  This tells the story of how Alice came to be written and compares Alice’s Adventures Under Ground to Alice in Wonderland with examples as to how the books differ.

20170116 The Original Alice 1 The illustrations of the original book included here are from another out of print edition, a beautiful leather bound facsimile of the original produced in a limited edition run of just 3750 copies by the Folio Society in 2008, this is somewhat more tricky to track down but it is a beautiful thing to own and read.  It comes in a lovely box with a ribbon to lift the book out with.

 

Although he never intended publication Dodgson did pass the book to his friend, the children’s novelist George MacDonald, to cast his professional eye over, before giving it to Alice. MacDonald’s children so enjoyed the book that Dodgson was eventually persuaded to publish.  He significantly rewrote the tales, removing a lot of references that only really made sense to the Liddell family and adding Pig and Pepper along with The Mad Tea Party. These additions and revisions to the original text almost doubled the length and took the book up from 18000 to 35000 words.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was finally published in November 1865 in an edition of 2000 copies but in a final twist these were withdrawn as the illustrator, John Tenniel, was unhappy with the quality of the reproductions of his pictures.  This makes the handful of copies that still exist one of the rarest of all children’s books.  The book was finally available to the public in 1866 and was an immediate success.  Alice’s Adventures Under Ground has been printed several times in the intervening 150 years but only the Folio Society have produced a true facsimile of the book with the leather binding and colour illustrations where appropriate, however it is worth searching out a copy of the text as first written as it gives a view of the story that Alice herself first heard and it is quite different to the text that we all know.