The Royal Tour of 1953-54 was a meticulously planned and much-anticipated event.
Three earlier royal tours by the Queen’s father, George VI, had been halted. Firstly by war in 1940, then by the monarch’s poor health in 1949 and 1952. For that last tour, the King was again too unwell to travel. It was then decided that the Princess Elizabeth would travel as his representative. Her tour too, was soon halted. Not long after she left, the young woman was told of her father’s death and quickly returned home. Now she was monarch.
Finally a tour
Because earlier visits had been cancelled, an extensive tour was planned for the new Queen. It would begin not long after her coronation in June 1953. This would be the first tour of New Zealand by a reigning monarch.
Previous royal visitors had been sons or brothers of the reigning monarch, including the Duke and Duchess of York, later to be crowned King George V and Queen Mary. They too visited Ashburton. Their 1901 visit is marked by two large oak trees planted at the entrance to the lake on Tinwald Domain.
The Queen’s itinerary covered New Zealand extensively. Her popularity was considerable. The coronation had heightened New Zealanders interest in royalty. Loyalty to the Crown remained strong after World War II, and ties with Britain were significant. Britain remained New Zealand’s primary export destination and the main source of immigrants.
By 1953 New Zealand had also recovered from depression and war. High wool prices and relative isolation from the immediate impact of hostilities ensured that New Zealand’s living standard was widely regarded to be the second-highest in the world. There was a great deal to be positive about, and for the Government and its agencies, a Royal tour was an opportunity to showcase the good fortunes of New Zealand. Few raised opposition or protest.
It is estimated that three in every four New Zealanders saw the Queen. Her itinerary included 46 towns or cities and 110 separate functions.
Arriving in Ashburton
The Queen and her Consort Prince Philip set foot in New Zealand on December 23, 1953. Beginning in Auckland they travelled slowly south, reaching Ashburton on Friday January 22, 1954. The main public event was held at the Ashburton Domain in the afternoon.
That evening and the following two days were spend at Longbeach resting. Just a short trip to Winchmore Irrigation Research Station on Saturday, and a Sunday church service at Longbeach were scheduled. The people of Ashburton turned out in droves. That evening, the Ashburton Guardian described the scene:
“Every vantage point from the racecourse, along West Street, in the Domain, and also along the route traversed by the Royal party on their way out of town, over the bridge and on through Tinwald to Longbeach was occupied.”
Many had spent hours waiting. People began to arrive early in the morning to claim the best view. They brought food and drinks, seats and stools, and books to read while waiting. Several thousand children dressed in Sunday best, were assembled in rows, parade style, on the hockey grounds. People carried flags and flowers in hope of attracting the Queen’s attention.
A large dias was erected at the northern end of the Domain. It was decorated around its sides with banks of hydrangeas, with a border of greenery at the base. A red carpet with gold strip running to the front was flanked either side by blue. Red steps led up to the dias, surrounded by cream gladioli and more greenery. A throne-like chair and somewhat incongruous modern dining table completed the scene from where the Queen would be visible.
Finally, the Queen arrives
Town dignitaries were first to arrive. The Mayor, Mayoress and Town Clerk were joined by the Prime Minister and his wife. Anticipation was mounting.
The Queen’s arrival still came as a surprise. The leafy Domain obscured the arrival. Suddenly the Royal car appeared. Great cheers rang out from the crowd. The lovely young Queen and her dashing husband had arrived. Just 55 people were presented to her Majesty personally, yet the excitement of her presence was described as ‘wonderment’.
The dignitaries addressed the crowd and welcomed her Majesty. The Queen was presented with two woollen Robinwul blankets made by locals – a blue one for Prince Charles and a pink one for Princess Anne. There is no record of her giving a public response. She did however, sign the official visitor’s book of the Ashburton Borough Council.
The Queen departs
Once the national Anthem was sung, and the dignitaries met, the Queen departed to Longbeach. From then on the news stories had to rely on speculation. It was noted that the Queen passed on her gifts of flowers to be enjoyed by patients at the Ashburton Hospital.
The delightful grounds of Longbeach were described, and the warm reception given by owners Mr and Mrs Grigg. Even on the drive out, people still flanked the roads and the Royal car slowed to walking pace so that people could catch a glimpse of their sovereign.
The Queen’s visit generated much excitement and also many specially-made objects. Not all survive: the flags that children waved, the special outfits, the flowers, the kitchen table, carpets and dias have probably all disappeared with time. It’s possible the Royal collection still includes the two woollen Robinwul blankets. Two large oak trees remain from the earlier Royal visit in 1901.
Ashburton Museum does hold a few items related the visit. Newspaper clippings and photographs are a visible record. There is also a tea set, given to the donor by the Grigg family, for their services rendered during the visit. Another item is a small medal. One of many given to children across New Zealand to mark the Royal Tour. They are too small to be seen in photographs of the event, but remain a tangible connection to the day Queen Elizabeth II brought ‘wonderment’ to Ashburton.
- Mr and Mrs R. Buick being presented to Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, January 22, 1954. Mayor Mr Bathurst at Queen’s right and Mrs Bathurst at Duke’s left.
- A tea set presented to T W Browne by Grigg family for services rendered during Royal visit to Longbeach. ©Ashburton Museum.
- A medal presented to children to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, 1953-54. ©Ashburton Museum.
Author: Tanya Zoe Robinson