Victoria’s Coronation Day in the Isle of Man (28 June 1838) Search of iMuseum

Victoria’s Coronation Day in the Isle of Man (28 June 1838)

Posted on 22.04.2023

Queen Victoria was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 28 June 1838, aged 19.

George Hayter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the weeks before the big day, talk in the newspapers and over breakfast tables in the Isle of Man was whether the island was prepared or cared to celebrate.  A letter from ‘A Loyalist’ which appeared in the Manks Advertiser of 5 June 1838 voiced concern that,

“The inhabitants of the Isle of Man alone, contrary to usual practice, have hitherto remained passive spectators of passing events, and have made no demonstrations of joining the other parts of the British Empire in paying just respect to the important ceremony of the solemn inauguration of her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

The Advertiser agreed and hoped preparations would soon take flight.  As did a correspondent to the Mona’s Herald, quite literally, with the suggestion,

“Two very fine FALCONS are at present in the possession of Mr. J. Stephenson, of this town.  They are of the same description of birds as those, in former ages, presented by the ‘Lords of the Isle,’ at the Coronation of British Kings and Queens; and by which presentation, history says, the Kings or Lords held their exclusive privileges.  Is there no person now existing who can present these ‘natural curiosities’ at the approaching Coronation of her Majesty Queen Victoria?” (Mona’s Herald, 12 June 1838, p.3)

A public meeting was in order.  Civil servants were asked to give up their holiday,

“…the High Bailiff has called the loyal inhabitants of Mona to attend a public meeting on Thursday next, at the Court-house, for the purpose of devising the best means of celebrating the approaching coronation day of her Majesty, Queen Victoria.  As the 28th will be a Government holiday, we hope that all its servants will come forward and assist in this loyal event.” (Mona’s Herald, 19 June 1838, p.3)

At the 11th hour the island rallied.  A week later, just 48 hours before Coronation Day itself, the Mona’s Herald delighted at the “noblest enthusiasm, the highest loyalty, the warmest devotion! [with] funds, ample funds…to do justice and honour to the day that bids fair to be the harbinger of a long and happy reign.”  The shopkeepers and inhabitants of Douglas were keen to put on a show as the loyal day approached,

“We feel much gratification in witnessing the marked interest which all classes of the population take in the preparations now making for celebrating the coronation of her gracious Majesty.  Our loyal town is one scene of bustle, each individual endeavouring to outvie his neighbour in word and deed.  We observed, in Mr. Dale’s shop, in Lord-street, a splendid crown and cushion, which are destined to form a part of the procession.  He has also a vast number of very elegant rosetts on sale, which we would recommend our fellow-townsmen to be speedy in purchasing.  Mr. Stewart, Church-street, has also an extensive selection of splendid coronation rosetts: we give our townsmen similar advice respecting those.” (Mona’s Herald, 26 June 1838, p.2)

Tower of Refuge: from an album of Manx watercolours by Emily M. Fane, painted when she visited the Isle of Man in August 1843. © Manx National Heritage (1980-0001/7)

Victoria’s Coronation Day in the Isle of Man on 28 June 1838 was a grand holiday of sound, colour, crowds and feasting, from the very early hours to past most folks bedtime.  It began, and not merely ended, with fireworks,

“FIRE WORKS, &c. At an early hour in the morning, a royal salute was fired from the Tower of Refuge, which was responded to from many parts of the town, serving to arouse the slumbering inhabitants to a sense of the joyous and important morning which had began to dawn upon them.”  (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838 p.3)

At 10 o’clock a huge procession – “a more splendid spectacle, a more heart-cheering sight we never witnessed” (Manx Sun, 29 June 1838, p.4) – took shape on Douglas Pier Head for the march to the service at St George’s,

“About ten o’clock, the members of the various benefit societies, decorated with scarfs and sashes, and the officers bearing ornamented sticks and other insignia, began to assemble on the pier, the appointed rendezvous; while along the streets, which had begun to assume a holiday aspect, were to be seen groups of blooming beauties from the country, each dressed in her best bib and tucker, and accompanied by a hale and hardy-looking son of the soil, whose red and rotund phiz proclaimed him a stranger to care.  Nor was there any lack of our fair townswomen, whose smiling and happy countenances tended much to enliven the scene.  The procession being formed, the congregate multitude proceeded to St George’s…” (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838, p.3)

St George’s church, Douglas © Manx National Heritage (PG/8931)

One Society stood out for special mention,

“Douglas Artificers’ Society, preceded by a well designed Crown and Cushion, which were executed and presented to this society by a member.  The members of this society were decorated with white silk sashes, on which were printed the words ‘Artificers’ in blue, and ‘God save the Queen,’ with a small crown, in red.  The officers wore large Coronation Medals, as did also the officers of the other societies…The length of the procession must have exceeded a mile…”  (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.3)

But it was the 1,500 children who joined the procession after the service, “each carrying small banners denoting to what religious establishment they belonged”, who marched along Atholl Street and then “along the North Quay, up Duke-street, Drumgold-street, Great Nelson-street, Prospect-hill, along Finch-road, Marina, to the Castle Lawn” (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.3) who brought joy to the crowds watching.  Not least four of the boys of a Douglas Sunday School who,

“bore on their shoulders a crown of considerable magnitude, most ingeniously manufactured of currant buns, which reflected great credit upon the architectural skill of the pastry cook.”  (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838 p.3)

The Castle Mona Hotel was where the procession ended and the festivities began with “two capacious tents” erected on the lawn.  It must have been a sight,

“The arrival on the Castle Mona lawn had a very magnificent effect, and the assembling of the societies in front of the Castle Mona Hotel was really superb…a grand, general, public dinner on a roasted ox and a couple of sheep, on the Castle lawn, in the open air, amidst the gambols, feats, and pastime of the rustic race…” (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.2)

Castle Mona, Douglas © Manx National Heritage (P.6693)

“There the children were regaled with buns, pies, milk, &c., and the adults who chose to pay for them were furnished with sandwiches and other refreshments.  After the repast, sports commenced, viz., climbing a greasy pole, running in sacks, and such like simple and innocent amusements, which afforded much fun to the laughter-loving bystanders.”  (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.3)

Climbing a greasy pole on Coronation Day ought in my mind to be a comic if slightly sardonic tradition,

“On the Lawn at Castle Mona, a pole well soaped was placed, at the top of which was placed a new hat, which it was announced would be given to any person who could ascend.  After several unsuccessful attempts and very hard labour, it was at length taken off.  This, as well as some races in sacks, afforded very great amusement.”  (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838 p.3)

Castle Mona, Douglas © Manx National Heritage (PG/1890)

Inside the Castle Mona, in the grand saloon, the mood was less fairground though no less enjoyable with a luncheon at 3 o’clock for 250 subscribing guests, ordered by the Coronation Committee, Sir William Hillary in the chair.  Probably they heard the strains of the band who in the centre of the lawn “struck up in an enlivening style the national air of God save the Queen, which was rapturously applauded”, the children joining in before parting.  (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838 p.3)

The Manx Sun newspaper was entrepreneurial in having earlier in the day attracted attention with the,

“novel sight of a printing press, which our publisher had transported from his office on a cart, and at which his apprentices were busily engaged in striking off the national song of God save the Queen, many hundreds of which were gratuitously distributed; and after having toiled hard and worked laboriously for the amusement of the populace they were permitted at the eleventh hour to dispose of them at the lowest current coin of the Island as a trifling emolument for themselves.”  (Manx Sun 29 June 1838 p.4)

The Victorian print era of souvenir pages had arrived.

Afternoon turned to evening and with it lamps were lit,

“Above the entrance of Castle Mona Hotel, was erected a very beautiful crown, with the letters V.R. tastefully illuminated by coloured lamps.  The device had a good effect, and Mr Heron’s (the spirited proprietor of the hotel) taste and loyalty were warmly applauded by the multitude present.  Above the Gas Works, a crown was also erected, which was lighted with gas, and was generally admired.”  (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838 p.3)

Coronation Conundrum, Mona’s Herald, 30 January 1838, p.4

Some of the poor of Douglas could, that evening, look back on the day with gladness and a full stomach.  The Coronation drove many to acts of charity.  Subscriptions from the wealthy and “feeling part of the inhabitants” exceeded the expectations of the Committee,

“at the Soup Dispensary alone upwards of 600 poor persons received a most substantial and plentiful dinner of pea soup, roasted and boiled meat, plumb [sic] pudding, potatoes, and bread, for which they were extremely thankful, – all blessed the Queen, and wished her a happy reign…The poor and aged inhabitants of the House of Industry fared sumptuously on roast beef and plumb pudding, which were abundantly supplied to 56 inmates of the House”  (Manx Sun 29 June 1838, p.4)

For all the royalist sentiments expressed and loyalty to the crown exhibited,

“…the coronation of Queen Victoria will long be remembered by the inhabitants of Douglas, but particularly the poor, to whom it was truly a day of feasting and rejoicing.”  (Manx Sun 29 June 1838 p.4)

At night, fires on the Tower of Refuge and fireworks “of a superior order” were ” received with repeated cheers by the assembled crowd,” including a “superb star, in rose-coloured fire”, the star “surmounting the letter V” (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.3).  Remarkable as these pyrotechnical displays were to Victorian eyes, nothing matched the spectacle of the steam packet Mona’s Isle  “adorned with an immense number of lamps…a magical sight” in Douglas Bay.  “When she began to glide across the bay you might have supposed she was made of gold” (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.3),

“...upwards of 600 lamps were suspended in regular order from her rigging and round her hull…the illumination on board the Mona’s Isle was completed with the greatest regard to taste and regularity, and reflected considerable credit on the abilities of her gallant Captain Quayle, under whose superintendence they were conducted.  About 12 o’clock she started across the bay, her lights still blazing! amidst the firing of cannon, letting off rockets, and burning blue lights, appearing like a meteor.  Although the hour was so late, numbers remained out to view this enlivening scene, and were amply repaid by the gratification.  (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838 p.3)

Douglas Bay by Watts, 1838, with Mona’s Isle © Manx National Heritage (1954-3049)

Elsewhere in the Isle of Man the Coronation was celebrated, not least in Castletown (then the capital of the Isle of Man) where “the monumental pillar, erected to the memory of the late most excellent Governor Smelt, was tastefully decorated with various coloured lamps, and the letters V.R. in the same” (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.3) and the Lieutenant Governor, military, Societies and the rest of town cheered the band and the firing of three volleys in front of the George Hotel.

Manx Liberal, 16 June 1838, p.2

Oddly, similar celebrations, or indeed any, were reported by the newspapers as happening in Ramsey,

“We feel surprised that we have not heard a word of the Ramsey merry-makings from any of our correspondents, and can scarcely bring ourselves to believe that that town is so absorbed in apathy, as not to join in some way on the joyous occasion.”  (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838, p.3)

Mona’s Herald, 19 June 1838, p.2

Perhaps the drivers of the stagecoaches were not fit that day to carry the news.  Whatever the reason, The Manks Advertiser was sure that all those in the Isle of Man “were animated by one spirit – that of loyalty” (The Manks Advertiser 3 July 1838 p.3).  A visitor to the island wrote to the Manx Sun to register his surprise that only one spirit – that of loyalty – took hold that day,

“TO THE EDITOR OF THE MANX SUN. … SIR, – A visitor to your hospitable shores I cannot but express the gratification felt in witnessing the display of loyalty to our young Sovereign on the occasion of her coronation yesterday.  … I took occasion, Mr Editor, to watch narrowly for any indications of intoxication amongst so numerous a body of men, and although the occasion was one when a little license and latitude for excess in giving vent to the feeling of loyalty and patriotism might be excused, it was to me a most remarkable circumstance that scarcely three individuals could be found in all this large assemblage under the influence of intoxicating liquors.  … Douglas, June 29, 1838.  A VISITER.”  (Manx Sun 29 June 1838 p.4)

In the days and weeks after the big day, talk in the newspapers and over breakfast tables in the Isle of Man was how splendid Victoria’s Coronation Day in the Isle of Man had been.  The ‘Loyalist’ who wrote to the Manks Advertiser at the start of this article needn’t had worried.  Far from “passive spectators”,

“all became eager, if not ambitious, to bear a conspicuous part in the display of devotion to the cause of Victoria the First.  This display, as exhibited in the town of Douglas, was more brilliant and enthusiastic than ever before seen, or ever before expected; and, best of all, it was effected by a spontaneous feeling of loyalty, by a burst of enthusiasm which no authorities instigated, no official example invited, no military or scenic show prompted.” (Mona’s Herald 3 July 1838 p.2)

Victoria’s Coronation Day in the Isle of Man is part of ‘Coronation Days Past in the Isle of Man’, stories re-told from the island’s historic newspapers cared for by Manx National Heritage, the charity responsible for the Isle of Man’s natural and cultural heritage.

Join us over the coming fortnight for more Coronation stories from the island’s newspapers.


Jude Dicken, Collections Information Manager, Manx National Heritage

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