During its relatively short history Bloemfontein hosted a surprising number of royal visitors. In August 1860 the 16-year-old Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, visited Bloemfontein with the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir George Grey. In May 1925 the British Crown Prince, also known as the Prince of Wales and later Edward VIII, visited Bloemfontein for two days as part of his South African tour, and in February 1934 his brother Prince George (later the Duke of Kent), fourth eldest son of King George V, also paid a two-day-visit to the capital. Then, in March 1947 the Free State capital hosted its most famous royals yet, when King George VI, his wife, Queen Elizabeth, and their two daughters, Princess Elizabeth (the present Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister, Princess Margaret, visited Bloemfontein as part of their South African tour.
Not so well-known but no less splendid was the visit of the 20-year-old Portuguese Crown Prince, Dom Luís Filipe, the Duke of Bragança, to Bloemfontein on 26 August 1907. The Duke was the eldest son of King Carlos I and Princess Amélie d’Orléans. Among European rulers and royalty the Portuguese royal family was known as the House of Bragança. As Crown Prince, the Duke had to perform certain royal duties such as acting as regent of the Kingdom of Portugal when the King was outside the country. In 1907 the Duke was asked to do something no other member of the royal family had ever done before, namely to pay an official visit to Portugal’s African colonies. Portugal considered its colonies as ‘Overseas Provinces’ of the mainland, the most important of which were Angola, Mozambique and Delagoa Bay (today Maputo Bay). The Duke’s Africa tour – known as the ‘Imperial Tour’ – was meant to legitimise Portugal’s colonial claims. Importantly, due to the good relations that existed between Portugal and Britain, the Duke’s tour was extended to include a goodwill visit to British colonies and territories in southern Africa. While in Delagoa Bay, the Duke expressed a desire to visit the Orange River Colony (ORC; 1900–1910) for a game-hunting trip. A formal invitation to visit Bloemfontein was extended to the Duke by the British High Commissioner in Johannesburg, which the Duke gladly accepted.
At the time of the Duke’s visit, Bloemfontein was the capital of the ORC, formerly known as the Orange Free State republic (1854–1899). The territory was renamed when it became a colony of the British Empire after the British occupation of Bloemfontein on 13 March 1900. Bloemfontein became a colonial and predominantly English capital, with its administration and politics dominated by English-speakers. Needless to say, the English manner of doing things left its mark on the Duke’s visit; the pomp and splendour of the occasion displayed a distinct colonial flavour. On Monday morning, 26 August 1907, the Duke and his entourage or ‘Prince’s suite’, as The Bloemfontein Post referred to them, arrived by royal train at Bloemfontein’s railway station. He was met by the Governor of the ORC, Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams (Image 2) and a jubilant crowd of spectators. After an official welcome, the Duke and his company drove down Maitland Street (today Charlotte Maxeke Street) towards Bloemfontein’s first town hall (later demolished; Image 3) in three open carriages, each of which was drawn by six horses. The entire length of Bloemfontein’s main street was lined with soldiers from the British garrison stationed in Bloemfontein. The Friend newspaper reported that there was a festive atmosphere and the government buildings were ‘gaily decorated’ with bunting, Union Jacks and Portuguese flags (Images 4 & 6).
At the town hall, where ‘a considerable number of townspeople congregated’, the Duke was received by Bloemfontein’s mayor, Wolff Ehrlich (Image 5), members of the town council, and other dignitaries (Image 6). The mayor, who served as Consul for Portugal in Bloemfontein during the time of the republic, welcomed the Duke and assured him that the people of the ORC and its capital regarded his visit ‘with special interest’. Then the town clerk presented a formal address to the royal visitor in which the strategic importance of the ORC regarding the Portuguese ‘possessions’ of Mozambique and Delagoa Bay being ‘near and friendly neighbours’ was stressed. These sentiments – unimaginable today – point to a historical period when the entire southern African region ‘belonged’ to European colonial powers, notably Britain and Portugal. Thus, it was in a spirit of colonial superpower supremacy that the Duke was welcomed ‘to this portion of the British Empire’, to quote the language of the time. In his reply, the Duke expressed the wish ‘that the friendly relations which had hitherto existed between the Orange River Colony and Portugal might be continued’. After three loud cheers from the crowd, the guests and dignitaries proceeded to Government House (then also known as the Residency, and today known as the Old Presidency; Image 7) where a luncheon was served.
The Duke had no time for an afternoon nap because after lunch he was taken to the Tempe military base outside Bloemfontein where he was the guest of the General Officer Commanding. He was treated to an exhausting programme which involved a polo match, tent pegging and traditional Scottish dances. That evening the Duke was guest of honour at a formal ball and ‘At Home’ at Government House. Almost 700 people from across the ORC attended the event that probably outshone any other such event previously held at the Residency. According to local newspapers, the Residency looked like something from a fairytale, with 1,000 electric lamps illuminating the grounds in front of the castle-like building. The Duke – described as ‘the handsomest Prince in Europe’ – must have had extraordinary stamina because he not only shook hands with each guest but also danced until three o’clock the next morning!
Sadly, not all fairytales end well and this one is no exception. Despite an Africa tour that was considered ‘successful’ by the House of Bragança and, of course, the Portuguese and British colonial rulers, the monarchy became increasingly unpopular in Portugal. The following year the Duke’s life was abruptly cut short when he and his father were brutally assassinated. In what is commonly known in Portugal as the Lisbon Regicide of 1 February 1908, members of a pro-republican revolutionary organisation called the Carbonária shot at the royal family at close range while they were riding in an open carriage in Lisbon. The King died on the spot, but the Duke lived for a short while, making him the default King for only 20 minutes. Two years later the monarchy was abolished when Portugal became a republic.
Free State Provincial Archives: CO 471/4793/07, Visit of His Highness the Duke of Bragança to O.R.C., 1907; G 49/89, Visit of Prince Royal of Portugal, 1907.
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The Bloemfontein Post, 26.8.1907, 27.8.1907.
The Friend, 27.8.1907.