Viceregal visiting

Page 2 – Putting on appearances

A sea of words ...

New Zealanders still loved a good viceregal do. In 1948, for example, at the Dunedin railway station, almost everyone turned out to welcome Sir Bernard and Lady Freyberg (1946–52): the mayor, city councillors and senior staff, local Members of Parliament, county councillors, harbour and hospital board members and officers. The band of the 1st Battalion, Otago Regiment played 'God save the King', and the Otago Division of the Navy League Sea Cadets formed the honour guard. Mayor Donald Cameron led the large crowd in giving three cheers. Then they were led off to the main event, a civic reception and welcome in the town hall.

Mere settlements were equally loyal. Two years later the tiny borough of Waikouaiti (population 601), just a few kilometres north, produced a welcoming speech and pledge of loyalty from the mayor, the chairman of the Waikouaiti County Council, the president of the RSA, the local Member of Parliament and the local kaumatua. Small boys performed a haka and the crowd of over 100 sang 'Now is the hour'.

... and a flock of frocks

But people came not just to look but also to put on a show of their own. For the elite (or those who thought they were) a viceregal do was an excuse to put on airs, graces and a new outfit. The papers ran stories exhaustively (and exhaustingly) about garden parties, balls and receptions. They went to town describing the venue, decorations, entertainment and what women were wearing. This is part of the account of a function at the Dunedin Art Gallery in February 1956:

The 500 guests were received by Sir Bernard Dawson, president of the Joint Empire Societies and the Royal Empire Society, and Lady Dawson, wearing a frock of pink and black figured pure silk, a small black silk hat decorated with wings, and a squirrel cape; Sir J. Sutherland Ross, representing the Navy League, and Lady Ross (powder blue lace frock, white hat with black osprey and white lambswool jacket); Mrs Norman Speight, vice-president of the Victoria League (frock and fitting jacket of champagne corded silk with bead embroidery, small hat to tone trimmed with pearls and olive green shoes and bag) and Mr R. Aitken, president of the Overseas League.

No one was observed more closely than Their Excellencies. When Sir Bernard Freyberg walked down the gangplank in 1946, a flourish of feathers, sashes and medals, the press had clicked away dutifully. It also scrutinised Barbara Freyberg's London wardrobe. She wore 'a dove grey ensemble, consisting of a frock and three quarter box coat. Double grey fox furs, white flecked, were worn stole fashion, and her tiny crimson toque of ruched and gathered velvet was swathed in a grey tulle'.

Further information

How to cite this page

'Putting on appearances', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/vice-regal-visiting/putting-on-appearances, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15-Jul-2014