During the 1875-6 tour of the Indian subcontinent, the Prince of Wales spent Christmas in the city of Calcutta (modern-day Kolkata, Bengal), the British capital of India at the time. Travelling along the River Hooghly on HMS Serapis, the Prince arrived at Prinsep’s Ghat, a local landing stage, on 23 December 1875 and was met by crowds of well wishers and pavilions draped with scarlet cloths and decorated with wreaths and garlands.
In the late-19th century, Calcutta had a substantial European population who alongside the significant Anglo-Indian community celebrated Christmas. In preparation for the Prince’s arrival and the Christmas festivities, the buildings around Calcutta were decorated with illuminations and lamps. J. Drew Gay, a British reporter who had travelled to India to report on the Prince’s tour, recorded that ‘the resources of the East and West were brought into play together’ and that it was the ‘grandest Christmas Eve Calcutta has ever seen’.
On Christmas day, the crew of the HMS Serapis were keen to get into the festive spirit and set about decorating the ship. With little chance of real snow falling, the crew used holly, ivy wreaths and shrubs covered in cotton wool and glistening white powder to create a wintery scene.
A Christmas lunch was prepared for the Prince aboard the ship by his cook, Monsieur Bonnemain. The French cook, perhaps put off by his mixed successes of learning how to make Indian curry in Madras, stuck to a very French inspired menu for the Christmas dinner, including roast beef and plum pudding for dessert.