Welcome to the next in the series of blog posts linked to the forthcoming Splendours of the Subcontinent exhibition. This blog has been written by Kajal Meghani and looks at the Prince of Wales arrival in Bombay (now Mumbai) in November 1875.
Up until the Prince of Wales’s visit, there had been a flurry of preparation going on in Bombay (now Mumbai) to ready the city for the Prince’s arrival. The city had celebrated Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, a few days preceding the Prince’s visit and the municipal council decided to leave up the decorations to commemorate his visit as well as his birthday (9th November). The students from the Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art also helped decorate the city with lanterns, flags, banners and triumphal arches.
On 8th November 1875, a month after leaving his home in London, the HMS Serapis docked at the port of Colaba and the Prince of Wales stepped onto the shores of India. He was greeted by crowds ‘glittering with gems’ that were ‘swaying to and fro to catch a glimpse of the Prince’.
Dosabhai Framji, the chairman of the Bombay Corporation, read a welcome address to the Prince, pleased that the Prince’s tour started in a city that had a historical connection with the British Monarchy since the mid-seventeenth century.
The seven fishing islands that constituted to Bombay, which had been part of the Portuguese Empire in India since 1535, was given to Charles II as part of the dowry from his marriage to Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal.
As the Prince and his tour party progressed towards the Government House where he would be staying, William Howard Russell was struck by the decoration, writing that ‘new effects continually opened up, and fresh surprises came upon one, from point to point, til it was relief to close the eyes out of sheer satiety and to refuse to be surprised anymore’. By the time of the tour, Bombay had become an important cosmopolitan city that attracted people across India as well as Europe to settle there for trade.
As a result of this, the architecture as well as the people of Bombay was incredibly diverse. The Prince was particularly struck by this, and wrote about his first impressions to Queen Victoria: ‘Bombay is a remarkably fine and imposing town…a drive through the streets of Bombay is most interesting, as you see mixed together natives of all classes, creeds and origins. Their houses are very picturesque and they are all painted in different colours…the vegetation is very plentiful and the cocoanut palm trees are excessively fine’.