When Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten announced their engagement in July 1947, Australians were as excited as the British by the prospect of a royal wedding. With a November 20 date set, time was short, but every State came up with what they considered an appropriate gift. 😎
There was a bit of pressure, because in April that year Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley had refused to send the Princess a 21st birthday present. He said she was wealthy enough already. There was a stamp issued in her honour though. A denomination of 1d. seems rather low for royalty, but maybe it was the most widely one used.
The Returned Servicemen’s League were so embarrassed by the perceived slight of giving no present that they sent the Princess £2,000.
Sorry, I digress…. back to the wedding. New South Wales turned to sheep for inspiration;
Their gift was woolen blankets and a travel rug. Yes, a bit boring, but it largely avoided criticism.
Queensland immediately thought of bananas, but of course they are not good travellers. 😨 In the end it was canned pineapple that got the nod. A bizarre wedding gift it’s true, but rationing was still a fact of life in Britain following WWII. Pineapples, even tinned ones, were a rare treat. Most of the cans were distributed to the public, but I hope the palace kept enough back to make the happy couple a pineapple upside-down cake.
UNFIT FOR A FUTURE QUEEN?
It was the more decorative wedding gifts that raised the ire of Mr. Richard Haughton-James, editor of The Australian Artist, and vice-president of the Society of Designers for Industry.
In a letter to the Melbourne Herald the acerbic Haughton-James let loose on virtually every State where the gift involved style and design, including his home State, Victoria.
Now the Vics thought they had covered all bases with their contribution. Native blackwood timber was fashioned into a classically designed dressing table by ex-servicemen apprentices. How’s that for patriotism?
However, Haughton-James was unimpressed; ‘The people of the State of Victoria -of whom I am one – are sending a ‘Sheraton period’ boudoir table, locally made of Victorian blackwood – fake antique furniture in inappropriate materials. “Why have not Australian artists, designers, or designers’ agencies been approached for advice in these matters? The despatch of these ludicrous objects can only serve to confirm English people in their widely-held opinion that Australia’s culture is second-hand, snobbish and provincial.’ 🤢 Harsh, mate, very harsh.
It seems un-Australian to upset members of the Country Women’s Association, but these salt of the earth, kindly souls were not spared. The Victorian branch had chosen to send the royal couple some silver cake dishes which offended Haughton-James even more ;
‘One might have imagined this an opportunity for creative design of a dignified and appropriate kind by an Australian silversmith. Not a bit of it: commonplace vessels around whose rims dripped half-hearted swags of conventional decoration were chosen – one would think from a job-lot mail-order catalogue. ‘ Oh dear me, perhaps the dear ladies should simply have made and sent a cake. In fact, the National CWA did send a six tier one, a layer representing each State.
Now to be fair, Haughton-James was motivated by his passion for Australian design. He was simply railing against ‘cultural cringe’, which, let’s face it, afflicted the country for a few more decades.
South Australia put a lot of thought and effort into a silver tea and coffee service with accompanying cabinet. I can only find one, very bad newspaper photo of the silverware. No comment from Haughton- James that I can find. Perhaps it passed muster with an original, forward thinking design, but it’s hard to tell. At least officials wrote to Elizabeth and asked if she would like such gift for her wedding. The silver was from Port Pirie, the wood was cedar from Adelaide’s old Legislative Council Building. The silverwork was made by cousins Martin and William Kenwrick, who had both served in the war and were sixth generation silversmiths William’s father and grandfather had previously made a presentation casket for King George V, in 1901. The whole ‘wedding set’ was designed by Mr Millwood Grey, Principal of the School of Arts & Crafts.
Western Australia sent jarrah wall panelling for a room in what would become Elizabeth and Philip’s new home, Clarence House. I do feel this was a little presumptive. What if they preferred paint….or wallpaper?
Unlike me, Mr Haughton-James let the jarrah pass, since there was no design involved. However, he made up for it with his fury over an offering from several Western Australian city councils;
As a born and bred Tasmanian I’m proud to say that their present, a painting of historic Richmond Bridge by John Eldershaw, was an unqualified success. It was probably similar to the one below.
And did it make it into Clarence House? Well Elizabeth’s thankyou letter suggests it might have. OK, she may have just been very polite, befitting a future Queen.
THE WEDDING GIFT FROM THE NATION
And what did Mr Chifley and the federal government come up with? Oh dear me… this time it was not the design that caused dissention. In the words of opposition MP Mr J.P. Abbott it was just ‘a mean and paltry gift‘.
‘The presents – a pair of comports and a pair of salvers made of silver are on display in King’s Hall, Parliament House….Mr Chifley said he felt the presents were very suitable. The government had consulted a number of jewellers, and had decided it would be difficult to find anything more appropriate. Mr Chifley said the spirit and the feelings which accompanied the gifts were more important than the present itself.‘ (Scone Advocate, November 4, 1947) The silver items did at least have wattle flowers engraved on them as a motif….that must have cost a bit more.
I wonder whether the RSL offered to fill the comports with cash as a bit of a top-up?
By the time Elizabeth had become Queen, Labor’s Ben Chifley had been replaced as PM by the Liberal’s Robert Menzies, and we all know how much he adored the young monarch.😎 In 1954 there was a royal tour of Australia, and there is no doubt that the nation’s gift was something very special, also involving wattle.
For a tour around the vast quantity of wedding gift to Elizabeth and Philip, CLICK HERE