After the sepoy mutiny, British royalty took over the administration of the country. Victoria, the first Queen Empress of India, was too old and still to travel to her new kingdom. Victoria made up for her obesity and age by insisting that her reluctant son visit the Dominions.
Royal visits allowed British subjects in distant colonies to be exposed to real members of the sovereign’s family. George was just a second son and his grandmother Victoria seemed to cling to the throne as if she was almost immortal.
But suddenly her brother would die after becoming engaged to Marie de Teck (after whom Queen Mary’s College is named after). George became Prince of Wales, heir to the throne, and also married daughter Mary.
George’s visit to India in 1905 was the most intense and ambitious royal visit ever. George and Mary cross the Suez Canal and reach Bombay. He spent months traveling the country, shooting tigers, playing polo, and attending traditional dance ceremonies.
True to the expectation, it was going to be an orgy of loyalty. People would have watched in disbelief if anyone thought this country would rise up and demand independence 40 years from now.
The newspapers said: “Now that their Royal Highnesses intend to visit India, it is the overwhelming duty of every citizen, rich or poor, to give them a proper welcome and to commemorate the great event. “.
The prince was in Madras from Rangoon on a ship and only stayed five days, starting January 24, 1906. About 1,000 people greeted him at the nearing completion port. The crowd waited as the ship’s arrival time could not be predicted.
Many of them, kings and zamindars, who had never expected anyone before in their life, remained in the shamiana. The famous hotelier D Angelis had installed a food counter.
The city wanted to welcome its future emperor. 30,000 people were fed by philanthropists in the city on the day of the Prince’s arrival. The roads from the harbor to Government House were lined with Venetian masts.
On the North Bench Road, these were intertwined with evergreens and topped with palm fronds. The arches of the welcoming committee were erected in the form of a Hindu temple gopuram and made of coconut palm leaves. Workers from Tanjore and Kumbakonam were employed in its construction.
The prince arrived at a royal salute from booming cannons and landed on the new pier. He would travel along the beach and plaza road to the government house.
Galleries were erected on the side of the procession to allow the common man to purchase tickets to see the royal procession. Some Indian newspapers ridiculed him by asking if the prince was a museum object to be seen as well.
Every night there was a brilliant fireworks display from the Hyacinth and Fox warships in the harbor. Crowds gathered in the marina to watch the sky light up.
The prince would inaugurate the technical institute of Victoria within the campus of the museum of Egmore, hoping that the institute would improve the condition of the craftsmen of the presidency. The Indo-Saracen building is today the national art gallery.
Princess Mary had her agenda. She visited the Victoria Gosha Hospital in Triplicane (now the Kasturba Hospital). Interestingly, one of the mounted police horses ran over a boy in the crowd who was rushed to the same hospital.
The concerned princess and the governor’s wife neglected her bandage. News was sent from the hospital on the evening that the boy was released and it brought relief to the princess.
The Madras government has begun to investigate among the indigenous citizens of Madras the public sentiment regarding the name change from Black Town (the oldest civil part of the city) to George Town. The government felt that this would not only be a gracious compliment to the prince, but that it would commemorate his visit to Madras in a special and permanent way.
An Extraordinary Gazette issued by the Madras government has stated that part of Madras known so far as Black Town will in future be called George Town. It was also reported that the change was made at the expressed request of the prince to whom popular sentiment in the matter was represented.
The prince regretted that the weather did not allow to visit this part of the city. Statues of the prince would later appear in the black city to express his thanks.
Tamil newspaper Swadesamitran, while acknowledging that the Prince of Wales readily consented to ‘Black Town’ being named after him, doubted he would have so readily consented if he had been asked to grant privileges policies to Indians, or reduce the existing heavy burden Taxation.
The prince would leave for Mysore and those who organized the successful visit were ennobled. The newspapers are full of letters complaining of not having his rightful place in the gallery or of not being knighted.
George would return in 1911 to crown himself King-Emperor in a Delhi durbar. Although he didn’t make it to Madras, the city would once again explode in loyalty – with Carnatic songs saluting the royal couple to saree designs with Roman pillars (still popular as Durbar Pet).