Catching up with Queen Victoria in Worldwide Jubilee Celebrations

Queen Elizabeth II caught up with Queen Victoria over the jubilee weekend when she became the second female monarch to celebrate her diamond jubilee on the English throne. But worldwide celebrations have changed since Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 when Britons overseas rose in a continuous ‘wave of song’, as we have uncovered in a recent article. Here’s a short extract from our article ‘Globalizing St George: English Associations in the Anglo-world to the 1930s’ published in the Journal of Global History earlier in the year:

Summoned by the magic call of the Empress Queen, ‘Greater Britain’ has suddenly stepped forward on the field as an actual and integral part of her Realm and Empire. As Queen Victoria approached the end of her sixtieth year on the throne, the Order of the Sons of England in Canada evoked this ‘Greater Britain’ by coordinating a sustained global celebration. An exclusive English and Protestant organization found only in Canada and South Africa, the Sons appealed to kindred associations around the globe, including the Orange Order and the St George societies, to mark the jubilee with ‘a scheme that is at once novel [and] patriotic’. Their aim was for ‘the Jubilee Service of a continuous anthem around the world, to take place on Sunday, the 20th of June, the actual anniversary of Her Majesty’s accession’. ‘Greater Britain’ thus rose as one to sing the national anthem at around 4 p.m. local time, with Englishmen in Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, Europe, North America, and even on board British ships in the Pacific Ocean joining the ‘Wave of Song’.

Sons of England: starting the 'Wave of Song' in Levuka, Fiji, 1897

Despite ‘the many doubts . . . expressed as to the possibility of its being actually accomplished’, the Sons of England Supreme Grand President averred after the event that the desired outcome was achieved. By utilizing communication networks, which ‘were opened up with all the Colonial bishops and clergy’ and ‘Patriotic societies and the secretaries of the Royal Colonial Institute’, the services had followed ‘the sun westward’, traversing ‘the world in one unbroken line through the colonies of the Empire of the Union Jack’. Dunedin, Balclutha, Lawrence, Riversdale, and Waiau, all in the South Island, New Zealand, conformed to the plan. In Launceston, Tasmania, people of all denominations sang the anthem together; in Adelaide, the singing took place after a fine tea; and in Melbourne, at 4:20 p.m. – precisely the time listed by the Sons – the national anthem rang out at the Augustine Congregational Church. In Perth, Western Australia, where the Anglican bishop and the local St George’s Society joined forces, ‘one of the most striking features of the service’ was a large number of young children singing the anthem, being fully ‘in accordance with the wish of the Sons of England Society’. In North America, too, ‘our own brethren in Newfoundland and Canada and patriots in the United States took the service up with energy and enthusiasm’. British Americans in Milwaukee followed suit, as did British subjects in Galveston, who accompanied the anthem with cricket and other sports. In Charleston, South Carolina, the anthem was sung in the afternoon, and a dinner, jointly organized by the St Andrew’s and St George’s societies, was held in the evening. A hint of the inclusivity of English imperial values was given, as Jews and Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, were involved in the celebrations. For example, a circular was sent by the Revd Monsignor Farrelly to the pastors of churches in the Archdiocese of Kingston, Canada, calling for Catholics to ensure that ‘the day be properly honoured, enthusiastically celebrated, and marked in the calendar’.

So it was that the Sons of England had mobilized powerful networks of church and confraternity in veneration of one of the strongest icons of identity in the empire and at home: the monarchy.

To learn more about the Sons of England and the ‘Wave of Song’ and to get the piece with all references, read ‘Globalizing St George’. The Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee takes place a little later in the month on 20 June.

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