Story: Anniversaries

Page 1. Early celebrations and Queen Victoria’s jubilees

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What are anniversaries?

Some public anniversaries are annual, recalling a past event on that day each year – such as Christmas, Waitangi and Anzac days. Other anniversaries mark periods of special significance, such as silver (25 years) and golden (50 years) jubilees, and 100th anniversaries (centennials or centenaries). New Zealanders have commemorated these special anniversaries in a variety of ways.

Early celebrations and provincial anniversaries

Although Māori recognised Matariki each year, longer anniversaries depended upon keeping a calendar, and so did not happen until the arrival of the European calendar.

On arriving in New Zealand, Europeans quickly began recognising annual days of significance. These included saints’ days and provincial anniversaries, which usually marked the date of first arrival of settlers. It obviously took time until jubilees attained importance. In 1865 the 25th year of the colony’s existence was briefly noted in Wellington and Auckland, but the celebrations were no different from the annual anniversary day, with regattas the major drawcard. The 1869 centenary of explorer James Cook’s first visit to New Zealand passed with almost no mention.

‘Drinking Her Majesty’s health’

Cambridge had its own form of celebration: ‘Notwithstanding the wretchedly wet day, the inhabitants of Cambridge went in wholesale for celebrating the Jubilee, and right royally must they have done so, for at a comparatively early period of the day many might be met with who had been drinking Her Majesty's health in something evidently stronger than hop beer. As the day progressed some of these individuals became rather too demonstrative, and had it not been Jubilee time the constable would no doubt have had a few lodgers.’1

Golden jubilee

Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, marking the 50th anniversary of her reign, sparked the first significant public celebration. The date of commemoration, 21 June, was mid-winter and the weather was cold and rainy. The celebration depended on local initiative, so some sizeable communities such as New Plymouth and Palmerston North held no local events other than enjoying the public holiday. Others, including Lyttelton, Ashburton and Lawrence, were more ambitious. Such communities normally held some of the following:

  • processions – either during the day or under torchlight at night – of community groups, including friendly societies, military volunteers, fire brigades, brass bands, trades, and sometimes children and older residents
  • tree-plantings and sod-turnings, often at newly named amenities such as Victoria Avenue in Invercargill, Queen’s Park in Nelson or Jubilee Park in Dunedin
  • decorations such as bunting and transparencies in the streets, which were illuminated at night; Christchurch had two celebratory arches
  • fireworks
  • odes of loyalty to the queen.

Specific events were also held – athletic sports at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, industrial exhibitions at Auckland and Whanganui, and in Nelson children were presented with medallions. Lady Jervois, the governor’s wife, initiated the Queen’s Fund for women in distress. The anniversary was regarded as a way to cheer people up at a time of economic suffering.

Loyal names

In 1897, 10% of children registered in New Zealand had the names Victoria or Victor, and popular combinations included Victoria Jubilee and Victoria Diamond. The Hoses named their son, born the day before ‘record-reign day’ (22 June), Victor Record Reign Hose.

Diamond jubilee

Ten years later, with the country more prosperous and with growing enthusiasm for the British Empire, the exercise was repeated on a more extravagant scale. Every town and even small communities participated this time. Once more there were processions, ambitious illuminations (using electricity now as well as gas), fireworks and the planting of jubilee oaks.

Apart from Wellington, where a strong northerly wind blew, ‘queen’s weather’ predominated for the three days of celebration (20–22 June). There was a greater emphasis upon the empire and the military than in the previous jubilee, with exercises by volunteers common. Many places had the artillery firing 60-gun salutes. Children also played a larger role and normally took part in the processions. A notable feature was the lighting of bonfires on hilltops, which copied what happened in Britain; and in Whanganui the populace watched the old hospital torched in a spectacular blaze.

The event was commemorated by permanent additions to the cityscape – a Victoria Wing was added to the Invercargill hospital, a Victoria Domain in Gisborne, a clock tower in Christchurch, a drinking fountain in New Plymouth – and there were statues of the queen erected in the four main centres. Wellington’s new university became Victoria University. Fifteen prisoners were released.

Footnotes:
  1. Waikato Times, 22 June 1887, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Anniversaries - Early celebrations and Queen Victoria’s jubilees', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/anniversaries/page-1 (accessed 22 October 2017)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 20 Jun 2012