1860 Prince of Wales Visit

Sydney Mines’ coal mines had a surprise visitor in 1860: Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, later known as King Edward VII and great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Victoria sent her 18-year-old son, the heir apparent, on a goodwill mission to Canada and the United States in 1860. The Prince left England on July 10 and arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on July 23, where he stayed until July 26 when he set sail for Halifax.

His two ships, the 91-gun Hero and the 26-gun Ariadne, made better time than expected and the decision was made to visit Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, to inspect the Sydney Mines Volunteers, a military corps. The Prince and his entourage also wanted to avoid arriving early in Halifax where a grand reception was being prepared.

On July 28, 1860, the Prince’s ships arrived in “Spanish Bay” (now called Sydney Harbour) at 11:00 a.m. According to Richard Brown, manager of the General Mining Association, “…their unexpected appearance created a scene of bustle and excitement amongst the employees of the General Mining Association and their families, which will not soon be forgotten.”

The Prince came ashore at Barrington Cove (then called Indian Cove), near where the Greener coal mine was located. A stone monument on Shore Road marks the location today.

The Prince was received by Richard Brown, who was also the Colonel of the Sydney Mines Volunteers.

Orders were issued to the Volunteers to assemble as quickly as possible. This was not a quick process since most of them were “at their usual occupations a hundred fathoms below the surface and nearly a mile from the shaft,” according to Brown’s history of Cape Breton.

Gardner Engleheart, Private Secretary to the Duke of Newcastle, who travelled with the Prince, described the Volunteers as having been “formed from the 700 or 800 men who work for Sir S. Cunard’s coal-pits. These hastily mustered to the number of 100, and were pronounced to be fine fellows, and well dressed in loose blue tunic and trowsers. Had the short time at our disposal admitted of it, we should have visited the pits. This, however, we were unable to do.”

(Samuel Cunard is best-known as a shipping magnate but he was also heavily involved in mining, serving as the Nova Scotia agent for the General Mining Association. See the story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/samuel-cunard).

Instead, the Prince tried to visit with local Mi’kmaw but, according to Brown, most were away “at their great annual festival of St. Anne, at Chapel Island, in the Bras d’Or Lake….”

Because the Prince and his entourage had arrived unexpectedly, there had been no preparations to greet them. However, “as the news of his arrival having by this time spread through the neighbouring settlements, the Prince was followed by scores of country waggons, whose owners kindly accommodated the officers of the Hero and the Ariadne with seats, on their return to the mines,” wrote Brown. “The long procession of waggons – many of the spider-shaped American build – others of a less pretentious character, of Cape Breton manufacture, all crammed with persons of every rank, ‘from the prince to the peasant,’ some dressed in naval uniform, and others in native homespun, presented a motley and highly picturesque appearance, which afforded much amusement to the Prince and his suite.”

Brown describes the scene that followed: “On arriving at the mines, the Prince was received with a royal salute from the volunteers (who had now mustered in full force), and hearty cheers, in which a large crowd of persons of both sexes, who had gathered in the meantime to see His Royal Highness, cordially joined. Having inspected the corps, the officers were introduced separately to the Prince, at his own special request, and the Lieutenant-Colonel was desired to express to them His Royal Highness’ high gratification with the soldier-like appearance and steadiness of the corps, and the great pleasure he has derived form the inspection of so fine a body of men.”

Afterward, the Prince visited Richard Brown’s house in the Beech Hill area, the first house built in Sydney Mines in 1829 (https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/sydney-mines). The Prince then set sail around 2:30 p.m. with a fresh supply of locally-mined coal.

The Prince went on to visit Louisburg, Halifax and Windsor before leaving Nova Scotia for New Brunswick and on to various places in both Canada and the United States.

The Prince of Wales’ brother, Prince Alfred, visited the Tangier gold mines the following year. See the story at https://notyourgrandfathersmining.ca/tangier