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Acquires 1920 NZ Letters of Edward Prince of Wales

For immediate release
2 July 2007

Alexander Turnbull Library Acquires 1920 New Zealand Letters of Edward, Prince of Wales

The Alexander Turnbull Library has just acquired letters and photographs sent by Edward Prince of Wales to his lover back in England while he was on tour in New Zealand in 1920. A sample of the letters can be seen in a small display in the Alexander Turnbull Library until 20 July.

In the late summer of 1920, Edward, the Prince of Wales, spent four weeks in New Zealand. It was part of a long tour around the British Empire that included Canada, Australia, Fiji, Samoa and Trinidad.

He was extremely popular; crowds flocked to see him. In 29 days, he visited at least 42 places, from Auckland to Invercargill, shaking hands, inspecting troops, visiting soldiers’ hospitals, attending school children parades, speaking and listening at formal welcomes and farewells, watching sports events, waving from railway carriages, dancing at balls, and much more.

All through his visit he was writing long letters back to his lover in London, Mrs Freda Dudley Ward. He had met her in 1918, and was besotted. The long expedition away from her was very painful to him and the letters are full of expressions of how much he misses her.

Of particular interest to New Zealand are his detailed descriptions of the places he visited, the duties he performed, and the people he met. There were some things he liked, but generally he had an extremely miserable time. In one letter he wrote ‘It is a rotten way of seeing a fine country… Returned soldiers & shrieking crowds & school children are all I shall remember from my visit my beloved though I might add drunkinos as half the men are overflowing with scotch at most of the places I’ve been to.’

There are many more such quotes, and some are given below.

The Curator of Manuscripts at the Alexander Turnbull Library, David Colquhoun, commented that ‘these are fascinating letters. I certainly have not read anything quite like them before. They are long, detailed, lively and very frank. Of particular interest to New Zealanders are his descriptions of the places he visited, people he met and the functions he attended, all of which he described for Freda’s benefit. He was frequently far less than flattering, but the letters are revealing about our adulation of royalty then, and about what passed for New Zealand high society at that time.

‘Among other irritations, he found many of our civic leaders unbearably pompous, bemoaned the lack of dancing ability among New Zealand women, and was embarrassed by having to wear cloaks at Maori ceremonies. But his descriptions are certainly entertaining.

‘He might come across as rather a self-pitying upper-class twit, but he was given a horrendous programme. To his credit, he left the impression that he was pleased to be here. It was only in these private letters that he let down his guard and said what he really thought.’

There are seven letters, five written from New Zealand, one from Fiji on his way here, and one from Fiji, Samoa and Hawaii on his way back home. In all, they total 85 clearly written pages. In addition, there are 17 photographs of his activities in New Zealand and Fiji, each annotated for Freda’s benefit on the back. They were all purchased from a London dealer for $26,000.

Passages from the letters have been previously published as part of the 1998 Letters from a Prince edited by Rupert Godfrey. But much was not included in that book. The Turnbull Library hopes to make copies of the letters available on the National Library website as soon as permission is granted by the copyright holders.

The Prince and Dudley-Ward remained lovers through the 1920s. Eventually, however, the Prince’s affections turned to the American divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson. He became King in early 1936 and abdicated later that year so that he could marry her.

Further quotes from the letters

‘…Well here we are arrived in New Zealand enfin sweetheart & it’s really rather a relief to feel that one has at last ‘struck bed rock’ as regards the object of the whole trip tho the mere thought of the programme they insist on my carrying out is staggering as we really are in for a bloody awful month angel & Christ only knows how far gone towards insanity we’ll be at the end of it all when we go to Australia!!’

The welcoming crowds
‘…a most marvellous welcome here in the capital of the Dominion the crowds were so dense that I had to stand up in the car the whole way!!… for once I was gratified and felt quite the cheap hero!!… we managed to keep fairly cheery despite never one hour free from returned soldiers and school children!! Christ how cadets, boy scouts and school children and their cheers and “God saves” and “God blesses” get on my nerves… ‘(5 May, Wellington)

‘It is a rotten way of seeing a fine country… Returned soldiers & shrieking crowds & school children are all I shall remember from my visit my beloved though I might add drunkinos as half the men are overflowing with scotch at most of the places I’ve been to.’ (8 May, Wellington).

‘We arrived here at 7.00 after a tedious train journey from Christchurch which we left at 10am which involved shopping at 6 places… I feel oh! so so desperately lonely my beloved Fredie till I could shoot myself!!… Oh how I’ve been shrieked & yelled at this afternoon till I could cry sweetheart though I know its ungrateful and rotten to talk like this; I ‘ve had a marvellous welcome here as everywhere though I’m so stale and tired now.’ (18 May, Dunedin)

Governor General Lord Liverpool
‘ …the Liverpools are the absolute limit beloved one; he is too hopelessly pompous & impossible for words while she is so shy that she hardly ever utters & I’ve given up even trying to make conversation!!’ (25 April, Auckland)

‘They really are too intolerable for words & besides being a ---- (4 letters!!) he’s a liar and a cheat at any games: cards, golf and everything. And he’s too pricelessly pompous for words. I could never tell you how much I loath him.’ (8 May, Wellington)

Maori welcomes
‘Todays stunts altho terribly boring and irritating wld anyway have been a little interesting if it hadn’ t poured in sheets till 3.00pm. I had to go through long and tedious Maori ceremonies at both the native villages & had to submit to being made to look the most hopeless B.F dolled up in mats & other things while inane Maories danced & made weird noises at me!! Some of the Maori women sand and danced quite nicely tho they spoilt their stunt by revolting me by kissing my hand when I shook hands with them all…’ (28 April, Rotorua)

Returned servicemen
‘I inspected a huge parade of returned men territorials and cadets which took over 1 hour to do…like all these parades it left me rather a wreck as the mental strain is so great…’

I had to go down to the wharf and cross the harbour on a ferry to Devonport to visit a returned soldiers’ hospital where I found 100 men mostly T.B. cases & they are sordid too!! (25 April, Auckland)

The Imperial Hotel, Wanganui
‘Such a pompous address my beloved but its really a miserable hole; no electric light & the hotel boilers elected to burst before dinner so no baths & a very nasty dinner!! But we are all rather peeved tonight as we have had a desperately twying day…. I’m frozen as there’s no heating in my room & I’m sitting huddled up in an overcoat!’ (4 May, Wanganui)

Dances and New Zealand woman
‘We have just returned from the most priceless funny party that one could imagine, there wasn’t a single woman who had the least idea how to dance & the “squeejee band” and the floor and everything tho we stuck it out like heroes until the supper & tried to lug those wads of ham faced women around altho we were all feeling very weary and thoroughly peeved. But perhaps its unkind to talk about these poor peoples’ gallant efforts to entertain us in this way but we’ve been suffering under these ghastly sordid entertainments for over a fortnight now!!’ (11 May, Nelson)

‘These New Zealand women really are too amazingly plain and unattractive for words sweetie and their powers of conversation nil.’ (14 May, Christchurch)

The West Coast
‘It hasn’t all been easy this week on the W. coast as its very bolshie altho there were no incidents!! A few of the returned soldiers leaders were rather truculent sweetheart (tho. not the men themselves) & we had to be very tactful as of course the most important item of the trip are the returned men & all would be over if I got wrong with them!! Then the mayor of Christchurch is an absolute wrong un…. But then he’s a socialist “of the people, by the people, for the people” & worst of all he started talking politics and was most offensive.’ (14 May Christchurch)

Being a royal
‘… every day I long more and more to chuck this job & be out of it & free for you sweetie; the more I think of it all the more certain I am that really (tho not on the surface just yet awhile for Britishers) the day for Kings and Princes is past monarchies are out of date tho I know it’s a rotten thing to say & sounds Bolshevik!!’ (28 April, Rotorua)

‘It is a real hard life this Fredie darling beloved & Christ how I loathe it & hate it as I do anything as unreal & artificial as this fearful existence.’ (8 May 2007)

His family
‘Christ! how I loathe and despise my bloody family…But if H.M thinks he is going to alter me by insulting you he’s making just about the biggest mistake of his silly useless life; all he has done is infuriate me and make me despise him…’ (22 May, Lyttleton)


Low-resolution images are attached on a proof sheet. (PDF)

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