Royal salutes this week were ringing across Britain to mark the start of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. One Queensland city has a chequered history with royal salutes which at times descended into danger or downright pandemonium. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.
The Volunteer Artillery Corps in Ipswich, Queensland, was founded in February 1864. That’s because there were a number of enthusiastic young lads who were hoping to fire canons to mark the turning of the sod for Queensland’s first railway there.
The corps’ history didn’t begin with similar optimism, however. The royal salute for the start of the railway did go ahead a fortnight later. But it was feared that the life of the attending governor Sir George Bowen might be in danger if a rookie Ipswich gun crew took charge, and so a crew was brought from Brisbane instead.
The corps’ first drill instructor was Sergeant Elias Harding. The problem was that Sergeant Harding was from the Queensland Light Horse and didn’t know much about the big guns. He was one of the earliest settlers in western Queensland. Ironically his grandson would be killed in the First World War while serving with the Australian Field Artillery.
And so there was great excitement when the famous instructor Sergeant Hawkes from the British Army’s 12th Regiment arrived in town to provide the training. It was fully expected and publically stated that the Ipswich Volunteer Artillery Corps would become the best in all the colonies.
The corps was ready to give the royal salute when Governor Samuel Blackall visited Ipswich in 1868. They set-up their guns at the end of Nicholas Street between the Customs House and a boarding house that was run by a little old lady.
The firing of the guns provided a great spectacle. Unfortunately, they also proved devastating because all the crockery at the boarding house was shaken from the shelves. The damage was estimated at between two and three pounds. That’s three to four thousand dollars in today’s money. At Customs House the reverberation of the guns shook down the ceiling. The total damage bill had to be paid out of the Volunteers’ own funds.
Come 1872, the Ipswich corps was excitedly preparing for another royal salute, this time to mark Queen Victoria’s birthday. The battery of guns was there, as were the Volunteers to fire them, but nothing happened. That’s because someone forgot to bring the gun powder.
Drill for the Ipswich artillery continued, and in 1890 two accidents occurred while they practised. Sergeant Thomas Ivett was standing in front of the gun when the wheel ran over his foot – one of his toes was completely crushed, and the nail of another severely blackened. Sergeant Ivett was destined to die in remarkably similar circumstances. Years later when was working in the railway yards in Rockhampton, he was standing in front of a train when he was knocked down and killed.
Just minutes after Ivett’s toe incident, something went wrong with the elevating screw in the gun. And so naturally Sergeant-Major Thomas Foreman put his finger in the gun to feel what was going on. While he was doing that, one of the gunners leaned on the gun and the sergeant-major’s finger was badly crushed. He maintained a close affinity to the big guns for the rest of his life, because when he passed away years later, a part of the cannon was placed on his grave.
It was officially decided that royal salutes in Ipswich had to improve. So in 1919 a meeting was chaired by the former Ipswich mayor Pearson Cameron at which the Ipswich Royal Saluting Association was formed. A high-calibre committee was appointed. One member was James Beattie who had been a sergeant in the Scots Guards in the Sudan War. He’d been awarded the Queen’s Medal with bar and the Khedive Star of Egypt. Another was Garnet Foreman whose father was Sergeant-Major Foreman of the finger incident thirty years earlier.
On the very first occasion after the formation of the Association, a royal salute was being fired at Brown’s Park in North Ipswich. This was at the official peace celebrations marking the end of the First World War. But disaster happened. The gun exploded and a flying piece of metal smashed into two boys.
The boys survived. Reports of chaos and pandemonium at royal salutes subsided from that point forward – it seems that the artillery skills in Ipswich improved with the return of First World War veterans.
Never the less, the history of royal salutes in the city of Ipswich perhaps isn’t what the Queen would like to hear in this her Platinum Jubilee year.
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Queensland Garrison Artillery, Fort Lytton – my own
Elias Harding 1898 – Picture Ipswich
Lieutenant Thomas Foreman – State Library of Queensland