Secret coronation feathers

The coronation of King Charles III is only the fifth in the past one hundred and eighty years. The Queensland city of Ipswich has celebrated those historic events to be representative of so many Australian towns, but it has one secret that may have changed the course of history for generations. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

The most recent coronation was for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Celebrations in Ipswich included trooping of the colours at Amberley, a sports day, religious services, and a spectacular street procession. The Ipswich Girl Guides has an amazing float on a KB5 International truck.

1953 Girl Guides float

There were even four people from Ipswich who travelled to London to be part of official proceedings. Thank you to Corporal Humphreys, Corporal Delandells, Corporal Hawes, Leading Air Craftman McLeod for your service.

For the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the first ever person from Ipswich to be member of an Australian coronation contingent was Trooper Frank Schy. Frank is even more memorable because his sister Hannah married his son George, in other words she married her nephew. But to make things worse, she was already married, and so by marrying her nephew the crime was actually bigamy.

In 1911 for the coronation of King George V, celebrations included a coronation fete, a church service in the town hall in the morning, a huge parade finishing in Queen’s Park in the afternoon, and a patriotic rally in the North Ipswich Reserve in the evening.

It was Leonard Francis who conducted the choirs throughout the day. Francis’s greatest triumphs had come when he twice led the Blackstone Cambrian Choir to the Grand Championship of Australia.

Leonard Francis

For the parade, nearly four thousand children took part, as well as every association, club, and band that the town could muster. The procession was over a mile long, and when the head of the procession reached Queen’s Park on the outskirts of town, the other end hadn’t even left Ellenborough Street in the centre.

The parade chief marshal was Major C.A.H. Watson. Major Watson was the head-teacher at the Ipswich Central State School. He had also taught at North Ipswich School, Bundaberg, Bundamba, and Brisbane’s West End. The last words that he would utter just three years later as he reclined on his veranda chair, was an order to telephone the doctor. The doctor came too late.

The 1937 coronation for King George VI was perhaps the most amazing of all for Ipswich.

There was a special Coronation Race Meeting at Bundamba that attracted record entries and a record attendance. The Ipswich City Council arranged for Coronation Badges for all the school children in Ipswich, and these badges got them onto the Ipswich Coronation Show for free.

Then there was the Australian Coronation Contingent that travelled to London to play an official role in the king’s coronation. The Queensland section was led by Ipswich man Captain A. L. Elliott.

Captain Elliott before departing for London

Captain Elliott described the opportunity as the most memorable experience of his life. He was selected to be an Officer of the Palace Guard at Buckingham Palace, and was also one of the mounted officers for the King’s Coronation Escort.

From the moment that he stepped ashore in London, Captain Elliott was inundated with fan mail. On the first day he received seventy letters, on the second there were another seventy, and so it went on for the next two or three days. Captain Elliott and his Queensland contingent were an absolute hit in the Old Country.

When the contingent returned to Australia, they paraded through the streets of Sydney and Brisbane, but all people wanted to hear about was the letters.

Captain Elliott leading the contingent in Brisbane

The story began when the men had arrived in London, and there was great acclaim because it was said that they “looked particularly well.” They were dressed in their scarlet-faced tunics and gleaming trappings – and then there was the crowning glory of the emu feathers in their slouch hats. This was the dress tradition started by the mounted rifles of the Queensland defence force in the nineteenth century and continued into the twentieth century by the Australian Light Horse.

The remarkable truth is that the bags of letters that arrived were all from young ladies who were anxious to make their acquaintance. They were offering all sorts of steamy friendships and matrimony. All Ipswich’s Captain Elliot and his men would reveal about it all was that it was “the feathers that did it.”

These coronation feathers may have been responsible for starting he tradition of the Australian right-of-passage of travelling to London to make good. This has continued to this day through people such the late Barry Humphries.


Photo credits:
Coronation celebration, 2023 – Harold Peacock.
Girl Guide float for Coronation Parade Ipswich, 1953 – Picture Ipswich.
Leonard Francis, choral legend – Queensland Times, 26th July 1946, page 2.
Captain A.L. Elliott farewelled by United Service Club – Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, 5th February 1937, page 14.
Major Elliott leads Queensland section of the Coronation Contingent down Queen Street, Brisbane – Telegraph, Brisbane, 3rd July 1937, page 7.


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