A visit by the monarchy to the beautiful North Antrim coast has always been a special occasion and the arrival of the Emperor and Empress of Brazil on Saturday, 7 July 1877 became another day to remember.
The royal visitors disembarked in Belfast at 3.45am after a rough crossing by steamer from Barrow-in-Furness. The imperial party was on a tour of Europe and Emperor Pedro II had insisted on bringing his large entourage to Ireland to see the famous Giant’s Causeway. The Brazilian consul in Belfast, Mr. Gerald G. Bingham, met them at Donegal Quay and escorted them to a special train which had been provided by the Northern Counties Railway.
The train arrived in Portrush at 7.10am and two open carriages, furnished by the Antrim Arms Hotel, were waiting to take them to the Causeway. On arrival, the Emperor was refreshed by a cup of coffee at Mrs. Kane’s hotel and, in return, he presented her with a bunch of grapes!
Boats had been arranged to take the party to the caves but the inclement seas made it too rough to venture off shore. Instead, the visitors spent the next hour and a half enjoying the impressive views of the Causeway stones.
Just like every other tourist, they took home the customary souvenirs. The Emperor bought several boxes of “specimen stones” and he ordered 100 copies of his carte de viste, taken by a local photographer, Daniel McKinlay, as he posed in the spectacular setting of Lord Antrim’s Parlour. The Empress purchased “seaweed ornaments and other little valuables kept solely for tourists”. By mid-morning, the party had returned to Portrush. They declined the offer of lunch at the Antrim Arms Hotel, choosing instead to dine in an elegant waiting room at the station. Most of Portrush had now gathered hoping to see the Brazilian royalty and the Emperor greeted the large crowd and began an unexpected walkabout.
The press were as thrilled as the public and later filled their newspaper columns with detailed accounts of the royal visit. The reports were, on the whole, complimentary. Emperor Pedro II was described as “tall and graceful…his eye is quick and the expression of his countenance eloquent and intelligent”.
Even so, the Victorian press were of their time and could possibly be compared to today’s social media in making unsavoury and misogynistic comments. For example, we are told that “ladies, as usual at Portrush, were in the ascendant. The windows in Eglinton Terrace were filled with pretty faces, and the bank on one side and footpaths were thronged with girls and buxom lassies.”
Worse still, it was stated that the Empress was “…very small of statute, stout and heavy and waddles along”. Added to this, she had “a good-natured face, but her figure would hardly commend itself to a Britain. The Emperor, however, cannot be blamed on the score of choice, inasmuch as the lady was selected by proxy, a mode of matrimonial contract hardly popular in this country.”
The Emperor’s secretary, the Chevalier de Macedo, was a great favourite of the journalists and the spectators “from the familiar way with which he jested the juveniles on the road to Springhill, he was supposed by many to be the Emperor himself. He shook hands with several of the little boys and girls…and presented one or two with coins. One young fellow remarked ‘Surely that must be the King’s jester. He’s a rare one – he is!’”
The crowds followed the entourage as they walked through the town and surged forward in a great crush for a final glimpse of the guests as they returned to the station. As the train pulled away, the streets echoed with the noise of hundreds of people giving three cheers as the Emperor raised his hat in salute to Portrush.