The release of Queen Victoria’s private diaries, numbering 141 volumes, gives Ryan Bachoo, 22, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad & Tobago, the chance to reflect upon the leadership styles of monarchs past, present and still to come.
The Commonwealth this month celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, marking the 60th anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty to the thrones of seven countries upon the death of her father, King George VI, on 6 February 1952.
Before that, Queen Victoria in 1897 is the only other monarch in the histories of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few other Commonwealth countries to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee.
Sixty years can be a long time. For some, it is a lifetime.
I’ve always had an appreciation for history, although I may not have shown it in History class, but for the past week, I have read numerous stories about Her Majesty’s reign and achievements. On this occasion, Queen Elizabeth II authorised the release of the private diaries of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, for the first time.
I had a look through the diaries, but only a look. The diaries consist of 141 volumes, and over 43,000 pages of a personal account of the life Queen Victoria led. And while for the past week the world has been honouring Queen Elizabeth, I have been skimming the pages of Princes Town’s finest libraries and digging up the best of history I can find on Queen Victoria.
I have a personal infatuation with Queen Victoria, but it’s not only down to the history she brought to the town I live in, in South Trinidad. The County of Victoria covers 813 km2 and is divided into five wards. It’s quite fitting that she left her name stamped on a major part of South Trinidad. So too, her grandsons, Prince Albert and Prince George, renamed Savanna Grande to Princes Town after they visited in 1880.
But it’s not a history lesson of my town I’m getting at. Rather, in all the rush to view Queen Victoria’s private diaries, we can all begin scrutinizing and judging the life she once lived, because that’s what we do. And the facts can all be clouded by our interpretations of her diaries and what they truly mean to us. But Queen Victoria had to be something special.
I’ve read hundreds of historical pages on the few steps she took on the very soil that would eventually be named after her. None gripped me more than the account of Victoria, in the book, Governors of Trinidad and Tobago.
At a time when the world was rapidly changing, the British Empire seemed to be making many errors as well in their governance of the countries under its control. Trinidad was one of them. As Governors of Trinidad and Tobago explained, “the Colonial Office seems to have been taken by surprise by the sudden recall of a governor for they sent to Trinidad the ailing Sir Frederick Barlee, who died within three months.
“It was then that the authorities chose a governor who was sporting and full of life and who got two distinctions to make him stand out from Trinidad governors; Sir William Robinson.”
But this hardly changed anything for the people of Trinidad. There was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, which had come in 1887. On this occasion, a Baptist Pastor by the name of Robert Andrews left his home at Fifth Company (a village in Southern Trinidad) to go to San Fernando (Trinidad’s second capital city) to see the celebrations of the then Queen.
When he came home that night, he wrote to Queen Victoria saying how impressed he was at the show of warmth and love despite the fact that the men who she put in Trinidad to run her business were ‘absolutely useless’. And then he asked her: “Do you think you could see your way to allow us to choose our own representatives?”
Queen Victoria was taken aback by the question and she sent a dispatch to the man who represented her in Trinidad, Sir William Robinson, requesting him to set up a royal commission on the franchise to find out if the people of Trinidad really wanted to choose their own representatives. She commanded him to make sure the commissioners went to Fifth Company, to find out what it was that this Pastor Robert Andrews really wanted.
If you compare Queen Victoria’s mannerisms and leadership in the late 1880s to that of leaders’ today, there is a stark difference in leadership styles. Victoria was a Queen, Trinidad was not the jewel in her crown. Yet, as the book, Governors of Trinidad and Tobago explained, times and people were beginning to change rapidly.
The world, along with Trinidad, was becoming a very different place, and Trinidad was not going to be left behind. In the United States, Marconi was experimenting with wireless communication, Bell was experimenting with telephone. Running water also came to the fore: by the time Sir William left Trinidad, Edward Tanner, Director of Public Works, had already begun supplying water in pipes.
Change was very exciting, but since “a new broom sweeps clean” then life was going to be even more exciting with the new governor. And Queen Victoria did allow Trinidad to choose representatives for themselves.
But fast-forward to today, the Middle-East is in such turmoil because kings and communist leaders cannot accept, like Queen Victoria did, that times and people are changing. The world is a very different place to that of 1880, and it will be a much different place in 2080 as opposed to 2012. Victoria did not have to respond to Pastor Robert Andrews’ letter of request, but she did. Queen Victoria did not have to care about Trinidad, it gave her very little, but she did care.
To contact a local governor these days is merely impossible, let alone the Prime Minister or the President. But as I mentioned above, Queen Victoria was something special. In her 43,000+ page private diaries, she only spoke of Trinidad once, and it was indirect as well.
Rather, she spoke of the “bliss beyond belief” on her wedding night and how marrying her ‘beautiful’ husband, Prince Albert, gave her “feelings of heavenly love and happiness”. But her love and affection for her husband in the early parts of her private diaries only leads to the tragic repercussions she felt upon his death at age 42.
She described it as a “dreadful and overwhelming calamity” that left her with a “heavy broken heart”. Life after his death was “lonely and desolate”, she added, like living in a “dreadful dream”. Even two years after his death, Victoria was still grieving, “Here I sit lonely and desolate, who so need love and tenderness.”
Her grief eventually ended and perhaps she got the chance to see her ‘dearest, dearest, dear Albert’ again when she died in 1901. But like the monarchy has been doing for generations, she passed on the throne to her son, King Edward VII.
And as Queen Elizabeth gets set to ride off into the sunset some soon day, she made no cloudy images of whom she wants to succeed her at the top of the monarchy when she appeared at Buckingham Palace with her family on Tuesday.
He has the name of a King, the look of a Prince, the walk of a warrior, and the love of his great grand-mother Victoria, but surely Prince William must understand these features won’t always make him a great monarch.
“Hi, I am Ryan Bachoo, a journalist and public relations officer from Princes Town in Trinidad and Tobago. I currently work with the West Indies Cricket Board.
“I am currently working as a broadcast journalist for Cable News Channel 3. I also write on various talking points and current problems facing the world including international politics and the issues of a depleting economy.”
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/
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