27th AUGUST 1889
‘I never expected to have the great pleasure of talking quietly with her face to face, and to have the pleasure of showing my collection to our beloved Queen was quite beyond all expectation.‘ This unusually lengthy passage details a moment which was certainly the highlight of the Queen’s visit for Thomas, and probably the highlight of his entire life.
After planting a tree in the garden, the Queen and Princess Alix proceed to the fruit room where encouraged by Dr. Reid the Queen makes a detailed and close examination of his fossil and mineral collections. Her question about the age of a bronze age axe has to bee seen in the light of the Darwinian controversy earlier in her reign, and the tension between church and science about the age of the Earth. The Queen’s question has to be seen as forensic, and Thomas’ reply as diplomatic! Her question about his origins in Scotland show that his accent even after so many years away from Jedburgh had remained Scottish. He certainly wasn’t going to divulge his Irish roots.
The Queen’s Journal mentions to inspection of the fossils only briefly. Since we are reading Princess Beatrice’s redaction of the original Journal it is not possible to say whether she mentioned Thomas. Beatrice was known to excise mention of the servants from her version of the Journal, thus diplomatically excising mentions of John Brown or the Munshi Abdul Hafiz.
Sir Theodore Martin called at Palé during the morning, and returned to Berwyn before luncheon. Colonel Wilson and Mr. Darby came from Brymbo accompanied by the heads of various departments at the steel works, exhibited specimens of ornamental steel to Her Majesty, and had specimens to illustrate the process of steel manufacture. Mr. Robertson went with them. Mr. Edwards of Trevor showed Her Majesty specimens of his TerraCotta (sic) Several others exhibited various articles.
The queen next wished to plant a tree in the grounds in memory of her visit; everything was ready and Her Majesty planted a Turkey Oak a little beyond the end of the lawn tennis ground. Her Majesty took one of the garden steel spades in her hand and with the help of Mr. Clark her Highland attendant put some fine earth on the root of the tree, and said ‘Shall I put a little more on it’. Her majesty was accompanied by the Princess Alix of Hesse (The Queen’s granddaughter ), Lady Churchill, Mr. Robertson and the aboveMr. Francis Clark. Mr. Cameron and I were present to see the ceremony, which was performed at quarter to twelve noon.
After the ceremony was over, the Queen asked which way she was to go next, so Mr. Robertson asked her if she would like to see the cromlech, the Queen said ‘Yes’ and added, ‘Anywhere.’ Mr Clark then led the pony ( the Queen had entered her pony carriage) along the lower walk under the Cromlech wood; the Queen walked from her little carriage to see the cromlech, and after the Queen was seated again, Mr. Robertson guided her to the end of the long walk, from which they then returned by the upper walk and crossed the lawn again as when going to the front of the Hall. From there, they came by the front, passing the gun room, until they arrived sat the little iron gate leading to the Lower, or fruit garden. Here the Queen got out to walk round the lower garden.
During the time the Queen was along the long walk, or “Queen’s Walk” as it ought to be called now, I went to get in the fruit for luncheon. I was coming from the upper or Kitchen garden when I was met by Mr. Francis Clark whotold me that I must come at once to go with the Queen around the garden. I followed Mr. Clark, and as the Queen by this time had got to the end of the walk leading to the conservatory. Mr. Clark and I went round the west end of the garden and past the conservatory to the store door; here Mr. Clark told me to stay until I was called; the Queen continued her walk until she got to the fruit room steps; here a halt was made as the Queen expressed a wish to go up into the fruit room to see my fossils etc. Dr Reid was in possession of it with the door open [TR’s footnote: I used to leave the key of the fruit-room on a nail for Dr. Reid to see the fossils at his leisure]; the doctor was near the door, examining the fossils, he told the Queen he was much interested in the fossils, and Her Majesty said ‘I fear you are more interested in the fruit than in the fossils.’ – This caused a laugh at the Doctor’s expense. The Doctor then came out and told the Queen it wasvery interesting up there – meaning the fruit- room. The Queen was then helped up the stone steps and Mr. Clark was at once sent back for me to go to explain the collection to Her Majesty.
On entering the fruit room, I found the Queen with her head down looking over the fossils; Mr Robertson was standing on the left by the door, Mr. Francis Clark on the right near the door, Lady Churchill in the north passage of the fruit room, and the Princess Alix standing at the end next the door of the south passage. The Princess looked straight at me, and as the Queen was stooping over the fossils, I bowed to the Princess, who nodded back. On the Queen raising her head, she looked at me, Mr. Robertson said, “This is the gardener,”and when I bowed the Queen nodded, and then said “These are very wonderful and must be very interesting,” and added, “Did you get these yourself?” I answered Her Majesty that I collected and arranged them all myself, then Her Majesty said, “Very nice” and continued examining the specimens. I pointed out to the Queen the arrangement of the various groups and their peculiarities, the Queen remarking as I went on “Yes, yes.”
I took up one of the tablets [TR’s footnote Echinospherites balticus]and showed the Queen the label on the back of it, which gives particulars of the locality where the fossil was found and other information. Her Majesty read the label slowly and carefully, and then said “Very nice”. When Her Majesty looked at my specimens of univalves or fossil snailshells, she remarked, “Wonderful, so natural”. Then Her Majesty asked me, “Are these from near here?” I told Her Majesty that they were to be found in various locations between Corwen and Bala, and that Bala was the typical district for Bala fossils, but they were also to be found near Llangollen. Her Majesty then said “This part must be rich in these”, and after a prolonged examination Her Majesty said “Very nice”.
The Princess [TR’s footnote Now Empress of Russia –Nov 1894] took up the tablet on which the gold quartz from Gwynfynydd or the Morgan minewas fixed, I told the Princess to take it to the door where the light was best, and then the Princess examined it carefully as I pointed out where the visible gold was to be seen. The Queen was much interested in it, and when I told Her Majesty that it was from the Morgan mine near Dolgelly, Her Majesty gave me a nod and smiled very knowingly, as much as to say plainly “All that glisters is not gold.” In fact the mine has been so puffed that people are distrustful of it. [TR’s footnote (it was a failure afterwards)]
The Princess Alix then called the attention of Her Majesty to my flint flakes, stone hatchets bronze hatchets, etc. Her Majesty took up the bronze hatchet or Celt in her hand, examined it, read the label on it, and asked me if it was found near here, I said it had been found on the estate, then Her Majesty took it between her fingers, and looking at me closely and straight in the face said “Can you tell me the age of this?” I at once answered “I think that is beyond man’s knowledge, Your Majesty,” and as I said this I looked full into Her Majesty’s face, which was only half a yard from mine; Her Majesty still looking into my face said, “Well, I suppose it is.”
After that the Queen seemed to have finished her inspection of the fossils,and as she was standing looking round at the room, Lady Churchill told her Mr. Robertson wished her to have a peach; Her Majesty said “Not now” [TR’s footnote; When the queen was inspecting the fossils and chatting, she was at her natural ease, but stood dignified when talking ofthe fruit.] and then added “You have very fine peaches and grapes here,indeed, very fine fruit.”
When the Queen prepared to go down the steps again, her pug dog went to get down, but seemed afraid to go, and stood whining on the top step. Her Majesty then said to Mr. Clark the Highland attendant “Carry him down carefully,” and then smiling and looking at all of us said, “He has the rheumatism and cannot well go down.” Then when Her Majesty was being helped down the steps, Mr. Robert son told me to go before and open the hot house doors for Her Majesty. The Queen looked into the forcing houses but was afraid to go through for the heat, then she walked slowly and stiffly along the back of the forcing houses until she got to the end of the peach house, here she stopped to admire a beautiful border of penstemons in full bloom; then she walked slowly after me through the peach-house, remarking to the Princess when she saw the peaches caught in nets, “That is very nice”, then through the conservatory, and on getting into the vinery, Her Majesty looked at me in the face and said, “I suppose this is a good country for fruit and flowers.” I said it was very fair.
We got out at the west door of the vinery, and then past the flower border in which grew Love-in-a-mist, Victoria asters,salpiglotis, gladioli, Rockets, Dahlias, and sunflowers next the wall. Then past the narrow flower border, in which grew dwarf chrysanthemum, asters, peony asters and African marigolds. Her Majesty admired the flowers, and stopped when she got near the west entrance gate to admire the iron palisade which was almost hidden with flowers, consisting of clematis, scarlet and yellow nasturtiums, the yellow creeper Tropaeolum Canariense, and the Tropaeolum Speciosum. The whole had a striking and beautiful effect, and as Her Majesty looked at it, she called the attention of the Princess Alix to it and said, “Isn’t that beautiful,” and then said as she pointed to the Tropaeolum Speciosum “That is a pretty little red plant.”
When Her Majesty got seated in her pony carriage, she turned to me and said “What part of Scotland do you come from?” I said “From Jedburgh,Your Majesty,” at which the Queen remarked to Lady Churchill, “That is near Floors” (Floors Castle, Kelso), Lady Churchill said “It is”, then the Queen said looking at me again “I have been there”, and I said “And to Jedburgh too Your Majesty”, the Queen at that nodded to me and said “Yes”. Then she said “I do not wish to get out again”.
Mr. Robertson then told me to go on before and tell the stable keepers to open the stable doors so that the Queen could look in. When the pony carriage was led past the doors, Her Majesty said “I see they are very nice.” After that the Queen continued her out past my house, and went down the road to see the laundry, and the other houses there, and returned up the drive to the Hall. I left at the gate here as I wished to finish getting the fruit. Mr. Robertson signalled to me the time to leave. I left my hat near the outside of the fruit room door when I entered, and went afterwards round with the Queen without it. Mr Robertson did the same.
When I went to the Queen in the fruit room, I felt nervous, but Her Majesty’s very pleasant way of speaking to me, and her kind manner eased me very much. Indeed, her manner was simplicity itself. Her way of speaking was in short sentences, and like stout people with a little difficulty. The queen evidently wished me to feel at ease, for she looked pleasantly at me and spoke very kindly to me.
Before Her Majesty came to Palé I was wondering if it would be possible for me to get a good look at her, but I never expected to have the great pleasure of talking quietly with her face to face, and to have the pleasure of showing my collection to our beloved Queen was quite beyond all expectation. To me certainly it was a Red Letter Day, and I fully appreciated Her Majesty’s kindness in honouring my collection with a visit.
The Queen is under middle height, has a very full round face very stout, and hair grey. She wore a dress having black and grey stripes, a black mantle with a fringe to it. Her hat was large, of boat shape, with white flowers in front. When walking she took short steps and walked stiffly, from the effects of her rheumatism, I expect. I was pleased to see the great interest Her Majesty took in everything.
When I went back to the fruit room for my hat, I found Dr. Reid inspecting my collection again, as soon as he got Her Majesty away he went back again, and there I left him as I wanted something to eat. Mr. Minshall of the Oswestry Advertiser was in my house waiting for me to get particulars of my interview with the Queen, but I declined to say more than that her Majesty inspected my collection with much interest.
After the Queen had luncheon, Mr. Evan Morris, Mayor of Wrexham, arrived at Palé and was knighted by Her Majesty. Sir John McNeill handed his sword to Her Majesty, and as Mr. Morris knelt on his right knee, Her Majesty touched him on both shoulders with the sword, and addressing him as Sir Evan Morris, commanded him to rise. Sir John Puleston also came to Palé and was presented to the Queen by Mr. Raikes. Mr. Raikes left during the afternoon. I only saw Mr. Raikes when he was with the Queen at the dog trials; he was very tall, stout and full-faced.
Queen Victoria’s Journal here