The Photos of the Prince of Wales’ 1862 Tour

By Nne-Amaka Nwokocha

The photographs in this collection, taken by Francis Bedford, cover the Middle East tour that the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) took in 1862, visiting Palestine, Syria, Anatolia, Egypt, Lebanon and Greece, all of which, except Greece, were under the control of the Ottoman Empire at the time. This tour had been planned by Prince Albert for the Crown Prince to ‘improve’ him when news of his ‘relationship’ with an Irish girl started to arise. The year after the death of his father, Victoria still sent him on this tour with 9 other men, including the photographer Bedford and an influential cleric, Dean Arthur Penhryn Stanley of Westminster, who would become one of the founders of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1865.

This kind of travel follows the tradition of young rich men going on tours of foreign regions from classical Greece to British India. However, this tour was at a scale and cost reflective of the heir-apparent’s status; most western elite would not have travelled like him. Travelling with his party were 15 camp attendants, all Beirut locals, making it a total of 25; and the camp consisted of 13 tents of variable size, the largest being the Prince’s with a flag on top. There is even a picture of the party travelling on camel-back, being led by the attendants on foot: he was travelling comfortably.

P1796 – Prince of Wales’ party
P1816 – camp attendants
P1815 – Prince of Wales’ camp at Beirut
P2197 – Prince of Wales’ party on camel-back

The photos taken throughout the tour are first, beautiful, which would be an understatement. Bedford takes pictures of the monuments and ruins; but he also poses people in front of them and takes photos of the landscapes as well. These black-and-white photos have a pleasing and quiet aesthetic to them: everything you need to see is in the photograph. An example is a picture in Athens of the Temple of Jupiter, standing in the foreground to the right with the people at the base to put into perspective how imposing this ruin is; but in the background, on a hill to the left, is the Acropolis, visibly seen but hauntingly faded in the distance, as if they should be seen together. The features of many of the photos follow the European perception of the East, and the eastern Mediterranean: a place frozen in a fantastical past with exotic peoples living side by side to ruins, like, for example, the photo of vendors standing outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Bedford doesn’t include any member of the travelling party for scale or context; it is always men of the local heritage, dressed in non-European clothes. He constructs the feeling of being in the Holy Lands by maintaining an absence of anything European, and the inclusion of locals in the pictures emphasises the ‘foreignness’ of this region.

P2242 – Temple of Jupiter in Athens
P1784 – Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Bedford gives these monuments a demanding and captivating role within the photograph but uses other features such as the wider landscape to put them into perspective. In a picture, taken in Palestine, the Mar Saba monastery (a favourite of mine) takes a position right of the centre; but with the surrounding rocky slopes of the Kedron Valley and the river below to accompany it, the monastery seems to come out from the valley wall not sit on it, becoming part of the landscape. He also captures landscapes themselves, taking pictures of places such as the Mount of Olives with Jerusalem in the background and of Mount Lebanon too. Looking at the landscape photos, you wonder about what surrounds the ruins and are captivated by it. He captures not just places but also spaces, not as defined yet still as necessary to see.

P1788 – Mar Saba monastery

Victorian Britain was dominated by the constant comparison between cultures to affirm her own greatness. The lack of modernity, or more specifically ‘Europeanness’, in the photographs reminds the viewers that this is a place remaining in the past, that it sits outside of British colonial control. There are exceptions like Beirut which Bedford described as having a certain ‘European air’ because of the banks and the ‘English, French and Austrian steamers’ frequenting its waters (seen in the photo of the Prince’s camp). However, the tour took place during the enaction of sweeping reforms across the Ottoman Empire, which involved the implementation of European-like structures such as councils and ministries. The empire had been going through a process of modernisation. Bedford doesn’t capture this, maintaining ideas of progress occurring only in the West, and the subsequent decline of the Ottoman Empire only confirmed such views. In all their beauty and intrigue, the photographs illustrate the distinct attraction of the Levant but also reflect the views and priorities of the West concerning it which are just as important.

P2210 – Mount of Olives
P1818 – Mount Lebanon