The Prince of Wales’ visit to Liverpool in September 1806

During the autumn of 1806, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and his brother William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV), undertook a tour of several of the counties of England. We are going to look at just one of their destinations today, their visit to the city of Liverpool and their stay at Knowsley, where they arrived on 16th September.

Knowsley Hall by an unknown artist; Astley Hall Museum and Art Galler
Knowsley Hall by an unknown artist; Astley Hall Museum and Art Gallery

The royal brothers were travelling with a large retinue, including Colonel Leigh and Major Benjamin Bloomfield, one of the prince’s Gentlemen in Waiting. From Prescot onwards, they were escorted by a detachment of the Liverpool Light Horse Volunteers to Knowsley Hall, the Merseyside estate of Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby and his wife, Elizabeth. (The Countess of Derby was the actress Elizabeth Farren who had been the earl’s long-term mistress during his first – somewhat disastrous – marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton.) The prince, duke and their retinue spent a week at Knowsley, enjoying the hospitality of the earl and countess.

A peep at Christies' ;—or—Tally-ho, & his Nimeney-pimmeney taking the Morning Lounge. Miss Elizabeth Farren and Lord Derby walk together inspecting pictures. She, very thin and tall, looks over his head through a glass at a picture in the second row of Zenocrates & Phryne.
A peep at Christies’;—or—Tally-ho, & his Nimeney-pimmeney taking the Morning Lounge. Satire by Gillray depicting Elizabeth Farren and the Earl of Derby.

The prince was in a low mood. He had lost two of his close friends within the space of a week with the deaths of Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow and Charles James Fox; George had been told about the death of the latter as he left his previous host, George Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford (later 1st Duke of Sutherland) at Trentham Hall in Staffordshire, and it fell to him to tell the Earl and Countess of Derby the sad news as he arrived at Knowsley. It was, therefore, a gloomy party who entered the gates of Knowsley. (The Countess of Derby, then Miss Farren of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, had enjoyed a short-lived affair with Fox who reputedly said dismissively of Elizabeth that she had ‘no bum nor breasts!’)

The party spent the next day quietly and privately: Henry Clay was the mayor, and he and the Corporation of Liverpool turned up at the mansion to present an address to the prince and confer the freedom of the borough on him, presented in a handsome gold box.

The Prince of Wales, later George IV (1762-1830) by John Hoppner, 1807; Walker Art Gallery
The Prince of Wales (1762-1830) by John Hoppner, 1807; Walker Art Gallery. Liverpool

Despite the prince’s private grief, the show had to go on. On Thursday 18th September, the royal entourage set out from Knowsley in the Earl of Derby’s coach and six, with twenty carriages following on behind. The vast crowds of people lining the route had hoped to see the prince, but to their disappointment, he was in a close carriage, virtually hidden from sight. Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester (George III’s nephew and son-in-law) greeted the party on their entrance into the city, along with various militia.

Visit of the Prince of Wales to Liverpool, 18 September, 1806 by Robert Salmon
Visit of the Prince of Wales to Liverpool, 18 September 1806 by Robert Salmon. The Athenaeum.

The prince was taken to inspect the docks and the Institution for the Relief of the Blind where he asked to become their patron and immediately donated one hundred guineas. After a cold luncheon at the mayor’s house, more visits and inspections followed throughout the afternoon. In the evening, the mayor hosted a grand dinner at Lillyman’s Hotel and the town was lit up afterwards with a magnificent illumination. The prince was delighted. On his return to Knowsley, he commented to the Earl of Derby that it had been ‘the proudest day of his life’.

Liverpool Town Hall Illuminated by Robert W Salmon, 1806; Walker Art Gallery
Liverpool Town Hall Illuminated by Robert W Salmon, 1806; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

To the delight of the citizens, on the following day, the prince paraded through Liverpool in an open carriage, drawn by six horses and with three postilions, to cheers and huzzahs. After calling on the mayor to thank him and the Corporation, the prince proceeded to the recently established Botanic Garden in the Mount Pleasant area of Liverpool (now incorporated within the Wavertree Botanic Gardens).

The visit was a great success but had come at a huge price. It was estimated that the Corporation of Liverpool had spent some 10,000l on the entertainments. Major Bloomfield wrote a letter of thanks to the mayor at the direction of the prince, from Knowsley where the Prince of Wales and Duke of Clarence remained, enjoying the hospitality of their hosts and friends, the Earl and Countess of Derby.

Knowsley, September 20th 1806


I am commanded by the Prince of Wales to express to you and the corporation of Liverpool, the strong sense his Royal Highness entertains of the very splendid and magnificent reception he has met with in your opulent and populous town. I have to lament the inadequacy of my powers to convey to you in the forcible language it requires, the feelings of his Royal Highness upon this occasion. The heartfelt satisfaction which seemed to pervade all ranks of people, could not fail to excite in his Royal Highness’s breast, the most sensible emotions of affection and regard, the impression of which, will ever remain indelible. His Royal Highness’s repeated exclamation, that “This is the proudest day of my life,” will, I trust, be sufficiently conclusive to you of the grateful sensations of his Royal Highness.

I am further commanded to request, that you will have the goodness to undertake the trouble of offering the subsequent bounties of his Royal Highness, to the following charities of Liverpool, viz.

One hundred guineas to the Infirmary

One hundred guineas to the Institution for the Blind

Fifty guineas to the Welch Charity

Fifty guineas to the poor debtors.

The Prince of Wales begs that you will personally accept the consideration of his high esteem and regard; and,

I have the honor to remain, &c.


H. Clay, Esq. &c, Liverpool.

The royal brothers, meanwhile, continued their tour into Cheshire and onwards through south Yorkshire and then on to Chatsworth in Derbyshire.


The History of Liverpool: from the earliest authenticated period down to the present times, 1810

Chester Courant, 23rd September 1806

Hampshire Chronicle, 29th September 1806

Leeds Intelligencer, 29th September 1806

Manchester Mercury, 30th September 1806

Featured image:

View of Liverpool Harbour by Robert Salmon, 1806. The Athenaeum.

11 thoughts on “The Prince of Wales’ visit to Liverpool in September 1806

  1. Vaughan Pomeroy

    I am intrigued by the painting by Robert Salmon, described as being the Visit of the Prince of Wales to Liverpool 18th September 1806 and being in the Athenaeum collection. I have found an apparently identical painting in the Portland Museum of Art titled the Opening of Prince’s Dock Liverpool in 1821. I wondered if the artist had reused a painting but as far as I can discover the Athenaeum does not hold this painting. The Prince of Wales did not attend the opening ceremony as it was the day of his Coronation but I am interested in the image because a ship that I am researching was the first to enter the dock. Can you let me have any thoughts, please? Vaughan Pomeroy


    1. Sarah Murden

      I do think the painting is 18 September 1806 and does relate to the Prince’s visit to Liverpool, but he wasn’t there for a ceremony for the opening of the dock, but visited the King and Queen docks, as you say the opening ceremony for Princes dock was in 1821 and appears to have been a much quieter affair, so would it really have been painted?

      The Lancaster Gazette, 27 September 1806 details his visit and says:
      The carriage’s then drove down Chapel Street, and along the east side George’s Dock, over the bridge to the fourth end of the parade …
      At this time another salute was fired from the Princess frigate, and the whole appearance of the river was lively and picturesque beyond description. All the ships in the river, and a multitude of boats plying to and fro, were decorated with an immense variety of colours, flats and pendants, of every description, and the day being very fine, afforded a most novel and beautiful spectacle. The Princess frigate was dressed out in this way in the tasteful and splendid style, and all yards were manned with well looking sailors, neatly dressed and ornamented with ribbands. At a distance was the Bidston Lighthouse, decorated with all the colours used as signals at that place. The carriages now proceeded along the Dry dock, through Bromfield Street, along the Salt House Dock, past the tobacco warehouse

      The Manchester Guardian, 21 July 1821 refers to the new dock as being ‘The Prince Regent’s Dock‘. The first ship to enter the new dock being The Mary, West Indiaman, according to that account. She was followed by The Majestic, steam packet, then The Martha, a fine American ship.

      Hope this helps



    2. Joanne Major


      I wrote this quite some time ago but I believe that I took that image from a page which is now offline. The home page can be accessed via the Wayback Machine but the links don’t seem to be working anymore.

      The title of the painting on that site was as I’ve given in the blog article but there certainly does seem to be confusion.

      Sorry I can’t be more of a help, but I can see Sarah as given a lot of great information from the newspapers.



      1. Vaughan Pomeroy

        Interesting. At least that gets me away from hotels and clubs! I found this blog which suggests that The Athenaeum site has closed, maybe temporarily but most likely not.
        That makes me think that there is one painting in Portland and they are convinced it is of the Opening of Prince’s Dock although I have asked again. I guess your excellent article is suffering from the transient nature of web references but the painting is on display in Portland Museum of Art which gives a secure reference.
        Interesting trail but I think it is narrowing down to one painting, just a question of working out to what it relates. I could be persuaded either way by the content, possibly more so on the earlier date that you have given. Last source is to get hold of the definitive reference book on the work of Robert Salmon which I have found and is on its was from the USA.


      2. Vaughan Pomeroy

        Supplementary comment – Adrian Jarvis in “Prince’s Dock: a magnificent monument to mural art” on page 28 writes
        ” At first sight this painting by Robert Salmon appears a little conjectural, and another Salmon painting survives which is almost identical but purports to depict a completely different occasion. The wooden drawbridge is not mentioned in documentary sources.
        However, the scene tallies closely with the newspaper accounts of the opening of the dock, including the weather conditions, and it is perfectly possible that the drawbridge was a temporary expedient made necessary by the problems encountered in obtaining the iron swing bridges. There was, at the time, no other location on the docks where any similar view to the river could be seen.”
        Does your original reference to The Athenaeum art database give any details of the ownership of the painting that you show for the earlier date, because Adrian Jarvis clearly thinks there are two similar, near identical, paintings?


        1. Sarah Murden

          Hmm, so Jarvis does think that two similar painting exist, but sadly, as you say, the Athenaeum website does still appear to be down or no longer operating (hopefully only temporarily just due to the pandemic) otherwise it would be possible to find out who owned it.

          We know that Salmon was in Liverpool in 1806, assuming the other painting on the blog has the correct attribution by the Walker Art Gallery, so it would make sense that he painted the Prince’s visit, but as to whether the one on the blog is that scene or the later one remains a mystery. I did read though – ‘Liverpool was one of the three seaports where he chose to reside, living there from 1806 – 1811 and from 1822 – 1825. He also spent a number of years in Greenock (1811 – 1822)‘ which would seem to imply that he wasn’t in Liverpool from the opening of Princes Docks in 1821.

          I think you’re going to need more than a JCB! 🙂


  2. Vaughan Pomeroy

    Thank you for the interesting reply. The first ship to enter Prince’s Dock was the May, not the Mary, built in Chester in 1811. This is the ship that I am researching as my late wife’s great great grandfather was the master, albeit later. The May was owned by Tobin and after doing the honours was waived port charges.
    Now the painting, is it actually held by the Athenaeum? I have an image of the painting from the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, USA. The catalogue shows it as “Opening of Prince’s Dock, Liverpool” by the Mayor Robert Bullin, Esq., escorted by the Lancashire Light Horse, 19th July 1821. The museum catalogue gives the source as the bequest of Howard K and Alison McEldowney Walter, 1985. It is shown in the monograoh “Prince’s Dock: a magnificent monument of mural art” by Adrian Jarvis. I have a copy of “The Athenaeum Collection” dated 2000 which I only received today but a quick skim does not show any mention of this painting by Robert Salmon.
    I do take your points about the two events, and 1806 does seem more likely, but there is conflicting evidence! Searching for details of this ship is proving a fascinating journey with lots of blind alleys, not least a whole journey down a rabbit hole when I found a reference to a shipwreck but that was also a typographical error in a regional newspaper in 1843.


    1. Sarah Murden

      You’re quite correct, The Manchester Guardian, 21 July 1821 got it wrong, they said it was The Mary. It’s an interesting account of the event, which ended with ‘Everything passed off well, but there were no demonstrations of enthusiastic feeling.’ It sounds like a very low key affair in comparison to the image in the painting.

      I’m sure when Joanne wrote the post, she would have correctly attributed it, we’re very careful about making sure that attributions are correct, but it was written a few years ago, so she won’t have kept her original material.

      Hmm, this is a mystery, I wonder if it might be worth dropping them an email to double check whether it had ever been in their possession, possibly on loan. I’ve seen other websites selling copies on the painting for sale and they too have given it the title used in the blog.

      I can’t think what else to suggest right now, but if I do think of anything I’ll let you know.


  3. Vaughan Pomeroy

    This is the link to the Portland Museum of Art collection

    It is very clear, but I will ask the Athenaeum. The observations that you make seem very plausible to me, the ship is pretty heavily decorated and it looks more like a Georgian frigate than a merchantman, not least because of the number of sailors manning the yards. The May had a crew of less than thirty.

    Get the JCB out and continue digging!!

    Thanks for the response so far.


  4. Vaughan Pomeroy

    I have just thought, is this painting held by the Athenaeum Club in Liverpool? I have asked for more details from Portland and I have asked the Club in Liverpool, they may have borrowed it or they may have a copy. I will let you know what responses I receive. At least librarians and curators are very happy to deal with questions in these strange times.

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