May 24th was once a very important day in the Bahamas. It was Empire Day! Jolly Good and Hurrah!!
The holiday initially began as a celebration of the birthday of Queen Victoria, who died on the 22nd January, 1901, after reigning, as monarch, for sixty-four years.
“Victoria Day” was the name first bandied about by London, across the colonies, to gushed the of British subjects to the suggestion.
What was initially envisioned by Parliament in London, was a collective nod to Queen Victoria, but soon changed to something broader, more encompassing, and designed to foster an allegiance to the Mother Country, England.
Victoria Day was rebranded as Empire Day, the day the colonies, including the Bahamas, celebrated one thing. They celebrated being British.
1903 – The Bahamas Initially Says No to Victoria Day, But Changes It’s Mind for Empire Day
It is very strange that in 1903, the Bahamas had initially rejected the proposal of a Victoria Day/Empire Day, but soon after was eagerly celebrating it for more than 50 years hence.
“The Earl of Meath having forwarded to the ex-Colonial Secretary a communication from the Bahamas with reference to the celebration of the late Queen’s birthday as Empire Day, and the fact that the officials in the Upper House of the local Legislative Assembly have voted against a measure to give effect to the proposal, Mr Chamberlain, under the date 25th inst., replied as follows:-
“Dear Lord Meath,—- I have received your letter respecting the celebration of Empire Day in the Bahamas. The answer given to the Bahamas in April was that the proposal to celebrate the 24th May generally throughout the British dominions under the name of the Victoria Day had been abandoned. The plan was left to the colonies to decide upon, and it was not thought right or expedient to press it upon them. It was not known at the time how many of the colonies had voluntarily adopted the suggestion. May I add that I am only too glad to find that the proposal has found so many adherents.”
(The Guardian, London, Wednesday 30 September, 1903)
In 1914, a new movie was in the theatres across America and in England.
The movie, EMPIRE DAY IN THE BAHAMAS, was a documentary on the pomp and circumstance in which the Bahamas celebrated its allegiance as a colony of Britain.
(Bismarck Daily Tribune, Thursday October 29, 1914)
There was probably one very important reason why pressure was brought to bear on the Legislative House in Nassau to accept Empire Day. The Bahamas was the second oldest parliament in the British colonial empire, therefore observing May 24th, held particular significance to Britain. It just wouldn’t look right if the second oldest Parliament in the empire, wantonly ignored the observance.
Celebrations on Empire Day became significant and more meaningful over time, especially during the war years.
Everyone dressed in their Sunday best. Cannons were fired. Allegiances were spoken out loud. Citizens throughout the islands, from all walks of life, celebrated being British. They pledged their allegiance to their king or queen, and rejoiced in being part of England’s global colonial empire.
Empire Day was meant to be symbol of British ideals; namely, freedom, justice, and tolerance for which the British Empire sought to reflect throughout the world.
(Empire Day in the Bahamas sometime in the early 1900s.)
By 1942, Empire Day was an island wide celebration.
To give some idea of how big celebrations were for Empire Day in 1942, over 4,000 school children, in Nassau, practiced days beforehand for the grand ceremonies.
Schoolchildren were made to stand for over two hours in the hot sun, and not surprisingly, the heat soon began to take its toll. Almost thirty children fainted.