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Leslie Adkin on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and visit to New Zealand 1953–54

Over a seven-month period in 1953-54, prolific diarist and photographer Leslie Adkin captured many important moments in New Zealand’s history. Queen Elizabeth II was crowned and became the first reigning monarch to visit New Zealand, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest, and 151 people lost their lives in the Tangiwai Disaster.

Below are excerpts from his diaries along with accompanying photographs, offering a personal point of view of the coronation celebrations and royal tour in 1953–54.

Leslie Adkin was a Horowhenua farmer who was a noted amateur geologist and ethnologist. Photography was also a passion and he documented every aspect of his life, from the 1910s until the 1950s, from his family and New Zealand life, to royal occasions and visits. Here are his diary entries from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and her subsequent visit to New Zealand in 1953–54.

Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation festivities in Wellington in June 1953

Entries from George Leslie Adkin personal diary; December 1951-September 1953; Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (CA000245/002/0014)

Tues June 2, 1953

‘Coronation Day of Queen Elizabeth II. Sky cloudy but not completely overcast. About 9.15am., Maud, Nancy, Derek, + I went in car to vicinity of Rly Stn + walked to grounds of Parliament House. Large crowds assembling. Watched ‘heads’ + dignitaries assemble on steps of House.

A large crowd gathering on a grassy lawn. There are a lot of people standing on the steps of a grand building

Caption

Coronation celebrations for Queen Elizabeth the Second, 02 June 1953, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.007955)

Met Tony Barrow + his wife + was introduced to latter. Took photos of crowd in front of Parl. House from three points of view. The ceremony for the coronation took the form of a religious service – prayers, Bible reading, +c, followed by speeches by the Governor-General (Sir Willoughby Norrie), by Hon. Holyoake (who announced conquest of Everest by Hillary, the NZ-er, + Tensing, a Sherpa – deafening cheers), by Nordmeyer (for Opposition + he couldn’t keep off propaganda).

A lot of people including Girl Guides stand in front of Parliament Buildings in Wellington

Caption

Celebrating coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Parliament Buildings, 02 June 1953, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.007957)

The procession then started – largely consisting of military, naval, + airforce companies, also Highlanders, girl guides, cadets, Public Schools, scouts, + a few groups of marching girls. Tanks + other military vehicles; an occasional band; + finally about 4 floats.

A crowd of people stand and watch a parade of military trucks. There is a tall monument and grand buildings in the background

Caption

Coronation celebrations for Queen Elizabeth the Second, 02 June 1953, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.007958)

Unfortunately, about midday a light shower fell + damped proceedings + participants in the procession, but during the morning gleams of warm sunshine had been very pleasant + gave chance for photos. Photo looking down Parl. House driveway with procession passing + Cenotaph in distance.

Back to Evans Bay for late lunch + Nancy + Derek then returned to Petone. In evening the pyramid of searchlight beams – 7 in all – was put on + made a good display; took a couple of photos in an attempt to record same.’

A largely black photo with a single long white beam of light and some other white dots indicating lights

Caption

Coronation celebrations for Queen Elizabeth the Second, 02 June 1953, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.007952)

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh’s New Zealand tour 1953–1954

Entries from George Leslie Adkin personal diary, September 1953-December 1954; Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (CA000245/002/0015)

Tues Dec 29, 1953

Black and white photo of a street set up for a parade with a woman standing in the middle of it

Caption

Queen’s visit, December 1953-January 1954 ..., 29 December 1953, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.008491)

‘Maud + I went into City to shop + take photos of decorations for the Queen’s visit. Photos: (1) Looking towards Parliament House from Lambton Quay; (2) Up Lambton Quay from Govt Printing Office; (3) Main façade of Rly. Stn. (4-5) Pan. From Rly. Stn. To Waterloo Hotel from across Waterloo Quay; (6) Defence Stores Building in Lower Featherston St.; (7) Kirkcaldie + Stains crown; (8) James Smith’s corner with Maori figure.

Met Mr Joiner in Hataitai + he confirmed the death of Pat Olsen, of N.Z.G.S. Paleontological Section (my daily fellow worker) in the Tangiwai railway disaster – we heard the name last night over radio, with Rotorua address given, this causing doubt of identity, but I was very concerned + now we know the worst, feel very upset.’

More photographs from Tuesday 29 December.

Sat Jan 9, 1954

‘Fine day in spite of adverse weather forecasts. Nancy + Royce went out for day in car + expect to see Royal visitors approaching Wellington at Ngahauranga Gorge. I spent morning in bed + after lunch Maud + I took train to Thorndon terminus. Walked to + up Sar St. to an outlook I had discovered directly over Aotea Quay ramps.

A sweeping photo with people lining the motorway and ships docked against the port

Caption

Queen’s visit, December 1953-January 1954 ..., 09 January 1954, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.008498)

Got there just before 2.pm + had to wait until about 5.40, but were entertained by passing traffic – cars, trams, electric services +c – and the crowd arriving below. Lunched + watched things; the day became overcast but during a gleam about 4pm took photo (1) view along Hutt Road; (2) view along Aotea Quay. When Royal procession appeared took (3) same view as (1); + (4) same view as (2) showing the 20 cars, including Royal car, passing along, but weather now dull. Maud + I had a pleasant time, being congenial soul-mates.’

More photos from January 09 1954

Mon Jan 11, 1954

‘All of us – Nancy, Royce Noble, Maud + I – left in car about 10.10am + proceeded to Town Hall to see Queen + Duke arrive for Civic Reception (for which we failed to draw cards), but crowd was too dense to see Royal couple. Took 2 photos of crowd at Town Hall. Walked round to other side of Hall + this time got a brief close-up of the Queen as she departed.’

A crowd gathering with some people standing on cars to get a good view of a cavalcade (out of shot)

Caption

Queen’s visit, December 1953-January 1954 ..., 11 January 1954, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.008503)

More photographs from Monday 11 January.

Tues Jan 12, 1954

‘Magnificent clear day. To office. Afternoon a holiday for attendance at opening of parliament by Queen. Had quick lunch, took photo (1) of Kirkcaldie + Stains decorations, met Maud at Turnbull Library, + we went to Parliament House grounds where the people were already assembling. Photo (2) of crowd on slopes; + (3-4) panorama from north-end of grounds … We took up position on grass slope above curve of drive + settled down to 2 hrs wait.

Passing cars with notables, +c, also Pipe + City bands passing by helped to entertain. At 2.25pm the Royal car came + we got our best view yet of the Queen + Duke. Then went up to front of Parliament House + listened to broadcast of Queen’s speech at this special session of Parliament.’

Thurs Jan 14, 1954

Another brilliant day. To office … At lunch hour took 4 more photos of City decorations for Royal visit: (1) Kirkcaldie + Stains completed display of living greenery; (2) D.I.C. with bunting, artificial flowers + Royal portraits; (3) up Willis St from Lambton Quay intersection; (4) Decorated rear extension of Town Hall block, now in course of erection.

Street view with 1950s cars and decorations of the Queen and Duke of Edinbugh on a building

Caption

Queen’s visit, December 1953-January 1954 ..., 14 January 1954, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.008507)

Sat Jan 16, 1954

‘Last day of Royal visit to W’gtn, + perfect weather. About 8.am Maud + I took tram to Basin Reserve (for which we had tickets) to see the Queen + Duke on their way from Govt. House to Paraparaumu to take plane for Blenheim. Our seats were in grandstand but we got a transfer to others lower + nearer road. W’gtn Pipe Band + a Scot’s lassie dancer entertained us. Women’s Red Cross, +c, provided lady ushers who were most polite + helpful to those present.

Photo (1) of route thro’ Basin from N. end with crowd assembling. (2) Royal party coming in from S. end. (3) Another view from N. end with Royal party passing. (4) Crowd (incl. Maud) leaving Basin after function.’

A lot of people in a stadium field waving as a motorcade passes by

Caption

This photograph shows spectators watching Queen Elizabeth II’s cavalcade driving through the Basin Reserve in Wellington. It was taken on the last day of the Queen’s stay in the capital, before she and the Duke of Edinburgh flew to the South Island. Queen’s visit, December 1953-January 1954 ..., 16 January 1954, by Leslie Adkin. Te Papa (A.008487)

See all photos on Collections Online for the Queen’s visit in Wellington, 1953–54

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