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The Archduke

by Angus Trumble, 1 June 2014

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, 1899 by Carl Pietzner
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, 1899 (detail) by Carl Pietzner

The immediate chain of events that led to the outbreak of the First World War began 100 years ago this June 28, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Habsburg thrones of Austria and Hungary, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a young Bosnian Serb.

For almost a year between late 1913 and October 1914 a garrulous article by Miss Edith Sellers, first published in The Fortnightly Review, was widely syndicated in the Australian press - from Coleraine to Ipswich, from Perth to Port Macquarie, and from Warrnambool to Gundagai, in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart and many other places. In it the author recalled that a little more than twenty years earlier, in May 1893, the Archduke sailed to Sydney aboard the Imperial man-o'-war Kaiserin Elisabeth. He paid official visits to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Australian Museum, the Goldsbrough Mort wool exchange, and the Sydney Meat-Preserving Company's works at Auburn. He attended High Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral. He watched a demonstration of boomerang-throwing in the Domain. He took the train to Wentworth Falls, Blackheath and Bathurst, and he was taken for a day of kangaroo shooting at Arthursleigh near Marulan in the Southern Tablelands.

Earlier, on Thursday Island, an alarmingly revivalist publican remonstrated with the Archduke for drinking a glass of beer out-of-doors on an oppressively hot Sunday evening, and requested His Imperial Highness either to take it inside, or, better, to desist. This incident was made less unfortunate by the fact that the Archduke spoke no English, so it hardly dampened his enjoyment of the visit, on the contrary. However nobody then or in 1914 could possibly have anticipated that the grim fate of as many as 60,000 Australian servicemen would in due course be sealed by the assassination of that same quiet Austrian prince.