Baxter Park was officially opened to the public on Wednesday 9 September 1863. On the day of the opening it was sunny with a slight, refreshing autumnal breeze. Women, men, the rich and the poor attended. By 11 in the morning, the Park was extremely crowded although the opening procession only started at half past one in the afternoon. By late afternoon, the newspapers estimated that there were at least 80,000 visitors. It was all very loud and cheerful because so many people were happy and excited and with their families.
The opening began with a procession from the town centre marching up Castle Street, through the High Street and Reform Street, along Panmure Street, the Cowgate and King Street, up Prince’s Street and Albert Street and across through the North gate into the Park where the crowds were waiting. The newspapers reported the procession took nearly an hour to get into the Park and that there were ‘cheers and hurrahs, and curiosity and great excitement’ all along the route.
The crowds were treated to music played by sixteen marching bands ofseamen, sailors and the soldiers of the Broughty Ferry and Dundee Volunteer Artillery. They saw men parading with brightly coloured flags that represented their tradesand guilds. Others in the parade wore different coloured rosettes to show which Works employed them. Sir David Baxter, who had built and donated the Park to the people of Dundee, owned Dens Works and his workmen wore white rosettes.The Baxter March was the most significant piece of music played. It was written especially for the opening and dedicated to Lady Baxter, Sir David’s wife.
Visitors from all over the country had come especially for the Park’s opening, as well as high-class people such as the Lord Lieutenant of Forfar, the Earl of Camperdown, the Earl of Dalhousie, the Countess Russell and the Misses Baxter, Eleanor and Mary-Anne, who had helped pay for the Park.
Sir David Baxter was waiting for them and when they arrived in their carriages, he opened the gate, and the Park was declared officially open. They all gathered on a platform with Sir David and the town’s Provost, magistrates and councillors where they made speeches.
Sir David thanked everyone for coming, and everybody cheered very loudly when he said he ‘felt very much pleasure in its being my duty as well as my privilege to hand over this park with all its buildings to trustees for the benefit of the public of Dundee’. He recognised that most people had nowhere to go but ‘the heated street and contaminated air’ of the crowded town, and wanted to provide everybody with ‘a large space of open ground of easy access, affording the means of healthy recreation and exercise’. He then handed over the keys and the title deeds to the Earl of Dalhousie, who was the leader of the Trustees who were to look after the Park. There was more loud cheering from the crowds and more speeches from the officials, followed by a seven-gun salute and balloons released up into the air. In the evening, lights were lit around the Park but the crowds didn’t go home until they’d seen the firework display that closed the ceremonies.
Sir David Baxter was extremely thrilled with the turn-out at the opening. He often thought how fortunate he was and was glad about his decision to purchase the land and his investment in the Park.
The ‘Deaf and Dumb Garibaldian Volunteers’ had been disappointed that they were not going to be part of the great procession, but on the Saturday they held their own fete in in the Park to celebrate its opening, where they ‘proposed three cheers for Sir David Baxter and the Misses Baxter for presenting the people of Dundee with this magnificent Park’.
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