Late in the summer of 1865, the French and British navies exchanged formal visits, with a British fleet visit to Cherbourg followed by a reciprocal French visit to Portsmouth. In the latter town, two balls were held, both documented in engravings and written coverage by, among others, the Illustrated London News. The image at left (click to enlarge) illustrates the ball held on Thursday, August 31st, 1865, in a "grand pavilion erected for the entertainments on Governor’s Green." ("Illustrations of the Naval Festival at Portsmouth." Illustrated London News (London, England), Issue 1333, Saturday, September 9, 1865). More detailed coverage a week later explained that the ball was held in
one of Edgington’s tents, 138 ft. long and 36 ft. wide, floored over, and lined with crimson and white cloth, also decorated with flags and coloured lamps. At the upper end, behind the Mayor’s chair, was a bust of the Emperor Napoleon, above a shield bearing the arms of the town of Portsmouth, with the Mayor’s chain and badge. On his right hand were the Royal arms of Great Britain, supported by the standards of France, with the Imperial and British crowns. On his left hand were the arms of France, supported by the Royal standards of England and of the Prince of Wales. At the opposite end of the room were an exquisitely-designed waterfall, fountain, and cascade, intermixed with choice ferns and evergreens — the rockwork before formed of blocks of coal, gilt...The company numbered about 2000 ladies and gentlemen, and the great majority of the latter wore naval or military uniforms, while the ladies, of course, were very richly and gaily dressed. They presented, while dancing, a splendid as well as a lively and animated sight.
-- "Illustrations of the Anglo-French Naval Festival at Portsmouth." Illustrated London News (London, England), Issue 1334, Saturday, September 16, 1865.
There were two bands and bandleaders:
In the centre was the orchestra, upon which was M. Julien's excellent band, united with the splendid band of the Royal Artillery from Woolwich, under the able direction of Mr. Smyth, these gentlemen conducting alternately...We may here observe that the engagement of the band of the Royal Artillery was resolved upon almost at the last moment, for reasons into which it is not necessary to enter, but to prevent any disappointment to the visitors, which probably would have occurred had the matter been left in the hands of the bandmaster of the Royal Marines Light Infantry. As it was the musical arrangements were everything that could be desired, and the services of M. Julien and Mr. Smyth are deserving of this recognition.
Keep that little snipe at the Royal Marines Light Infantry in mind as you read on.
The ball was open to all, and ran fairly late:
The visitors were composed of persons of various classes -- professions and trades being fairly represented, -- and although in a town like Portsmouth it is sometimes said to be a dangerous experiment to attempt a promiscuous mixture of the various classes at a public ball, there can be no question of the success on this occasion. We have only to add that the ball was kept up until between two and three o'clock in the morning...
The ladies incorporated the French tricolor in their dress:
...the prevailing colours were red, white, and blue, a compliment which was thoroughly appreciated by the French officers. There was, however, one special peculiarity in the way of trimming, which is, perhaps, entitled to notice. The dress we refer to was of white material, and the trimming was of brown silk ribbon fringed with lace, and so arranged as to form the motto "L'Union fait la Force.
More details of the wearing of the tricolor were given in a gushing description from a correspondent of the Paris International, as quoted in The Nautical Magazine, pp. 534-535:
...You will be able to imagine its appearance if you call to mind every possible uniform, red, blue, green, grey, &c., covered with an immense number of orders and decorations. Place opposite to this male part of the assembly an equal number of fresh English ladies, with skin so white that it appears transparent, with such beautiful teeth that they need only smile to appear adorable, you will have a small idea of the enchanting picture which was presented to my view until half-past two in the morning. There is only one little detail that I cannot pass over in silence, it is that each of these charming ladies at the ball wore either a cockade or waist-ribbon of the tri-colour. Nor did they stand alone in paying us this compliment; the gentlemen adopted the fashion of replacing the ordinary hat-ribbon by a tri-colour band. Many also wore a piece at the button-hole...
While it's nice to know how to decorate one's person for a French-themed ball (really, it is!), more helpfully, from a dance history perspective, The Nautical Magazine also published the actual dance program, complete with the names of the pieces played and often the composer as well:
Quadrille, "Semiramis," Jullien
Valse, "Mabel," Godfrey
Lanciers, "Les Nouveaux," d'Egville
Galop, "Brighton Pavilion"
Valse, "Rosita," Jullien
Lanciers, "Melée," Laurent
Quadrille, "Muette de Portici," Jullien
Valse, "Soldaten Lieder," Gung'l
Polka Mazourke [sic], "Les Violettes," Gung'l
Lanciers, "Les Français," Jullien
Galop, "Et Bondebryllup," Calkin
Quadrille, "Turlurette," Jullien
Valse, "Il Bacio," Arditi
Polka Mazourke [sic], "Les Camélias," Gung'l
Grand Quadrille, "Le Prince Alfred," Godfrey
Galop, "Vive l'Empereur," Jullien
By the numbers, that is four quadrilles, a "grand quadrille", three Lancers (quadrilles), four waltzes, three galops, and two polka mazurkas, which is a predictable mix of dances for the era. It seems a bit short for a ball that went until the small hours of the morning, but the ball was preceded not only by a dinner but also by fireworks, which were described in minute detail, and a concert, which was "brought to a premature conclusion with the first piece" and "gave way to the dance". The fireworks began at half past eight, so the dancing seems unlikely to have begun much before nine-thirty or ten.
With the composer citations, it would probably be possible to locate most or all the music used at this ball in order to do an actual reenactment. Luigi Arditi's "Il Bacio" may be found here. Josef Gung'l's "Soldaten Lieder" ("Soldiers' Songs") are here. Jullien is presumably the French conductor and composer Louis-Antoine Jullien, to whom "Rosita" is attributed. Having died in 1860, he was not, however, the evening's conductor.
On Friday, September 1st, a second banquet and ball were held, at the Admiralty House and Naval College, respectively. The Illustrated London News was once again on the job with this illustration (click to enlarge) taken from its issue of Saturday, September 16, 1865:
The Nautical Magazine continued its coverage of the visit with a description of this ball as well. Sadly, no program was published, but there was plenty of discussion of the decorations (lavish!), the attendance (1750!), the refreshments (buffets all night, supper at 1:00, plenty of wine), and the cleverness of using little pans to prevent candle wax from dripping on the dancers. The Friday night ball ended at six in the morning.
The music was again provided by two orchestras, the band of the Royal Marine Artillery under Mr. J. Smith (which may or may not have been the same band as the previous evening's Royal Artillery from Woolwich under Mr. Smyth), and the band of the Royal Marine Light Infantry. That was presumably the same Royal Marine Light Infantry band that would have potentially caused "disappointment" to visitors had it played the night before. Whatever was going on behind the scenes regarding the Royal Marine Light Infantry Band is, alas, probably lost to history.
The ballroom was crowded, but the guests were philosophical about it:
It was, indeed, simply impossible for the whole of the guests to be in the quadrangle at one time, and it is not difficult to imagine, under these circumstances, that dancing was an exercise performed under almost insuperable difficulties. The crowding and crushing, and elbowing, were sufficient to vex the temper of more than ordinary mortals, and the good temper which seemed to prevail was, perhaps, the result of a reflection that, after all, it could not be helped.
This affair was more exclusive than Thursday's public ball:
The 1,750 visitors included not only the rank, fashion, and, let me add, beauty of the neighbourhood, but was drawn from a very large area; although the naval and military services were the most largely represented...[a list of British officers]...and indeed a host of other distinguished persons connected with the aristocracy and the two services. The corporation and magistracy of Portsmouth were also fairly represented.
But there seems to have been a little bit of rivalry between the two events, with the anonymous author of the coverage favoring the public ball:
The general appearance of the ball-room was, as we have said, imposing in the extreme, and there was no doubt, a distinguished assembly of persons of rank and fashion; but, without wishing to draw any invidious comparison, we may be permitted to remark that the civic festivities appeared to be enjoyed with greater zest, and were in no respect less pleasing and agreeable. Although there was not, we believe, much difference in the number of persons assembled in each place, there was a greater area of space on the Governor's Green, and, of course, less crowding than at the College. Everybody at the College, however, appeared to be gratified, and the event was in every respect worthy of the occasion and honourable alike to host and guest.
No, we're certainly not drawing any invidious comparisons here. We're just mentioning that the public ball was more fun and had more space to dance. But don't worry, the Naval College ball was worthy of the occasion and honourable.