A GREAT deal of entertaining was done at Sandringham by the Prince and Princess of Wales, and there was a delightful spirit in their hospitality that guests tried vainly to analyze. King Edward was at his best as a host. As he and his wife were very fond of dancing, the dances in the great ballroom were always a success. Sometimes the two elder children were allowed to have a peep at the festivities, and Prince George once remarked that he liked “to see Mother being a great lady.” It was King Edward’s habit to accompany the men guests to their rooms, and he would stir the fire and see that they had all they wanted, with the courtesy of the perfect host.
The difference between the two young Princes about this time became much more noticeable. Albert, Duke of Clarence, the heir, had always been delicate. He was a quiet, reserved boy, while his young brother George was always brimming over with merriment. In fact, so full of pranks was he that he earned the name of “Right Royal Pickle.” Bishop Wilberforce, writing of the two boys when young, noted in the elder “a certain look of melancholy,” while the younger was “full of fun and spirits and life.”
Prince George showed at an early age a spirit of earnestness and a capacity for great enthusiasm, characteristics which developed strongly during his later life. He put his back into everything which he did, and it was striking to see how the childish lips could set with determination and the merry blue eyes become keen and thoughtful.
If you had asked Prince George at that time which home he loved best, he would have replied promptly: “Sandringham, best of all; then Marlborough House; and last, Charlottenburg, which is nice, but rather strange after England.” Charlottenburg was the home of his grandparents, the King and Queen of Denmark. Why the little boy loved Sandringham best was because it was just a charming country home, with family portraits and pictures hanging on all the walls, and gardens in which to frolic. After the Prince of Wales’s return from India in 1875 he had his study entirely furnished with the furniture used in his rooms on the Serapis, the ship on which he had made the voyage. The little Prince often crept into this room to touch the furniture which had come off “a real live boat.”
Christmas at Sandringham
CHRISTMAS was a wonderful time at Sandringham, when a Christmas tree, thirty feet high, used to stand at one end of the ballroom, glittering with lights, and loaded with presents. At Christmas the children were not allowed to think wholly of themselves: it was a busy time for them, for beef and gifts were taken to every laborer on the estate; school children were entertained to tea; and there was always a ball for the servants, for which the Princes were allowed to stay up. King George even now recalls the skating parties on the lake which winds through Sandringham grounds. All the children skated to their hearts’ content, and their parents’ friends and neighbors often came to join in the sport, while the villagers looked on. Blazing pine torches and colored lanterns gave the lake a fairylike appearance, and hot coffee was served out to the skaters. Prince George has always loved London. Its busy streets and tall buildings had a peculiar fascination for him, even when quite a tiny child. During his early days, Marlborough House was perhaps even more “home” than Sandringham. When it had become necessary to select a town house for the Prince of Wales on his marriage, Marlborough House had been chosen by Queen Victoria because of its nearness to Buckingham Palace. The little Princes, especially George, liked going for drives from Marlborough House, because there were always people near the gates watching them depart, and they could practise saluting!
Although the Princess of Wales’s life was filled to overflowing with duties, she managed to have her children constantly with her, and there were many homely touches all over the great house. For instance, in her boudoir at Marlborough House was a sofa especially designed for her by her husband. It became a very favorite resting-place of “Georgie,” who often crept in unobserved and when discovered by his mother would lift cherubic eyes to her face with the remark: “It’s got a nicer feel than the nursery one.” In this same room was a screen made of family photographs, at which Prince George never tired of looking.
King Edward was a sportsman, and he intended that his sons should also be efficient in the hunting field. Before he was ten, Prince George could ride, fish, skate, and enjoy almost any form of sport. It was a good augury for the future that he became known thus early as “a good sport,” for the next few years of his life were to be spent in an atmosphere where a “muff” would not be tolerated. The British Navy is no respecter of persons unless they show themselves worthy of respect; and a good sportsman finds a welcome on any ship.
Prince George acted as a constant and welcome stimulus, in work and play hours, to the more lymphatic temperament of Prince Eddy. When they were following the hounds together as boys, it was Prince George whose pony had to take the fence or hedge the first, and give Prince Eddy the lead. Were they bathing together in the sea, it was Prince George who was the first to leap off the ship or yacht’s side into the water, and not till he was swimming around and encouraging his brother to follow him did the elder take the inevitable plunge. In many ways the elder constantly leant upon the younger brother; and the younger reciprocated the confidence with warm-hearted devotion.
The Royal Grandmother
THE Princess of Wales always said that she loved taking “Georgie” about. “He is such a good child; always so cheerful and merry, and with such big enquiring eyes. I think he is very much like Edward,” she remarked to a friend. Perhaps an even deeper reason underlay the parents’ desire to take their family with them wherever they went; possibly they were afraid to leave them at home. Queen Victoria disapproved strongly of the life that was lived in the nurseries of Marlborough House, and would have done her best, if she had had command, to have altered substantially many things in the day’s routine.
“Grandmother” was certainly an awe-inspiring person to little Prince George, but he only saw her occasionally.
On the day of his birth, Queen Victoria had been one of the first callers. As she stepped majestically from her carriage, she suggested the autocrat more than the grandmother. This was her second grandchild, and she knew exactly how she wished him and his elder brother brought up. Eighteen months was certainly not too early an age to start with the little Duke of Clarence, and three-days-old Prince George, lying in his cradle, already had the plan of his education and mode of living mapped out by his Royal grandmother. On June 17, Queen Victoria wrote to the King of the Belgians and mentioned little Prince George: “I have seen our new grandson,” she wrote. “He is very small and not very pretty, but bigger than Albert Victor (Duke of Clarence), who is a dear little fellow.”
Prince George never forgot a certain little incident because it was so different from his idea of Grandmother—she had given him a biscuit with sugar on top! It wasn’t a very nice biscuit, but little George ate it manfully, because his father had already taught him that he must never make people feel uncomfortable or unhappy.
There was one thing upon which the Prince and Princess of Wales were entirely agreed upon. They would not be separated from their children, and they were determined that their youthful lives should be made as bright and happy as the young parents knew how. The Prince had not forgotten his own childhood, when, as a little boy, strict disciplinary rules had been drawn up for him by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and Baron Stockmar, his tutor. So he ruled out such “solitary confinement” as a part of his children’s upbringing.
In Prince George’s early life simplicity was always the keynote. The brothers were not allowed to be called “Royal Highness,” but “Prince Eddy” and “Prince George.” They were taught from a very early age that they were no better than, and probably not as good as, other people. “It is very hard work being a Prince,” his father once said to Prince George, gravely. “You must think all the time that other people matter more than yourself.”
The little Prince thought the matter over very carefully for several days, and then he went to his mother: “I cried ’cos I couldn’t have another cake for tea tonight,” he said sadly; “don’t tell daddy—princes oughtn’t to cry.”
The education of all the children was begun by their mother. “Georgie only likes the pretty letters,” she once said to a friend. “He will make any number of S’s and Y’s, but I’s and H’s he will not make.” French and German governesses familiarized them with foreign languages. When Prince George was four and his elder brother nearly six, the lads were put under the tutorship of Mr. John Neale Dalton, then a curate of Sandringham, and now Canon Dalton.
The Birth of a Passion
ABOUT this time Prince George developed a passion for boats, and he often escaped his tutor to rush down to a tiny pond in the garden to “do some sailing,” as he put it. He was a chubby little figure in his sailor suit with a large collar, and his shock of fair hair. It must be admitted that his father viewed these little escapades leniently. He himself loved the sea with all his heart and soul, and it was well-known that he wished his second son to enter the Navy. Sometimes he would go down to the pond to bring back his erring son, and would then forget all about the truancy of the wide-eyed little boy, who hung on his words with breathless interest, as, with his memory stirred by the sight of the tiny boat making its way across the pond, the Prince told stories of the sea, of the ships he had known, and the men who had been his comrades in his youthful days.
When Prince George was six years old, he spent a holiday at the palace of Rumpenheim, where his mother had enjoyed happy months in her early childhood. This lovely old house near Frankfurt had been left to the Duchess of Cambridge, the aunt of Queen Victoria, by Landgrave Frederick, with the request that she and her descendants should meet there every second year. This tradition was kept up for many years. Accordingly, there were often delightful reunions at Rumpenheim, and it was here that Princess Alexandra formed a friendship with Princess Mary of Cambridge (the late Duchess of Teck) which lasted all her life.
Prince George loved Rumpenheim. He considered the gardens to be far superior to those of Sandringham for the purpose of hide-and-seek. It was here that he met for the first time little Princess Mary, of Teck, who was in the future to become his wife. The Duchess of Teck called her baby “May-blossom,” and the little fairylike girl lived up to the pretty name. About the time when she first met Prince George, her mother wrote of her:
“She really is as sweet and engaging a child as you could wish to see. Full of life and fun, with the deepest blue eyes imaginable, quantities of fair hair, and a tiny rosebud of a mouth.”
The Duke and Duchess of Teck lived in a suite of rooms at Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria had passed her early years, and after the Rumpenheim visit, their little daughter and the Prince of Wales’s children spent much time together in each other’s nurseries when the latter were at Marlborough House. The Duchess of Teck wrote in her diary: “Wales’s children came in this afternoon, and I went up to the nursery to keep them in order.”
It was when he was quite young that Prince George began to think of the sea as his profession. In this he was greatly influenced by Charles Kingsley. The old man, with his keen love of boys, became a very real friend to Prince Eddy and Prince George, and when he was dying at Eversley Rectory he received a touching little note of sympathy from them both. Whether or not he should be allowed to go into the Navy was a topic of which Prince George never tired. Captain Marryat became his favorite author, and the sea, ships, and battles were his chief interest. So much so, in fact, that his little sister once remarked: “Georgie can never talk about anything except his old boats.”
By the time he was six years old the Prince had developed into a sturdy, normal, healthy boy. He had also the foundations of a character which was to become as strong and virile as his body. It must have been a proud moment for the Prince of Wales when he first showed his merry, healthy little sons to the public. Often when looking at them he must have thought of his own very different childhood, and have sent up a prayer of thankfulness that his sons, at any, rate, did not know “the abysmal depths of misery,” that had been his portion at six years of age.
A Stricken Father
IN 1871, while the two young Princes were pursuing their studies with Mr. Dalton, their father was suddenly taken seriously ill. In November the Prince of Wales developed typhoid fever at Sandringham shortly after visiting Lord Londesborough at Scarborough. The Princess had been very ill with rheumatism and was still far from strong when her husband was stricken down. One thought was uppermost in her mind: the children must be sent away at once.
Packing up and going to stay with their grandmother, Queen Victoria, was an exciting event. Their nurse remarked afterwards that Prince George was most helpful on this occasion, and did his best to help her get them all off safely. It was he, and not Prince Eddy, who took command of the situation, for he was heard remarking to his brother that “we elder ones must do what we can.”
Sir William Gull, Sir William Jenner, Dr. Clayton and Dr. Howe were summoned to the patient’s bedside. The room where he lay between life and death at Sandringham was next door to his wife’s boudoir and had a large bay window overlooking the gardens. In the ceiling was a pulley-hook by which the Prince used to raise himself in bed during his illness. The Princess nursed her husband devotedly all through his illness, and it was specially fortunate that his sister, Princess Alice of Hesse, was visiting Sandringham at the time and could share the anxieties. During the first few days of the illness Queen Victoria hurried from Windsor to see her son, and it was when she returned from Sandringham that she took her grandchildren with her. The children were on their best behavior, partly because they were somewhat frightened of their grandmother, but chiefly because their mother, before they started, had begged them “to be good for my sake.”
On December 1 the Prince of Wales recovered consciousness, and on being told the date said, “This is my wife’s birthday.” Immediately after this, he asked after his children and being told that they were with the Queen remarked: “Has the Queen come from Scotland? Does she know I am ill?” This, however, was but a brief respite in his grave illness and by December 6 his life was despaired of. Queen Victoria came anxiously from Windsor, summoning other members of the Royal Family. The Princess seldom left her husband’s side, and in her telegrams to her special friend, the Duchess of Teck, she admitted that she had almost lost hope of the invalid’s recovery.
All through the long winter night, when the crisis had been reached, crowds waited outside the newspaper offices for the latest tidings. Business during the day was almost suspended. Protestant and Roman Catholic, Greek, Jew, and Mohammedan joined in universal prayers for the Prince’s recovery. In a single day no fewer than ten bulletins were issued by The Times. Londoners who passed through a time of anxiety regarding the illness of King George in December, 1928, will have no difficulty in visualizing the scenes that took place in 1871 when his father lay at the point of death.
It is interesting to examine the coincidence of dates in the illnesses of father and son. The Prince of Wales—later King Edward—developed typhoid on November 22, 1871. The crisis occurred in December and he was removed to Osborne to recuperate on February 10, 1872. The dates in King George’s illness are practically identical. He was taken ill on November 21, 1928; the symptoms became extremely grave about the middle of December; and his removal to Bognor was on February 9, 1929.
On December 16, 1871, to the great joy of the nation, the tide turned. On the following day, the Princess of Wales wrote to the Rector of Sandringham: “My husband being, thank God, somewhat better, I am coming to church, but I must leave, I fear, before the service is concluded, that I may watch by his bedside.”
Meanwhile at Windsor the children had not been told how serious was their father’s illness. “Georgie” already was fretting to go home and although it appears that they enjoyed themselves at Windsor, all the children were looking forward to seeing mother and father again. Princess Louise seemed to think that her father’s illness would have entirely changed him. It was not until Prince George told her that “He won’t be any different, except, I expect, he’ll be all shaky like that old horse we saw yesterday,” that she was comforted.
The Prince spent most of his convalescence at Osborne and Windsor. From the latter place he came to Marlborough House and on February 27, still frail and weak, he attended with his wife and family the great Thanksgiving Service in St. Paul’s Cathedral. Fourteen thousand people were inside the Cathedral, and many thousands lined the route. A spectator wrote to one of the newspapers afterward thus:
“Prince Albert is very tall for his age, and looks delicate. Little Prince George seemed to enjoy the crowds, thoroughly, and sat very upright in the carriage, looking from side to side all the way along the route.”
This was Prince George’s first public appearance, but from this occasion onward both the young Princes accompanied their parents to other public functions. In celebration of the Thanksgiving Service, Fleet Street subscribed a Bible for Prince Eddy as a memento of the occasion. It was designed by Messrs. Eyre and Spottiswoode, and contained seventy-two illustrations of places in the Holy Land which had been visited by his father. The Bible had a cover of ivory slabs with his monogram in enamel. Prince George thought he was going to be given a Bible and cried with disappointment. Prince Eddy, naughty for once in his life, took pleasure in displaying his gift to his brother, with the teasing remark: “Look at my lovely Bible!”
The Prince of Wales in India
IN 1875, the Prince of Wales started his Indian tour. The Princess was distracted between her desire to accompany her husband and the dread of a long separation from her children. It was decided, however, that her health was not good enough to undertake the exertions of the long journey. When the children were told that she was not going after all, there was great excitement in the nursery. “Georgie’s” imagination, however, had been stirred by the thought of India, and he wept bitterly because he was not allowed to accompany his father. During the Prince’s absence, the Princess and her children paid a long visit to Copenhagen, where Prince George found it “very cold,” as he left on record.
In the following May, preparations began for welcoming the Prince home again. The Princess and her children sailed in the Enchantress, escorted by the Duke of Edinburgh, to meet the Prince’s ship, the Serapis, and went on board off Yarmouth, Isle of Wight. Sad to relate, Prince George seems to have been so entirely thrilled by the ships and their crews that on this occasion his father took second place. When the Prince told his children of the menagerie of pets that he had brought home for them, George was the first to demand to be shown them: “At once, please, father.” Later, several of the animals brought home by the Prince were presented to the Zoological Gardens. Immediately on reaching London, the Prince of Wales visited Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace, and in the evening their Royal Highnesses, accompanied by their two sons, visited Covent Garden Opera. This was the first appearance of Prince George in the famous Opera House, and there were many kind but somewhat embarrassing remarks made in his hearing. “How nice-looking he is,” one lady, seated near the Royal box, exclaimed repeatedly. “I wish she wouldn’t say that, mother,” murmured the ten-year-old Prince, his face blushing with annoyance.
Prince Eddy and Prince George now attended with their parents various ceremonies. Both of them went up to Glasgow with the Prince and Princess when they laid the stone of the new General Post Office in St. George’s Square. They also went with them to Norwich for the inauguration of the extension to the hospital. Prince George was beginning to be very proud of his mother, and always asked her in advance what gown she would be wearing for the occasion, generally commenting on the color and design.
AFTER the Prince’s return from India he began definitely to take up the question of the education of his two sons. Remembering his own childhood, he wished his sons’ education to be the opposite of his own, in that his had been wide from the point of view of learning, but narrow as to the study of men and things. He wished his sons to be manly men, capable of reading men as easily as books. Many were the anxious discussions as to whether the Princes should or should not be sent to a public school. After many weeks of consideration he decided to place both the boys on a training ship, one of his chief reasons being that there they would be taught “to do something with their hands.”
The Princess, with her Viking ancestry and her love of the sea, agreed with her husband, and it was settled that the two boys should receive two years training on the Britannia. In 1877, therefore, Prince George went with his mother to join the Britannia. Both Princes had passed their examination at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, several months previously; but when it was time to join, Prince Eddy developed typhoid fever and could not go until the autumn.
The Britannia was under the command of Captain Fairfax, a sound officer of the old school. The Prince was most anxious that his sons should be treated in every way like the other lads. He knew that they would pass through the stage of being “young cubs,” and realized wisely that they could easily learn refinement, but that there was no hope for a boy who had once been branded “a muff.” Accordingly the boys’ clothes were ordinary training-ship kit; and they drilled, studied and messed with the other cadets without the smallest distinction of rank. Strict discipline was maintained on board, and the two princes had to “knuckle under to it” like the others.
As has been said, Prince George arrived with his mother alone to inspect “his ship.” He was rather glad than otherwise, for, as he said, it would give him a certain superiority over his elder brother. This was certainly the case, for when Prince Eddy joined the ship, “Georgie” was a swaggering cadet with a great variety of nautical language, and a capacity for pranks which eclipsed the oldest middy.
The Princess, with Prince George hanging on her arm, examined her son’s quarters, and would have liked to have added certain little comforts but refrained. The Princes’ quarters in the Britannia were extremely small. Their hammocks were slung in a space twelve feet square, and by them stood their seamen’s chests. On the walls hung portraits of their parents and sisters, views of Sandringham, and a large photograph of Queen Victoria.
“I remember paying a visit to H.M.S. Britannia at Dartmouth in the seventies,” wrote a friend of the Royal Family, “where through the kindnesses of the Rev. J. N. Dalton I was introduced to two cadets. I can see them now in the cadet’s uniform of which they were so proud, though not yet promoted to the dignity of a dirk; the one tall and slim, with a quiet thoughtful face, the other shorter, with a round face and laughing eyes, full of mischief, a regular pickle. These cadets were Prince Edward and Prince George of Wales. They took me to their cabins and showed me their treasures, the dearest of which were the home likenesses. ‘Here’s father and mother, and here’s grandmamma.’ While we were talking, a lieutenant on duty looked in and ordered them to don oilskins and to go out in the brig. Prince George was all for a cruise, wet and windy as it was; Prince Eddy was not quite so keen, and would rather have done duty aboard. We shook hands 'and in two minutes the little Princes were scuttling aboard H.M.S. Dapper.”
Prince Eddy, being delicate, was allowed to take it easier than his brother on the Britannia, but Prince George took the life seriously and was thoroughly in his element, both at work and play. He once told one of his seamanship instructors not to bother about his brother, but devote his full attention to him. He loved carpentering and studying the details of a ship’s rigging, and the engineering. Both boys had to darn their own socks and George hated this job; his socks, sad to relate, were often in a deplorable condition. Life on the Britannia was certainly hard. The bugle called them at 6.30 a.m. for a cold-water tub. Roll-call was at 7.10, followed by drill; prayers at 8.15, then breakfast; after this came general inspection and studies. Both boys were often so tired by the end of the day that they were glad to turn into their hammocks at 8.30.
Sir Charles Cust, who later became Equerry to King George, entered the Britannia at the same time as the young Prince, and the two boys started a friendship which was to last during long years. They both studied French together under M. Hua.
Prince George’s love of mischief was almost inexhaustible in those days. He was generally the leader in the raids which took place on the ship’s larder in search of sweet foods. Occasionally, as was the practice of young naval cadets, he amused himself by running his boat into timid rowers on the River Dart. He was very fond of picnics, and he and his brother with some of their intimate friends had great times ashore on halfholidays. George was always deputed to make tea on these occasions, and he would gather sticks and boil the kettle in a most expert way, afterward settling down with the others to eat the “grub,” obtained from a confectioner’s shop in Dartmouth.
In the autumn of 1878, the Prince and Princess of Wales visited the Britannia at Dartmouth to distribute medals and prizes to the cadets. The Princess said that it was one of her happiest and proudest moments when she saw the two bronzed young sailors in a boat preparing to take herself and the Prince alongside the Britannia, one steering and the other pulling in the crew. She said that she had no idea they were her sons until they drew in at the jetty, and jumped ashore, saluting and kissing her successively. The Prince of Wales was also delighted with his sons, for he saw that the education which he had planned for them was working well.
The Princess was piloted over the ship by her two excited sons. She learned with some astonishment that Prince Edward was known as “Sprat,” and Prince George as “Herring.” Prince George remarked: “It’s rather funny Eddy being called ‘Sprat,’ isn’t it, mother? He’s so lanky.” At the end of two years, both boys passed first-class in seamanship, entitling them to three months sea-time, while for general good conduct they obtained another three months.
In the Bacchante
SO GREAT a success had the naval training been that the Prince of Wales decided to send his sons as cadets on a long cruise in H.M.S. Bacchante. In the brief interval before their departure the Princess of Wales had her sons with her a great deal, and the two Princes realized more than ever the charm and lovableness of their mother. She always wanted to “mother” her firstborn because he was not strong, but she felt that sturdy young Prince George was a protector, and leant upon him at this time a good deal more than is known.
The interval was spent partly by Prince George on board the Royal Yacht Osborne during Regatta Week at Cowes, after which both boys accompanied their mother to Copenhagen to say good-by to their grandparents, the King and Queen of Denmark.
On August 6 they said good-by to their mother at Spithead and set off on their first voyage on the Bacchante. Both looked so merry as they stood and waved goodby to their mother that she was a little upset. Prince Eddy did become a little homesick on the voyage, but Prince George was interested and delighted with his life and, as he remarked afterwards. “I do miss mother and all of them very much, but everything is so exciting.”
This voyage caused great disquiet in the Cabinet. Lord Beaconsfield had been strongly against the plan ever since its project was mooted in the previous May. Queen Victoria approved, rather surprisingly, of the plan, and numerous letters passed between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. Even as early as May 19, Lord Beaconsfield wrote: “I must repeat that the Cabinet was strongly of the opinion that the departure of the two young Princes in the same ship will greatly disquiet the public mind, and that, if anything happened to them, your Majesty’s Government would justly be called to severe account. I cannot adequately describe the feelings of your Majesty’s Ministers on this subject.”
To this letter Queen Victoria sent a cypher telegram on the same day, which ran: “I entirely approve the plan of my grandsons going, which ought never to have been brought before the Cabinet. The Prince of Wales only mentioned it to Mr. Smith, and was, with right, extremely annoyed at his doing so. Such a thing was never done when the Prince of Wales and Prince Alfred went on long journeys and voyages.” This controversy with the Cabinet was carried on almost till the day of the Princes’ departure. It sounds absurd to us in the present day, but was a very real question to Ministers who were over-anxious about the young sailors’ safety.
If the Princes knew about this, they did not let it trouble them.
The West Indies
DURING their first trip they went to the Mediterranean, West Indies and Bermuda. They were taught seamanship by Lieutenant the Hon. Curzon Howe; gunnery by Gunnery Lieutenant the Hon. C. H. Adair; their mathematics were in the hands of the Naval Instructor, Mr. John W. Lawless; and they read French with Mr. G. Sceales. Lord Charles Scott, captain of the ship, supervised and managed everything that concerned them on board. No hard-and-fast rules had been laid down by their father regarding their voyage, except that the Princes were asked to keep a daily diary of everything they saw. This was carried out faithfully, and at the end of their second cruise in the Bacchante, by which time the boys had been on her for three years, they had completed a most interesting account of their voyages. The diaries, edited by Canon Dalton, their tutor, were published four years later and dedicated to Queen Victoria, “by Her Majesty’s affectionate and dutiful grandsons, Albert Victor C. Edward, George Frederick E. Albert.”
Some of the matter in the book is amusing. For instance, on February 10, when the Bacchante was stationed off the West Indies, the Princes wrote in their diary:
“A cricket match was played today between the Bacchante and the St. Vincent Club, in which, as usual, we were thoroughly beaten.”
And again on August 4:
“In the afternoon, walked through the town of Vigo, where there is much new building going on; the houses are white in front, and have some pretty iron verandahs and curious screens; but the smells are more powerful than pleasing.”
This first journey to the West Indian Islands gave the boys a delightful experience of Bermuda, where they were entertained by the Governor and Lady Laffan. While they were at Bermuda, it was arranged that the Princes should visit some of the small islands round about. A large party was made up, composed of the Princes and other of the Bacchante’s midshipmen. At the first island the authorities wished to present Prince Eddy with a bouquet of Bermuda lilies, and anxiously enquired the Prince’s identity among the group of naval cadets. Prince George, always ready for a bit of fun, gave the most misleading answers, with the result that the embarrassing bouquet was presented to nearly every midshipman before it reached his brother at last.
After this ceremony they boarded the launch again, and the high spirits of the young Princes greatly astonished the dignitaries of the next island they visited. They sat together in the bows of the launch and during the short voyage between the islands amused themselves by ornamenting each other’s noses with the pollen from the brilliant orange stamens of the Bermuda lilies. The astonishment of the islanders may be imagined when they saw their future King’s sons landing on their shores with bright yellow noses!
Not that life in the Bacchante was all fun. The time spent at sea was for the Princes the equivalent of the ordinary schoolboy’s life; and holiday time only existed when they went ashore. Everyone on board, whether officer, man or boy, had his special and individual duties to perform; and the habit of instant obedience to seniors, which is brought out fully in naval service, did much to stabilize the character of the two Princes. Prince George especially was as keen as mustard about it all. Nothing could be more exciting for a boy of fourteen than to visit the West Indies fifty-two years ago. The islands symbolized romance and adventure. Prince George read eagerly about the great men who had made these islands—of Columbus, Raleigh, Drake, Nelson and Rodney. He read, too, the stories of the less reputable, but more alluring, figures of the buccaneers—of Henry Morgan and Captain Kidd.
The wonderful variety of the voyage was incessantly interesting to Prince George. Now it was a heavy sea running clear, green and unbroken; then it was sails, quickly spread to steady the ship. Or it was the sudden storms that rage for a few hours in the Caribbean Sea and then subside. Taking his turn on watch, Prince George, with his sensitive imagination, appreciated the beauties of life at sea that previously he had only realized dimly. Prince George was particularly interested when they passed Fort Augusta. Here a guard of negro soldiers kept watch, and the old guardship Urgent thundered out a salute with her guns. Prince George was not very interested in Kingston Harbor, for he was on the lookout for Port Royal, which could just be seen—a wicked town from which many a pirate ship had set sail in days gone by. Although Prince George did not feel any qualms of homesickness on his first voyage, occasionally in the diary there are little sentences which show that thoughts of home may have given him an uncomfortable twinge. For instance, on December 15 he writes: “Finished reading Westward Ho! for the second time.” This book had been given to him by his mother before he left.
On May 2, 1880, the Bacchante arrived at Cowes, after having accomplished a most successful voyage. A telegram was sent informing the Prince and Princess of Wales of the safe arrival of their sons, and one was received back, saying that they would be with the Princes on the next day.
It was an exciting moment when H.M.S. Fire Queen came alongside, and the boys had the joy of seeing their mother, father and three sisters again. The family reunion was not to be for long, for on July 19 the Princes left for their second and more important cruise in the Bacchante.
The next installment of Mr. Dent’s narrative will deal with His Majesty’s second cruise in the “Bacchante” and his career as an executive officer in the navy.