By Reg Reynolds
Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, was the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. On his own insistence he joined the Royal Navy aged 12 and so had visited Gibraltar many times before his arrival, aged 39, on Christmas Day, 1883. Earlier that month he had been made Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet with his flag in the battleship HMS Minotaur. Because of the Duke’s presence and in order to celebrate the holidays there were more warships than usual in Gibraltar Harbour. Along with Minotaur there were Royal Navy ships Agincourt, Northumberland, Sultan, Achilles, Neptune, Grappler and Forward. The Trenton represented the United States and there were also Donau of Austria, Dagmar from Denmark and Prinz Albert and Stein of Germany.
Between Christmas and the new year, the Duke reviewed the troops of the Garrison, took a day trip to Tangier and watched a rugby match in which the Army beat the Navy three tries to nil. The highlight of the holidays was a New Year’s Eve ball with 500 guests held at the Convent hosted by Governor and Lady Adye. Captain and Mrs. Fremantle entertained the Duke at a dinner party on New Year’s Day and Sir H. Burford-Hancock did the same the next evening. Unfortunately, with so many sailors in town on leave and drinking to excess, trouble was inevitable. On January 2nd there was a riot, and five Royal Navy Blue Jackets were arrested for beating a civilian nearly to death.
There were more warships than usual in Gibraltar Harbour.
The Times of London reported: “All the public houses have been closed, and it seems likely the Blue Jackets will have anything but a pleasant time. The affair must be put down to the men in the eastern division, as the Plymouth ships don’t commence to give their leave until tomorrow, and there is every probability of it being stopped.”
Despite the disruption the Duke continued to be entertained, presumably peaceably. On January 10th he attended the Garrison Dramatic Company’s performance of the comedy Still Waters Run Deep, followed by the farce A Thumping Legacy. On January 11th, he concluded his visit by playing the violin (Gonnad’s Ave Maria) at a concert fund-raiser for the widow and children of a late bandmaster of the 53rd Regiment. Alfred had studied violin at Holyrood, Edinburgh. There is no review of his performance in Gibraltar but Sir Henry Ponsonby, Queen Victoria’s private secretary, wrote that the Duke, “Fiddled out of tune and noise abominable”. Nonetheless, Alfred loved music and played a prominent role in establishing the Royal College of Music in 1882.
Alfred Ernest Albert was born on August 6th, 1844. As mentioned earlier Alfred, at his own behest, joined the Royal Navy aged 12 and after passing examinations was appointed Midshipman at the age of 14. In July 1860, while aboard HMS Euryalus, he paid an official visit to the Cape Colony and is reported to have made a very favourable impression both with the colonials and the native chiefs. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of May 24th, 1866, Alfred was created the Duke of Edinburgh. His reign might have been a short one had he not survived an assassination attempt at Sydney Australia on March 12th, 1868. The Duke was attending a picnic at the beachfront in the suburb of Clontarf to help raise funds for the Sydney Sailor’s Home. During the festivities he was shot in the back by Irish-Australian Henry James O’Farrell. The bullet struck to the right of Alfred’s spine and luckily did not hit vital organs. Alfred spent the next two weeks in hospital being tended by a team of six nurses. Bystanders restrained O’Farrell, who was deemed to be a paranoid alcoholic who, though not a Fenian himself, had been inflamed by Fenian rhetoric against England and the Royal family. Alfred was sympathetic and argued O’Farrell should be found innocent by reason of insanity. The Australian authorities thought otherwise, and after a speedy trial O’Farrell was found guilty and hanged on April 21st, 1868.
With so many sailors in town, trouble was inevitable.
Alfred was only the third man to be granted that title of Duke of Edinburgh. The first was Prince Frederick, (1726-1751), son of George II and Queen Caroline, and the second was Prince George (1751-1760), the son of Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta. The fourth and current holder of the title, Prince Phillip, was created the Duke of Edinburgh on the day of his marriage to the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth), on November 20th, 1947. On a visit to Gibraltar in 1954 Phillip, when noticing a group of reporters approaching, famously asked, “Which are the monkeys?”.
Prince Phillip famously asked, “Which are the monkeys?”
On January 23rd, 1874, Alfred married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, daughter of Emperor Alexander II and Marie of Hess, at the Winter Palace, St. Petersburg. To commemorate the occasion the English bakery Peak Frean made the Marie Biscuit, similar to a rich tea biscuit and usually vanilla flavoured. It is now a popular treat worldwide. The couple had five children, Alfred, Marie, Melita, Alexandra and Beatrice. In 1893 Alfred inherited the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and surrendered his role as Duke of Edinburgh and his seats in the House of Lords and on the Privy Council. He retained Clarence House as his London Residence. Alfred died of throat cancer on July 30, 1900, aged 56, six months before the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, on June 22nd, 1901. His name lives on in many legacies around the world including the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney Australia, Prince Alfred Pass in the Western Cape, South Africa and, Manta alfredi, aka Prince Alfred’s Manta Ray.