The book is an illustrated biography that tells the story of Queen Victoria’s life and legacy, through locations and objects, including a chapter on the day Royal Steam Yacht Alberta collided with the yacht Mistletoe.
On 18 August 1875, Victoria, accompanied by Princess Beatrice and Prince Leopold, began their journey to Balmoral when they boarded the Alberta at Osborne around 18:00 and steamed towards Clarence Victualling Yard at Gosport, escorted by the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert.
The Queen’s nephew, Ernst Leopold, Prince of Leiningen, commanded the Alberta. The routine 40-minute crossing was interrupted when the Alberta collided with the Mistletoe owned by Manchester banker Edward Heywood. Some of the yachts in the Solent sailed close to the Alberta in the hope that those on board could get a glimpse of the Queen. A seaman named Brown was just about to dip the ensign on the Mistletoe to salute the Queen when the Alberta, steaming at 14 knots, struck the Mistletoe along the starboard side abreast the mainmast, close to Stokes Bay. A number of the crew from the Alberta and Victoria and Albert leapt into the Solent to rescue the occupants of the Mistletoe that were thrown overboard by the collision.
The Alberta had cut the Mistletoe in two and she sank within three minutes. In total, three lives were lost, including the master, Thomas Stokes, and Annie Peel (Heywood’s sister-in-law), as a result of the collision. The owner of the Mistletoe, Mr Heywood, was recovered from the sea. Despite being shaken and traumatised by the experience, Victoria and her entourage continued their journey to Balmoral.
The incident caused consternation amongst the yachting community in the Solent, who believed that the Prince of Leiningen had been responsible for this catastrophic accident, however, the Admiralty refused to try the prince by court-martial. Instead, his navigating officer was found to be responsible, which caused a public outcry. It was further inflamed when General Sir Henry Ponsonby, the Queen’s Private Secretary, on behalf of the Queen, sent a letter to the Marquis of Exeter, president of the Cowes Yacht Club, instructing all its members not to approach the royal yacht too closely when the sovereign was aboard. The yachtsmen interpreted this letter as the Queen trying to exonerate her officers and demonstrating that the officers commanding the royal yachts disregarded the navigational rules of the road. Two coroners’ inquests were held regarding the collision. The first jury could not reach a conclusion, while the second jury brought a verdict of accidental death, condemning the officers aboard
Alberta for steaming too fast and for not maintaining a proper lookout. However, the officers aboard Alberta received no punishment.
The Alberta played a prominent role in the funeral of Victoria when her body was transferred from Osborne House to the mainland. Her coffin was placed aboard the yacht on 1 February 1901, beneath a canopy upon the aft deck. The Alberta led a procession through the Solent where the Royal Naval Fleet lay anchored and she received a gun salute as she passed each ship. The coffin remained aboard Alberta at Gosport overnight before it was conveyed to London for the funeral service the following day. Edward VII continued to use the Alberta until she was broken up in 1913. The deckhouse was retained and brought to Osborne House for display in the 1970s.
You can pre-order the book now at pen-and-sword.co.uk/Queen-Victoria-Hardback/p/20533
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