Queen Victoria visits Falmouth

In 1843 and again in 1846 Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arrived in Falmouth aboard the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert. This was the first Royal Yacht to be powered by steam and provided Victoria and Albert with a ‘home from home’ not only for their recreational use but also when making official tours and visits to ports at home and abroad. These visits were designed to reach more parts of the kingdom and to make the monarch and her family more visible to her subjects. The purpose was clearly achieved in the tours of 1843 and 1846 and by the visits made to the West Country and Falmouth.

In another of her articles on local topics, Volunteer Linda Batchelor looks closer at the events surrounding the visits.

At half past one we approached the Bay of Falmouth which is beautiful and very large – larger than any I have seen.

This entry was recorded by Queen Victoria in her Journal for 1st September 1843 on board Her Majesty’s Yacht Victoria and Albert.

The yacht was described by the Queen as ‘a beautiful vessel with splendid accommodation’.[*] Designed by Sir William Symonds and launched at Pembroke Dock on 26th April 1843 this was the first Royal Yacht to be powered by steam. It had twin direct acting engines, built by Maudsley Sons and Field of Lambeth, providing 420 horse power and a speed of 11.5 knots. It had a single funnel and was equipped with paddle wheels and two masts with sails. The visit to Falmouth was part of the vessel’s maiden voyage which was to take the twenty four year old Queen Victoria, then in the sixth year of her reign, and Prince Albert on a state visit to France where they were to meet the French King Louis Phillipe at his summer residence the Chateau D’Eu in Normandy.

Her Majesty’s Yacht Victoria and Albert
Queen Victoria Arriving at Brighton September 1843 Richard Henry Nibbs
(Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton & Hove)

The journey began for the royal couple from Windsor Castle on 28th August. Leaving behind their three small children, who were to go to Brighton during their absence, Victoria and Albert set out with their entourage at half past seven in the morning to drive to Farnborough Station. Here they joined the royal train to Southampton at a quarter past nine. The weather was good at the outset of the journey but by the time they arrived at Southampton two hours later it had turned wet. Nevertheless the town was full of people eager to see the Queen and the Prince drive in their carriage from the Terminus Station to Bargate through the crowds and passing the triumphal arches erected for the occasion. On arrival at the pier the royal party transferred to a barge which took them out to the yacht waiting in the harbour.

So began five days of cruising in HMY Victoria and Albert along the southern coast of England before crossing to France. In describing the voyage in her Journal the Queen wrote:

‘We are both enjoying our Tour so much and the semi sailor-gipsy life we lead, is very delightful’.[*]

The Royal Yacht, owned and operated by the Royal Navy, was commanded by Captain Lord Adolphus FitzClarence, one of the illegitimate sons of William IV and Mrs Jordan, and therefore a cousin, of the Queen. A list of the other officers was also annexed to the daily entry in her Journal by Victoria and throughout the Journal there are entries which describe the sailors in the crew singing and playing games such as single stick and swinging the monkey. The Queen also recorded that ‘Nothing can be nicer or more roomy than the accommodation on board’.[*] Accommodation for the royal party below decks included some state apartments and a suite of rooms for the Queen. There was a large reception room and a drawing room together with a bedroom for the Queen and the Prince, dressing rooms and sleeping cabins for their accompanying ladies and gentlemen. On deck there was a round deck house or pavilion which provided shelter and a sitting area and which was often used for breakfast and other less formal meals.

On leaving Southampton the Royal Yacht proceeded to sail via Cowes on the Isle of Wight to Spithead and then in the afternoon on to Ryde where the royal party landed and drove through the town. They returned to the Victoria and Albert and anchored off Cowes for the night. Early next morning the royal party landed at East Cowes and visited Norris Castle. It was this visit which may have been the basis of the Queen and the Prince’s desire to make the island their holiday home and ultimately their purchase of the Osborne estate in 1845. After the party rejoined the Royal Yacht they sailed round the island before making down the coast passing Weymouth and Portland.

On 30th August the voyage took in Lyme Regis, Sidmouth, Exmouth, Torbay, Dawlish and Teignmouth and Dartmouth and reached Plymouth that evening. The following day was taken up with visits on land at Mount Edgecumbe and a drive through Devonport and Plymouth with such dense welcoming crowds it took two hours to complete, before returning to the yacht and evening celebrations in the harbour. The Victoria and Albert left Plymouth a little after nine on the morning of 1st September and after the Queen and the Prince had inspected the Eddystone Lighthouse from the yacht they arrived in Falmouth Bay at half past one and anchored off St Mawes Castle.

The Queen and the Prince did not land but transferred to a barge to tour around the inner harbour. They were accompanied by a flotilla of 250 to 300 boats dressed in bright colours and full of cheering spectators. According to the Times newspaper report of the visit ‘Salutes were fired from the forts and shipping, and everywhere as Her Majesty passed she was received with the most enthusiastic cheering by the crowds which lined the shore’.[*]

When the circuit of the harbour was complete the Queen and the Prince returned to the yacht and the Mayors of Falmouth, Penryn and Truro put off from the shore to join them and present them with their loyal addresses. However, in transferring to the yacht:

‘… the Mayor of Truro unluckily overleaped himself and fell into the water, so that he and the address, being too wet for presentation, were obliged to be put on shore again. The other municipal chiefs were more fortunate and were presented to the Queen’.[*]

The Mayor of Falmouth, Mr Joseph Fox, was a Quaker and therefore did not remove his hat in the Queen’s presence but this ‘singularity in the ceremonial duty’ was explained to her and was ‘graciously suffered by the sovereign’.[*]

When the presentations were over at about three o’clock the Royal Yacht left Falmouth Harbour and steered up Channel again and began the journey across to Treport in France for the state visit to France. This was the first visit to Falmouth made by the Queen on board the Royal Yacht and she was to repeat this three years later in 1846.

In August 1846 the Queen and her family had been spending time at their estate at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. The estate had been purchased by the Queen and Prince Albert in 1845 as a holiday home where they could escape with their growing family from London and Windsor. The existing house was too small for purpose and a new house had been commissioned by the Prince and designed in collaboration with Thomas Cubitt. The site was also able to provide a suitable place for boarding the Royal Yacht and it was from the Osborne pier on the morning of 2nd September 1846 that the Queen, Prince Albert, their suite and their two eldest children, five year old Vicky (Victoria, Princess Royal) and three year old Bertie (Albert Edward), embarked. They were  accompanied on voyage by HMY Fairy, a small steam yacht, commissioned and built at Blackwall in 1845. Fairy acted as tender to HMY Victoria and Albert, conveying the Royal family to the Isle of Wight and was also able to cruise in shallow water.

On leaving the Isle of Wight the yachts progressed along the South Coast before heading to the Channel Islands. Over the next two days the royal party visited the islands and landed on both Guernsey and Jersey making a variety of sightseeing trips and receiving a warm and enthusiastic welcome in St Pier (St Peter Port) in Guernsey and St Helier in Jersey.  The visit to the islands ended on  4th September and the royal yachts headed back to the Cornish coast entering Falmouth harbour by seven o’clock that evening and on anchoring were ‘immediately surrounded by boats’ welcoming them to the town.[*]

The following morning which was dull and grey the royal party breakfasted early in their deck pavilion and the Queen took the opportunity to sketch St Maws (sic) Castle. By eight o’clock the yachts were sailing towards Land’s End to allow the royal party to view that part of the coast during the morning and then turned back to pass Penzance and anchor in Mount’s Bay. The party then transferred to the Fairy and were taken around the Mount before Prince Albert landed at Penzance accompanied by various gentlemen. From there the Prince was taken to visit some of the copper and tin mines in the area the smelting house of Messrs Bolitho at Chyandour and the Serpentine works. He returned to join his family on the Royal Yacht in the early evening and, according to the Queen, was much taken by what he had seen and brought with him various specimens of rock for Bertie.

The next day, 6th September, there were visits to St Michael’s Mount and Kynance Cove. By the evening the Royal Yacht had returned to its anchorage in Carrick Roads off Falmouth. Once again the harbour was crowded with small boats surrounding the yacht in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the royal family.  In the course of the evening the Mayor of Falmouth, Mr R.R. Broad and the deputy Town Clerk together with the Mayor of Truro, Dr Carlyon and the Town Clerk met with Earl Spencer on board the Royal Yacht to finalize the arrangements for the visit the following day. After this the yacht ‘was left in comparative tranquillity, although numbers of boats remained hovering about until near midnight’.[*]

Falmouth Harbour, 1846 (Arrival of Queen Victoria in the Royal Yacht) by James George Philp 1816-85 Royal Collection Trust/©HM the Queen

The boats were back early the next morning full of spectators who were making a huge noise with their cheering, shouting and singing. The town was thronged with visitors and it was estimated by contemporary observers that there were at least ten thousand people present in Falmouth on the land and on the water. At eight o’clock the Queen and Prince Albert received the Mayor and Corporation of Penryn. They were enthusiastic in greeting young Bertie, who was Duke of Cornwall, which particularly pleased the Queen.

Prince Albert then left the yacht, landing at Greenbank Quay where he was greeted by salutes fired by the packet brig HMS Crane and welcomed by an official reception party. He and his party were then cheered out of the town on their way to visit some of the mines inland. These included the copper mines of Gwennap and the copper and tin mines of the United Mines near Carharrack where three thousand miners had assembled to meet him. He then moved on to visit Truro before returning to Falmouth.

The Queen and their children remained on board throughout the morning. In mid afternoon, when Albert had returned, the royal party were rowed out in their barge through a dense lane of boats to Fairy and went up river towards Truro. Before reaching Truro Fairy went a little way up the Tregony River before turning back and mooring in the river at Sunny Corner just outside Truro. In her Journal the Queen recorded that:

The whole population poured out, on foot and in carts, to see us and cheered and were enchanted to see Bertie with us. It was a very pretty and gratifying sight.[*]

The Fairy steamed back to Falmouth and the anchorage for the Royal Yacht Squadron. On passing Pendennis Castle they were saluted by nine guns from the half moon battery at the Castle. The royal party had been invited to view the drawing of a seine net in the Bay off Swanpool by ‘Mr Fox, a Quaker gentleman who has sent us flowers and fruit’.[*]

This was Alfred Fox who was from an influential Falmouth family with various business ventures particularly ship brokerage, iron founding and mining. As well as being involved with these activities Alfred also ran the fishing and pilchard- salting part of the business and was the owner of Glendurgan House on the Helford River near Falmouth. He had purchased the valley which ran down to the hamlet of Durgan, where he built his home and had laid out the gardens with a wide variety of tree and plant specimens, over the 1820s and 1830s. The flowers and fruit presented to the Queen came from the gardens and included a grapefruit.[*]

With the prospect of seeing a variety of fish being drawn by the net the royal party were rowed near the shore in their barge to observe the operation presided over by Alfred. Unfortunately as observed by Barclay Fox, Alfred’s nephew, ‘The fish were shy of majesty and not one was caught’.[*] Despite this disappointment once back on board the Royal Yacht the Queen and Prince Albert observed from its deck two boats full of miners with torches which gave a pretty effect.

This was their last night in Falmouth and early the next morning HMY Victoria and Albert was under way sailing for Fowey. The Queen and the Prince left the yacht to drive to visit the underground workings of the Restormel Iron Mine, belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall. One hundred and twenty miners gathered to see and cheer them as they got into trucks and were dragged on the level into the mine by some of the miners whilst others lit the tunnels. On leaving the mine the Queen commanded that fifty gold sovereigns be distributed amongst the miners and the mine was subsequently renamed the Restormel Royal Iron Mine.[*] After driving to Lostwithiel where the Queen received a loyal address the royal party returned to what was to be ‘our last day on board the dear Yacht’[*] and the cruise finally came to an end when they arrived at Osborne at nine the next morning.

Over the following years the Queen and Prince Albert were to make twenty such voyages in HMY Victoria and Albert, especially for official visits to British and continental ports, until 1855. The Royal Yacht was replaced that year by a larger vessel HMY Victoria and Albert II and was renamed Osborne. It remained in service and was used for some royal duties including conveying the Royal Family to Osborne House until it was scrapped in 1868. Although a number of other Royal Yachts were commissioned and operated throughout the Queen’s time on the throne, Victoria always remembered with affection the first steam yachts and the voyages they made, including the visits to Falmouth in the early years of her reign.

Linda Batchelor

The Bartlett Maritime Research Centre and Library,  National Maritime Museum Cornwall 2020