It was not unusual for the harbour of Charlottetown to be visited by naval vessels. Many of the ships of the Royal Navy Atlantic Fleet based in Halifax paid courtesy visits throughout the region but Charlottetown was hardly a regular port of call for an entire fleet.
On 17 September in 1905 that changed in a dramatic fashion as not one, but four, of the latest and most powerful warships in the world steamed past Blockhouse light and through the harbour mouth to anchor off the wharves of Charlottetown. Not only was the fleet commanded by a Rear-Admiral, but the Rear-Admiral was His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg.
Prince Louis was not, as many in Charlottetown supposed, a prince of the realm. His title derived from his descent from Austro-Hungarian nobility being the grandson of Louis II, Grand Duke of Hesse, a matter which was to cause no little difficulty nine years later. On the outbreak of the Great War Prince Louis was forced to resign from his post as First Sea Lord owing to anti-German sentiment in spite of the fact that he had more than forty year’s experience as an officer in the Royal Navy.
In 1905 however he was celebrated for that same service. As Admiral at the command of the Second Cruiser Squadron he led his ships on a tour of Greece, Portugal, Canada and the United States and Spain. In the United States he was lauded for his unassuming ways and democratic demeanor. Throughout his career his advancement had been as a result of his skills and not his royal connections. He continued to be promoted to higher ranks within the service and in 1912 was made First Sea Lord, essentially head of the Royal Navy.
If the commander was impressive the ships were equally so. His flagship was the H.M.S. Drake which had been launched in 1901 and completed in 1904. The ship had an overall length of 553 feet, a beam of 71 feet and a deep draught of 27 feet. The 14,000 ton warship was powered by two 4-cylinder steam engines, each driving one shaft, which produced a total of 30,000 horsepower and gave a maximum speed of 23 knots. She carried a maximum of 2,500 tons of coal and her complement consisted of 900 officers and enlisted men. Accompanying the Drake were the just slightly smaller H.M.S. Bedford, H.M.S. Cumberland, and H.M.S. Essex, all Monmouth Class Armoured Cruisers each carrying 678 officers and crew. The fleet was described as the swiftest squadron in the world’s naval fleets.
The ships had previously visited Quebec, St. John’s and Sydney. Arriving in Charlottetown on a Sunday afternoon the fleet was viewed by hundreds on the Park Roadway and on the wharves. The Guardian welcomed the vessels but regretted that Canada, who benefitted from the power of the navy had contributed nothing to the defence of its ports and commerce and concluded; “The much-enduring British taxpayer pays all the bills.” Local photographer W.S. Louson was busy with his camera and two post cards were later produced using his images. That evening the Prince visited Government House.
The next day saw formal visits to City Hall and the presentation of an address by Mayor and Council. In his response Prince Louis recalled several visits previously paid to Charlottetown when he was a mid-shipman on the H.M.S. Royal Alfred which had been stationed in Halifax in the late 1860s. In the afternoon a sports day was held at the Charlottetown Athletic Association grounds. Bands from the Drake and Essex entertained the crowd and both local athletes and ships’ crews competed in conventional events such as dashes at several distances, relay, and high jump, but also crowd-pleasing activities including sack races, a wheelbarrow race, an officer’s race, a jumble race (where crew members had to scramble to don articles of clothing such as tunics and boots), and a tug of war. The festivities of the day concluded with a ball.
The ships left the following day, one being delayed as its anchor had become detached and had to be retrieved by a diver. Following a visit to Halifax where the centenary of the death of Lord Nelson was commemorated the fleet visited the United States and was back in Great Britain early in 1906.
Although Prince Louis never returned to Prince Edward Island several of his descendants have visited over the years. In 1917 Louis relinquished all his German titles and became Louis Mountbatten. His daughter Princess Alice had married into the Greek royal family in 1903 and her only son, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, took on the Mountbatten name when he became a British subject in 1947. Philip married into a family that had also changed its name owing to its former German connection. He became the consort of Elizabeth Windsor. Louis’ grandson and his wife, and several great and great-great grand children have been welcomed in Prince Edward Island.