Mystery Yacht Identified

Unidentified ship min Farquharson album

Unidentified yacht, Farquharson album, Public Archives and Records Office accession 3909 #55 (click on photo to enlarge)

Every archive and museum has them – in some cases by the hundreds or thousands. Unidentified photographs that could tell a tale but are silent. They are mute storytellers waiting for some key to unlock their importance.  The photo above is one of them. A white steam yacht. Even with its uneven exposure  and marred by a number of blemishes it is still a striking photo – or at least a striking ship.  It is inserted into one of the final pages of an album almost exclusively devoted to detailed construction photos of the building of the Hillsborough Bridge and the background is recognizably the Southport shore of Charlottetown Harbour. All of the other photos seem to be from 1900 to 1905. However none of the photos in the album are captioned and without a name the vessel’s place in the history of the harbour is a mystery. We are left with a three-masted steam yacht with no name. What was it and what was it doing in Charlottetown Harbour?

Searching for resources for a planned story on the building of the Hillsborough Bridge I found the photo but it clearly had no link to the bridge itself. A few days later searching for information on the survey ship Gulnare a hint is found in the Guardian for 22 June 1903:

The new surveying ship Eleanor which is to take the place of the Gulnare arrived in port Saturday night, eleven days from Portsmouth with Capt. Tooker and Lieut. Musgrove in charge.  The Eleanor is a handsome three-masted steam yacht apparently very suitable for her work. She was purchased by the British Government from the Prince of Monarco [sic], whose private yacht she was. She will probably sail Tuesday, a month later than usual, to continue admiralty survey off Newfoundland.   

This seemed to tell the tale. Except – a further search of records fails to find any record of the Eleanor belonging to the Prince of Monaco and there is no record that a ship named the Eleanor was ever in the Royal Navy. A few days later the unravelling of the mystery is begun by the following note in the 20 October 1903 Guardian:

The Gulnare is at the Steam Navigation Wharf, where she is undergoing repairs which are being made by Bruce Stewart and Company. The Ellinor will also receive a thorough overhauling during the winter months.

So, if not the Eleanor, could this be the Ellinor with an understandable confusion as to spelling?. The search re-commences and a listing is found in a volume titled Ships of the Royal Navy by J.J. College which notes ” Ellinor (ex-screw yacht Eberhard) Survey ship, 593 gross, 180 (o/a) x 27ft. Purch 1901. Fate unknown. ” It was reported in the Halifax Chronicle that the ship had been acquired from the Prince of Monaco by a “well-known yachtsman in England” (who presumably had changed the name as there of no record of the Eberhard in connection with Monaco) but that omits one link in the chain of ownership. But what of the “ex-screw yacht Eberhard“?

The story of the Eberhard contains a gruesome chapter in the yacht’s history. By 1900 the ship was registered in Hamburg and was owned by Bruno Mencke, son of a German chocolate millionaire, Eberhard Mencke. She was used by Bruno to mount what became known as the First German South Seas Expedition in 1901. After visiting several Islands the scientific expedition landed on Mussau, one of the St. Mattias Islands of the Bismark Archipelago, then a German territory. After the yacht had departed to re-coal and pick up more supplies the camp was attacked by the Island’s natives and the expedition doctor and two policemen killed. The rest of the party, including several wounded, escaped to a nearby trading post where Bruno Mencke died of wounds received in the attack. It was subsequently discovered that the three bodies left behind had been consumed by the natives who practiced cannibalism.  Later that year a landing party from a German cruiser accompanied by police landed on the island and massacred 81 natives, including women and children in retaliation.  It is not surprising that the Eberhard was a disposed of soon after her return to Germany.

Princess Alice3

Princess Alice before foreyards were removed.

The buyer was Spencer Chapman who re-named the vessel Ellinor and moved the registration to London.  It turns out that the Eberhard was not the first name that the vessel bore and learning her initial name  finally revels the connection between the ship and the Prince of Monaco.  Part of the reason why the vessel was chosen for the German scientific expedition may have been that it was uniquely equipped for the task, having been built specifically for scientific research with a considerable amount of auxiliary machinery and several laboratories on the main deck, as well as providing sumptuous accommodation for the researchers as well as the crew of the ship.


Portuguese stamp honouring Prince Albert, showing the Yacht Princess Alice.

The vessel was built as the auxiliary yacht Princess Alice for Albert the First of Monaco who had a noteworthy career as an oceanographer. During his reign he commissioned four oceanographic research vessels.  The Princess Alice was the second of these ships and was named in honour of the Prince’s  second wife Marie Alice Heine, dowager Duchesse de Richelieu. Marie Alice was the daughter of a New Orleans building contractor who had married well and was widowed at an early age.

The ship, launched 12 February 1891, was built on the Thames at the Blackwall, London shipyard of R & H Green.  It was a single-screw, three-masted, single-stovepipe-funnelled, auxiliary-topsail schooner of about 600 tons.

Princess Alice

Builders model of the Princess Alice 1891. Royal Museums Greenwich, Green Blackwall Collection

Detailed descriptions were provided of the ship in both The Marine Engineer and Naval Architect and Engineering. She was 168 feet long, 27 feet wide and drew 12 feet. Two boilers were fitted; one to drive the vessel at a top speed of 9 knots, the other to provide power for electric lights aboard.  Her frames were of steel and the planking of teak with teak used for the deck houses and finishing throughout. She was not dependant on her steam power however, as the Ratsey & Lapthorne sails on the three masts had a spread of 12,000 feet.

Princesse Alice001

Princess Alice about 1896 – from Results of the Scientific Campaigns of the Prince of Monaco Vol. 84. NOAA ship collection

The Princess Alice was used in seven scientific voyages between 1892 and 1897, mostly in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. She was replaced in 1897 by the larger Princess Alice II and the first ship was offered for sale. It is not clear when she was acquired by Mencke.

The steam yacht was used  by the British Admiralty in 1903 to replace the privately-owned survey ship Gulnare, whose charter agreement had expired.  The charter term for the Ellinor was five years or until the survey of Newfoundland and northern Canada had been completed. Records suggest that she may have been purchased by the Admiralty sometime during this period.  The Gulnare later returned to government service in connection with the tidal survey.  The Princess Alice was used on the Newfoundland survey until at least 1912 although after 1904 she was probably based out of Halifax rather than Charlottetown. In 1912 the Ellinor was transferred to the West Indies for further surveying in the Kingston Jamaica area.   I have been unable to learn of the fate of the vessel after 1912 but another researcher has found a reference to a British government vessel named Ellinor as late as 1919.

The few photographs found of the Princess Alice as well as the builder’s model leave little doubt that this is the vessel in Charlottetown harbour in 1903 although the 1903 photo shows an added upper-deck wheelhouse. The Ellinor was one of the many vessels that contributed to the accuracy of Canada’s nautical mapping but her role appears to have largely been forgotten.  Still, it is nice to know that a photo of His Majesty’s Survey Ship Ellinor, ex-Eberhard, ex-Princess Alice while anchored in Charlottetown Harbour in 1903, is part of the collection of the Public Archives and Records Office. Every picture tells a story.

SS Ellinor - card front (3)Post script 2019: The Ellinor was the subject of an early postcard (publisher unknown) dating from 1906 which was mailed in Halifax (which may very well have been where the photo was taken). I am indebted to Allison Nelson who is responsible for the very useful site for sharing this image of the card which she discovered in Cambridge Ontario.


11 thoughts on “Mystery Yacht Identified

  1. Pingback: Gulnare – A Significant Name in Canadian Marine History | Sailstrait

  2. Pingback: Delight in the Details; One Photo – Many Stories | Sailstrait

  3. MS

    Thank you so much for posting this information! I’ve been going through files and archives with my regional historical society and we have a picture of the crew of the Ellinor, but we had no information on the ship. The articles you’ve written about it are great! Thanks again!

  4. Nick White

    Hello, I recently bought a Johannsen Chronometer No. 4559. It came with a copy of “Ledger of Receipts and Issues of Chronometers” This shows that the chronometer was issued to “Newfoundland Survey” on, what looks like Jan 8 1904 and returned on Jan 15 1909. Could this be the Ellinor?

    1. sailstrait Post author

      The dates certainly fit within the time that the Ellinor was engaged in the Newfoundland survey but I do not know for certain that she was the only ship involved although it is probable that she was. Obviously such a survey would require a very accurate chronometer to ensure precise longitude measurement.


    I came across this article by accident last year and meant to get in touch to say my Grandfather was one of the surveying Officers on Ellinor during that time so it was of interest to read.

      1. sailstrait Post author

        Thank you for your comment attaching the information about the Schnelles Geleitboot 23. I think this information refers to a different vessel. The dimensions are slightly different and the builder, shipyard location, and launch date for the two vessels differs. However there may be a link as Princess Alice, later to be called the Ellinor, was succeeded as the Royal Monaco yacht by the Princess Alice II and the reference in the Kriegsmarine ship page may be to the second ship.

  6. Pingback: The many survey ships called the Gulnare | Sailstrait

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