Tag Archives: Prince Louis of Battenberg

And then came the French

The decade prior to the beginning of the Great War was not an especially good one for the economy of the Island but you might hardly know it in Charlottetown Harbour. While shipbuilding was almost at an end on the Island there were still dozens of coastal schooners that visited the port carrying coal and wood and other bulk cargos and taking away the Island’s produce. But they were hardly the main act. In many ways it was the golden age of the steamer. Charlottetown was a stop for several steamship lines linking the Island with Sydney, Montreal, St. John’s and other ports. There was a direct connection with Halifax and Boston through the Plant Line. The Island Steam Navigation Company had boats such as the Empress and the Northumberland crossing to Pictou and Pointe de Chene. Local coastal boats including the Harland linked Charlottetown with Victoria and Orwell and the ferries criss-crossed the harbour and ventured up the rivers. The Department of Marine and Fisheries had a strong presence and even the humble government dredges added to the activity of the waterfront.

But the most dramatic visitors to the port were the occasional visits by the ships of the world’s navies. The period was one of great rivalry between the European powers and showing the flag was more than just a phrase. England’s Royal Navy came and went more frequently than others with the most impressive visit from the floatilla of Prince Louis of Battenburg in 1905. The German Cruiser Bremen visited in 1911. In the years between these two visits the French Navy was in the harbour twice.  Unlike the Germans, the French still had a vested interest in the area with the colony of St.Pierre and Miquelon serving as an anchor for the French fishing fleet and a claim on the bounty of the Grand Banks.

Cruiser Chasselopu-Loubat

Cruiser Chasseloup-Laubat

The first French visitor was the 308 foot 2nd class cruiser Chasseloup-Laubat in July of 1906. The vessel was by then twelve years old and with its plough bow and pronounced tumblehome curve of the sides was of a design that was quickly disappearing. The Guardian opined that with her three funnels and “dangerous looking ram tacked on to her bow, gives her quite a fighting air.” Not, of course, as threatening as the “grim and trim look of the men o’ war of the  British Navy.”  There were also other differences. There seemed to be a more relaxed atmosphere on board, less severe discipline. The Guardian writer was also fascinated by the appearance of “quite a farm on board, the livestock being required for feeding the men.” The on-board menu was a contrast to the Royal Navy which still included bully beef and rum.

The next year a more modern vessel of the Dupliex class came through the harbour mouth. The Kleber was completed in 1904 and the changes in vessel design in the eleven years between the vessels were obvious.  The Kleber was very much a modern cruiser with a “credibly neat and clean appearance” while the Chasseloup-Laubat was dated.  There was also considerable difference in size with the Kleber being 426 feet long, requiring a crew of 531 to the older ship’s 339.  Still, the armaments on the two vessels were similar.  The Guardian’s writer seemed more impressed with the quality of the ship’s band than the ship itself.

At sunset every night a very pretty ceremony was observed. Punctually as the sun went down a gun was fired and the bugle and drum sounded a call. Thereupon the flags came down, while the ship’s band played the time-honored short salutation with which the ceremony is always accompanied. The followed the first bar of the Marsellaise, while every sailor uncovered and listened with bare head until the tune was played through and was followed by God Save the King. The caps were resumed and the sailors went on with their usual skylarking.   


French Cruiser Kleber

While they may have impressed the residents of Charlottetown neither vessel made much of a contribution to the war effort once it began in 1914. The Chasseloup-Laubat had been removed from active service and was turned into an accommodation ship in 1911. It eventually ended up as part of a breakwater and harbour facility in Mauritania. The Kelber saw service but had little impact. She was stranded and re-floated under Turkish gunfire off Gallipoli in May 1915. Two months later she collided with a British cargo vessel. She was sunk by a submarine-laid mine off the harbour of Brest in June 1917.

Following the war in 1918 there was a significant reduction in the navies of the world. The small Canadian fleet had almost disappeared, the Germans had been defeated and many of the French and English ships were scrapped.  Courtesy visits to Charlottetown did not rank high on the priorities of a changing world.

A somewhat royal admiral

[Updated January 2020]

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.


The four cruisers of Prince Louis’s fleet in Charlottetown – September 1905. Note the open draw of the Hillsborough bridge in the background

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.

Louis of Battenberg1905

Rear-Admiral His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg G.C.B., G.C.V.O, K.C.M.G., etc, etc

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.


H.M.S. Drake. Note the four funnels. Armoured cruisers of the Monmouth Class which accompanied the Drake carried only three.

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 admiral’s flagship, HMS Drake, also appeared on a Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #3441.

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.


Armoured cruisers Bedford, Essex, and Cumberland in Charlottetown, September 1905. Note that this card was posted in the United States.

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, later Queen Elizabeth. Louis’ grand-nephew and his wife, and several of their descendants have been welcomed in Prince Edward Island.

Postscript January 2020.

Although W.S. Louson is clearly identified as the photographer for the Warwick and Rutter postcard (shown above), the rather poor image on the Carter & Co. postcard at the beginning of this entry does not contain a photographer credit. Thanks to a serendipitous acquisition by Ottawa collector Phil Culhane (in Spain of all places) this has been remedied. He has found a photo of the Battenburg fleet in Charlottetown harbour bearing the stamp of Charlottetown commercial photographer J.A.S. Bayer on the reverse. Bayer published a number of real photo postcards (RPPCs) and his images were probably used by other postcard publishers but this image seems to exist in only the Carter and Co. version.


J.A.S. Bayer photo of Battenburg fleet in Charlottetown Harbour.  Contrast this image with the postcard at the head of this posting. Photo courtesy of Phil Culhane.