Prince Albert and Prince George visit Barbados while Midshipmen aboard HMS Bacchante in 1879

Prince Albert Victor and Prince George of Wales visited Barbados in December 1879 while midshipmen aboard HMS HMS Bacchante.

Cruise of the HMS "Bacchante" 1879-1882
Cruise of the HMS “Bacchante” 1879-1882

While aboard HMS Bacchante as Midshipmen Prince Albert Victor and Prince George of Wales kept private journals and note books. These were published in full in two volumes in 1886 by Macmillan and Co. London. “The Cruise of the HMS “Bacchante” 1879-1882 Vol I” – The West and The South. The Mediterranean – Tenerife – West Indies – Bermudas – Vigo – Ferrol – St. Vincent – The Plate – Falkland Islands – Cape Of Good Hope – Australia – Fiji, contains their trip to Barbados.

HMS Bacchante visited Barbados twice on this voyage. The first was between the 25th December 1879 and 5th January 1880 when they left for Trinidad. Having left St. Lucia they returned briefly to Barbados on19th February 1880 to bring a sailor to the hospital.

The Princes journals are a fascinating read of their visit to Barbados, Trinidad, Grenada St. Vincent and many other islands before reaching Jamaica and then returning to the UK.

What the young Princes did and saw is not much different from what any tourist visiting the Caribbean today would do.

HMS Bacchante was a Bacchante-class ironclad screw-propelled corvette of the Royal Navy. She is particularly famous for being the ship on which Prince Albert and his younger brother Prince George served as midshipmen for three years from 1879 – 1882.

The HMS Bacchante was launched on 19th October 1876, from the Portsmouth Dockyard and was commissioned on 15th July 1879. For the voyage to the West Indies her Captain was Lord Charles Thomas Montague Douglas Scott and the Commander was George. W Hill. She carried a total of 450 crew.

HMS Bacchante 1879
HMS Bacchante, September 1879, Captain Lord Charles Scott, conveying HRH Prince of Wales (Prince Albert and Prince George’s father) to Portland, from Portsmouth. HMS Bacchante was an ironclad corvette. Launched in 1876. She was 4,130 tons. Prince Albert (who died unexpectedly of influenza in 1891) and his younger brother Prince George (later King George V) sailed on her for three years (1879-82) as midshipmen – sailing 40,000 miles and rounding the Cape of Good Hope twice. Source: Royal Museums Greenwich.

HMS Bacchante was 307 feet long and 45 ½ feet wide. The depth of her hold was 15 feet 7 inches and her draught was just over 20 feet. She carried 400 tons of coal. Her 5,250 HP 3 cylinder engine was made by J. & G. Rennie and drove one 20 foot diameter screw made by Griffiths. The steam to power the engine was produced by 10 boilers and 30 furnaces and she had 2 funnels.

The armament for HMS Bacchante consisted of 12 x 4.5 ton muzzel loading guns, 2 on the upper deck, and 10 on the main deck. She also had Whitehead torpedoes, as well as 4 Nordenfeldt machine guns.

She carried a Steam Pinnace, Steam Cutter and 8 other small boats of various sizes.

When Queen Victoria expressed reservation about letting her grandsons embark on this voyage in case the ship should sink, the Admiralty sent HMS Bacchante into a storm to prove her seaworthiness.


Midshipmen Prince Albert & Prince George aboard HMS Bacchante
Photograph of Prince Albert Victor (1864-92) and Prince George (1865-1936), later King George V, on board HMS Bacchante. The Princes are at the centre of the group with another naval cadet to either side of them. Prince Albert Victor and Prince George had entered the navy in 1877 as cadets on the training ship HMS Britannia. In 1879 it was decided by the Royal Family and the Government that the Princes should undertake a cruise. In September of that year, accompanied by their tutor John Neale Dalton, the Princes embarked on their voyage serving as midshipmen. HMS Bacchante was their home for the next three years. Source: Royal Collection Trust

After a uneventful voyage to Tenerife they left to cross the Atlantic on 6th December 1879. It was a good crossing with calm seas and light wind. A limited supply of coal was on board so when they were becalmed the captain would not light the boilers. They sighted Barbados on Christmas Day and anchored in Carlisle Bay around 11.30am. The first job was to clean and make the ship tidy as a Royal Navy ship of the line must be. She was dirty from her time at sea and the coal soot on the sails and rigging.

They were met with many small boats carrying black women who wanted to wash their clothes and other services.

From their diary records:

Jane Ann Smith was the only one (she stands over 6 feet tall) that sat in solemn dignity in the stern sheets of her boat, the prima donna of the occasion, having already washed for Prince Alfred on more than one occasion and fully intended to do so for other princes yet. The other Negresses gesticulated, each from her own boat, and saluted the officers on the poop with many endearing terms claiming also former acquaintance with the elder and sedate…

In the afternoon, after clearing customs and immigration, they visited the Governor, Major G. Strahan, R.A at Government House. Later in the evening they paid a visit to General Gamble, commander of the armed forces at Queens House.

On 26th December they, along with the senior members of the crew, returned to Government House and played Lawn Tennis. The resupply of coal and other supplies started.

Princes Albert and George of Wales visit Barbados aboard HMS Bacchante 1879
Drawing room and dining room, Government House, Barbados 1879-80. Source: Royal Collection Trust

With the advent of Coal powered shipping Barbados became a port where ships could resupply. There were no large natural deposits of coal in the Caribbean and it was imported from the UK.

On the following day they rode along the beach and talked about how they were following in the footsteps of Amyas Leigh who walked and sat on this same beach in 1583 when he came to Barbados. The island was not occupied at the time.

The novel Westward HO was written by Charles Kongsley. It details the adventures of Amyas Leigh and his brother. It is a bit of fiction and but is based on the adventure of Amyas. The Portuguese also visited Barbados in 1518.

That night they had dinner at Government House with The Bishop, General Sir J. Sealy, Judge Packer, Colonel Eccles (of the 4th Regiment) Colonel Hill and Colonel Clements (Inspector of Police).

In their journal the Princes also mention the daily arrival and departure of ships from England, the USA and other West Indian Islands. The Bridgetown port was a centre of trade for the Caribbean.

On 29th December the Mail Steamer Nile left for England, with letters home from the crew, and the Mail Steamer Tiber arrived from England. The Tiber left the following day for the islands.

Like all good tourists they visited some of the more scenic spots of the island. The visited St. Johns Church and took in the view and looked at the grave of Fernando Paleologus. Afterwards the went down the hill to visit Codrington College.

Princes Albert and George of Wales visit Barbados aboard HMS Bacchante 1879
St. John’s Church, Barbados 1879-80. Source: Royal Collection Trust

At Codrington College they visited the library where he recorded that there was a fine collection of old books and a bust of Christopher Codrington. They planted 2 or 3 Palm Trees.

Princes Albert and George of Wales visit Barbados aboard HMS Bacchante 1879
Codrington College, Atlantic Sea 1879. Source: Royal Collection Trust

During the time here the crew played a number of cricket matches, against the various ships in the harbour and local teams. They played two matches against The Wanderers Cricket Club. The Bacchante team did not win many or any at all.

Princes Albert and George of Wales visit Barbados aboard HMS Bacchante 1879
Barbados, Dec 25, 1879 to Jan 5 1880. Across the Savannah towards cricket match in distance: Eleven from “Bacchante” versus eleven from the Garrison and HMS “Tourmaline” combined; St Ann’s Garrison behind trees. Source: Royal Collection Trust

Mr. James Sims was the naval schoolmaster on board HMS Bacchante responsible for the continued education of the young officer and crew. Unfortunately he was admitted to the hospital in Barbados and died on the 1st January 1880 of rheumatic fever. He was buried in the Barbados military cemetery at Needhams Point. Prince George, happening to have that watch, marched as the midshipman in charge of the funeral party of bluejackets and marines under the first lieutenant.

On 2nd January they while on shore leave a woman threw a Spade Guinea Token marked “a Souvenir of Barbados” into their carriage. George kept it and wore it on his watch chain. [A spade Guinea is a guinea of George III’s reign with a spade-shaped shield on the reverse.]

They also visited Farley Hill and Speightown town. He wrote that the houses and business places in Speightown were better constructed that the corresponding ones in Bridgetown.

Sir Graham Brigs, the owner of Farley Hill at the time, was away but they toured the house and visited a summer house overlooking the Scotland Area. After Lunch they went to the Library and Billiard Room before returning to Bridgetown.

Princes Albert and George of Wales visit Barbados aboard HMS Bacchante 1879
Farley Hill, Sir Graham Briggs, Bt 1880. Source: Royal Collection Trust

That night they went to the Hastings Hotel to a Ball given by Captain Lord Charles Scott of the HMS Bacchante.

On 3rd January they left HMS Bacchante at 1pm and after lunch at Bishops Court went to Coles Cave. After the Cave they visited Sturges and Chimborazo. They returned to the Bridgetown at 6pm.

One day a dead horse was floating out to sea and they tied it to the HMS Bacchante. This attracted sharks and they shot 2 of them.
The Prince Records:

“At present there is no decent Sailors Home of Club here which is a great draw back, as the houses where the men sleep when ashore on leave are filthy, dirty, and the grog is something too shocking.”

He wrote that the systems of government of each of the British islands was very inefficient. He wondered why:

“united government between the islands would not be better. There is no reason why every island should have its own executive and legislative body…”

“The paraphernalia of a kingdom with the population of a small English town.”

“Each also has its own customs and tariff, to the utter confusion of trade. In Barbados and British Guyana no export duties at all are levied and these colonies are conspicuous for industrial success… The west Indian Islands want knitting together,.”

On Sunday the Bishop came on the ship for the service and the Catholics and those of other religions went ashore to their respective churches.

They left Barbados on the 5th January at 3pm. Some of the things that they carried were: Preserved Ginger, Guava Jelly, Cassava Biscuit, and dried flying fish wings to be used a book markers.

They sighted Tobago at 8am and Trinidad at 1pm the next day – 6th January 1880.

From Trinidad they went to Grenada, Carriacou, Union Island, St. Vincent and St. Lucia.

On 18th February they left St. Lucia and sailed around the north of the island, pass Gros Islet and Pigeon Rock. They sighted Needham Point Light House Barbados at 3am the following day. They came back to Barbados so the one seaman who had fallen off the rigging and broken his leg could be admitted to the hospital. They visited the Governor and the garrison and after a visit to the hospital to check up on Mr. Cowley they left for Martinique.

After continuing on their tour getting as far as Jamaica, HMS Bacchante returned to England on 3rd May 1880.

Crew of HMS Bacchante1880
Group photograph of officers, midshipmen and cadets on the deck of HMS Bacchante. Prince Albert Victor is seated cross legged on the deck second from the left and Prince George stands fifth from the right in the second row. Also included are the captain of the Bacchante, George W Hill; Montagu-Douglas Scott, the fourth son of the Duke of Buccleugh and Admiral Charles H Adair. The photograph was probably taken in Portsmouth on or around the 3rd May 1880. Source: Royal Collection Trust

Background information

Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward (8th January 1864 – 14th January 1892) was the eldest child of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) and grandson of the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. From the time of his birth, he was second in line to succession to the British throne. Albert did not become King as he died unexpectedly of influenza in 1891 before his father and grandmother.

Prince George Frederick Ernest Albert (3rd June 1865 – 20th January 1936) was the second child of the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) and grandson of the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria. From the time of his birth, he was third in the line of succession to the British throne. On the sudden death of his brother Prince Albert in 1891, Prince George was put in direct line to succession to the British throne. On Victoria’s death in 1901, George’s father ascended the throne as Edward VII, and George was created Prince of Wales. George became King George V on his father’s death in 1910 reigning until 1936.


HMS Bacchante at another stage of her life painted white.

HMS Bacchante visit to Barbados 1879-1880
HMS Bacchante was an ironclad corvette. Launched in 1876. She was 4,130 tons. Prince Albert (who died unexpectedly of influenza in 1891) and his younger brother Prince George (later King George V) sailed on her for three years (1879-82) as midshipmen – sailing 40,000 miles & rounding the Cape of Good Hope twice.

The Cruise of Her Majesty’s Ship “Bacchante” 1879 – 1882

Title page of: Cruise of the HMS "Bacchante" 1879-1882
Title page of: Cruise of the HMS “Bacchante” 1879-1882

The Cruise of Her Majesty’s Ship “Bacchante” 1879 – 1882 compiled from the private journals, letters and note-books of Prince Albert Victor and Prince George of Wales with additions by Canon John Neale Dalton*, was digitised by the Internet Archive in 2007 with funding from Microsoft Corporation.

Click here to read The Cruise of Her Majesty’s Ship “Bacchante” 1879 – 1882 online. This is a fascinating read. We encourage you to dip into it. This online version should open at the start of the Princes visit to Barbados on page 50.

The Cruise of the HMS Bacchante 1879-1882 is also available as a Google book.

*Canon John Neale Dalton KCVO CMG (24 September 1839 – 28 July 1931) was a Church of England clergyman and author. He was a chaplain to Queen Victoria, a Canon of Windsor, and tutor to Prince Albert Victor and his younger brother Prince George (the future King George V).


Monument to Mr. Sims the naval schoolmaster aboard HMS Baccchante

According to the Princes diary there should be a memorial to Mr. James Sims the naval schoolmaster on board HMS Bacchante who died on the 1st January 1880 of rheumatic fever and was buried in the Barbados military cemetery at Needhams Point.

We have been unable to locate Mr. James Sims tombstone / memorial within the Barbados military cemetery at Needhams Point. Do you know where it may be located?

1st January 1880 …At dawn this morning Mr. Sims, the naval schoolmaster of the Bacchante, died in hospital, whither he had been conveyed from the ship early yesterday morning. He had been for some time suffering from rheumatism in his limbs, which, however, entirely ceased the day before his death, when it seems to have gone to his heart. He was twenty-three years of age, and will be much missed in the ship, both as regards his regular work with the boys (he always played the harmonium in Church on Sunday), and also on account of the voluntary services of help which he rendered to different members of the ship’s company. He was buried to-day at 5.30 P.M. in the military cemetery by the edge of the sea ; and George, happening to have that watch, marched as the midshipman in charge of the funeral party of bluejackets and marines under the first lieutenant.

4th January 1880 …the Bishop of Barbados came aboard to preached a compact and rousing little service… At the afternoon service on board commemoration was made of the naval schoolmaster, Mr. Sims. The ship’s company raised a good subscription on the lower deck for a monument to be erected to his memory, which Mr. Blunn, chaplain of the Tourmaline, has kindly consented to see carried out after we leave, and to send them photographs of the same, when it has been placed in the cemetery.


Photo Album of Prince Albert and Prince George of Wales visit to Barbados while aboard HMS Bacchante 25th December 1879 and 5th January 1880

Princes Albert and George of Wales visit Barbados aboard HMS Bacchante 1879
The Cruise of HMS Bacchante 1879-1882. Photograph Album: Volume II, West Indies. Source: Royal Collection Trust

For the three years (1879-82) while Prince Albert and Prince George were Midshipman aboard HMS Bacchante their trip was documented with photographs. Nine albums of photographs were presented to King George V by the Princes tutor Canon John Neale Dalton.

These nine leather bound photograph albums are held by the The Royal Collection Trust and contain albumen prints. There are 18 photographs associated with the Princes visit to Barbados in the album: The Cruise of HMS Bacchante 1879-1882. Volume II, West Indies 1877-82.

The photographs below are taken from the Royal Collection Trust and have been brightened up to bring out some of the faded detail. Some of the images with tears have also been digitally repaired.

3 thoughts on “Prince Albert and Prince George visit Barbados while Midshipmen aboard HMS Bacchante in 1879”

  1. Thanks William for pulling this together. An excellent synopsis. I really enjoyed the photos especially the one showing the houses… they were more the rectangular block houses rather than chattel style which we commonly associate with Barbados.

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