After commanding the Polyphemus for two years and a half I was appointed Commander of the Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert, which was commanded by Captain Thomson, and afterwards by Captain Fullerton.
At the time of my appointment, the Victoria and Albert was undergoing a very extensive repair, and as the Commander of the Royal Yacht Osborne had just been promoted, I was lent to the Osborne, in command for the time, and had to take the Duchess of Edinburgh and her brother, the Grand Duke Paul, to Kronstadt, the port of St. Petersburg, for the wedding of their brother, the Grand Duke Sergius, to Princess Elizabeth of Hesse.
The Duchess of Edinburgh was very kind. I lunched with her every day, and in the evenings dined and played whist; she arranged that I should be shown over the Forts of Kronstadt. It is practically unknown for any nation to show its forts to a foreigner, but on this occasion the guns of the forts were all manned, and the colonels of artillery and engineers were told off to attend and to show me anything that I wanted to see. I was much surprised, especially as the forts were not at all strong or well-equipped. I had the chance of visiting these forts a second time when I was a naval attache; I will refer to this later on.
On arrival at Kronstadt, several of the Royal Family came on board in their splendid uniforms, to meet their brother and sister, and after greeting them they embraced an old manservant, who was with us, and kissed him on both cheeks. My officers and I were asked to all the festivities at the Russian Court, namely, the marriage ceremony, the dinner party, consisting of 800 persons (50 of whom were Royalties and dined at a separate table), and also to the ball in the evening, at which only 400 people were present.
A marriage in Russia is a very interesting ceremony, especially when it is a Royal one. The Grand Dukes have to hold a crown over the heads of the bride and bridegroom at arms length; as they soon get tired they have to be relieved by others. The whole ceremonial in the Greek Church was very grand, and a great contrast to the Lutheran marriage, which took place afterwards in one of the rooms at the palace.
The ball was a magnificent sight, and after midnight – when in Russia, at that time of the year, it is almost quite light – the bride and bridegroom left, accompanied by a regiment of cavalry, mounted on grey horses.
At the ball, a good many people came up and spoke to me and amongst them was the Car. Unfortunately, he could not speak English, so addressed me in French, and I am afraid at that time I was not a French scholar; I soon found, however, that knowledge of French was absolutely essential, so when I returned to England I set to work to learn the language, and afterwards passed a preliminary examination for interpreter.
Prince and Princess Louis of Battenberg were staying at the Winter Palace, and before dinner we went there to have an aperitif. Prince Louis said, “I shall see you afterwards, but I am afraid I shall not be sitting near you,” thinking that he was going to dine at the Royal table. Apparently (I believe by the influence of the ex-Kaiser), he was not allowed to dine at that table and was allotted a seat as an officer of the Osborne.
On my return from Russia I resumed my duties as Commander of the Victoria and Albert. In the summer this yacht was in attendance at Cowes when the Queen was at Osborne, but in the winter the Alberta was there and the Victoria and Albert was laid up, the officers living on board the old sailing-yacht, Royal George.
H.M. the Queen asked me to dine each year. It was rather a formal entertainment; we were invited at 8 p.m., but the Queen did not appear until 8.45 p.m. The Crown Prince and Princess of Germany, with their three daughters, paid a visit to the Queen at Osborne. The daughters were constantly on board the Victoria and Albert, and I undertook to teach them to row. Most people think the Queen was very Low Church, and kept Sunday very strictly, but she used to ask me and some of the officers to play lawn tennis on Sundays. The Cowes week was always interesting and I saw a good deal of the yacht-racing. During my time in the Yacht, the Queen had her first Jubilee, and the officers presented her with a picture of the Victoria and Albert, which she graciously accepted.
At the end of three years, in 1887, I was promoted to Captain. As a matter of fact, if I had not gone to the Yacht, I should have been promoted before, and I think, on the whole, it was certainly a mistake to have gone there. Although my duties were not very onerous, I had a fair amount to do, as I was retained on the Whitehead Submerged Tube Committee; I was also completing my design for discharging torpedoes, and I worked hard at French; this I never regretted, as I found it very useful, especially as Naval Attaché for Europe, also when I took the Atlantic Fleet to Brest, and when I was on the staff, of President Fallières on his visit to King Edward VII.