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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

British Princes Albert and George in Tenerife

The British Princes Albert and George V, sons of Edward VII

The stay of the British princes Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale and George Frederick Ernest Albert (later George V) in Tenerife

The Canary Islands, in its privileged location on the transoceanic routes and during all those centuries in which only maritime navigation existed as a means of transport, was turned into an almost unavoidable stopover for all those vessels that wanted to go to southern Africa, America and Oceania. This strategic circumstance gave us the opportunity to count, especially in Tenerife, on illustrious visitors, as happened in December 1879, when the corvette, HMS Bacchante brought princes to the island as naval cadets (midshipmen), Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, 15 years old, and George Frederick (the future George V), 14 years old, sons of Edward VII and Alejandra of Denmark

This vessel, which had sailed from Portsmouth on July 15, 1879 under the command of Captain Lord Charles MD Scott, had one of its objectives to contribute to the cultural and personal training of both princes, visiting not only the territories belonging to the British Empire beyond the seas but all those places of interest that arose in its path ... and Mount Teide, and Tenerife as a whole, were among them.

The logbook, based on private records, letters and documents of both princes, and subsequently drawn up in publication format by the chaplain of the Bacchante, John Neale Dalton, is our best source of knowledge of the circumstances of their stay on the island. Through their annotations, we know that they spotted the Pico del Teide, covered in snow, at noon on December 1, 1879, giving themselves the curious circumstance of taking advantage of the journey between Madeira and these Islands to delve into Canarian history and culture. In the well-stocked library they carried on board they had the latest editions of the Hakluyt Society, with updated texts on the conquest of the Canary Islands and its main benchmarks. 

At 11 am on December 3, the corvette bottomed out in the Santa Cruz de Tenerife bay, 25 fathoms deep, saluting the Spanish flag with a salute of twenty-one cannons. The carousel of formal visits on board then began, led by the captain and the captain of the port, followed by Vice Consul John Howard Edwards and the consignee Charles Howard Hamilton. There was a curious coincidence, reflected in the newspaper, that they came to share anchor for a few hours with the French ship Le Tage, loaded with prisoners and convicts destined for Cayenne, but which soon set sail for its destination.

One of the first things that all travellers who arrived at the port of Santa Cruz notice, and this time it was not going to be different, is the sensation of heat that they felt as soon as they dropped anchor. After lunch, the princes and their cohort of consular representatives and officials disembarked and went first to visit the city museum, "which is arranged in what was once an old convent." There both are surprised not only by the excellent anthropological collection they show them but by the expressions of its curator (which we assume was the doctor and researcher Juan Bethencourt Alfonso), who told them “that he would be very happy to exchange [anthropological material] with other museums to obtain skulls and remains of other ancient races”.

The next item on the agenda was a visit to the church of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción –which is erroneously referred to as a cathedral–, to contemplate “the two English flags that Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson lost here on July 24, 1797. Both are Union Jacks without the St. Andrew's cross and are much larger than the common flags used today. They are kept coiled in two long glazed wooden boxes arranged one on each side of the altar in a chapel on the north side of the nave. "Today they were lowered and placed on a large table in the sacristy, and they were unrolled so that we could handle and examine them conveniently”. At this point we could not resist including a complementary note, extracted from an article entitled Glorias Canarias, written by Leandro Serra Fernández de Moratín for the newspaper "La Ilustracion de Canarias", dated July 31, 1882, in which he recalled that particular visit to the flags in the chapel of Santiago. This author told us: “Frequently [the flags] are visited by foreigners who come to this Capital: lately they have been visited by the sons of the Prince of Wales, who, as midshipmen, came in the Bacchante. The eldest of them gazed attentively at the imprisoned standards, and with a moved voice said: "For them my father would give a treasure." To which one of those present replied: "Your Highness is unaware that they are the glory of our grandparents?" 

The princes continued their visit to the temple and accessed the top of the tower, from where they enjoyed a magnificent panoramic view of the place, drawing their attention to the huge slopes planted with nopales - a common name in Spanish for Opuntia cacti (commonly referred to in English as prickly pear) - for the production of cochineal.

On the day of December 4, after resting on board, the delegation passed from Santa Cruz de Tenerife to the neighbouring city of La Laguna, where they were entertained at the residence of the British merchant Benjamin Renshaw in Orea. The ascent to the old capital seemed to them "very steep and hot", with a dusty road in which "many of us were very happy to shorten its multiple curves by doing the route on foot". They continued the journey and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon they were already in La Orotava, a valley that surprised them by its vegetation and its “rich volcanic soil”. After the obligatory visits to the Botanical Garden, to the site where the Drago de La Orotava was - of which they commented "of which now there are only a large pile of fragments" and one of whose branches, according to the testimony of travellers, could be seen in the gardens botanists from Kew, London - and prepared for the next day's project, which was none other than the ascent to the peak. 

The journey to Las Cañadas, which began at 3 am on December 5, focused the attention of the princes, who did not cease to admire the contemplated landscape. As a curiosity they pointed out that "the guides who run alongside the ponies seem to know the way even though it is still dark", showing once again the experience and importance of these almost anonymous individuals on this journey of travellers to Teide through the ages. The princes recorded the cold that was noticeable at the summit, but their effort was worth it, as their own words attest: “From this point we get one of the best views we have seen. These are the gardens of the Hespérides, as the Carthaginian colony of Cádiz called them; it extends into an amphitheatre that faces west, delimited in the extreme south by Icod and in the north by La Matanza; between which there is a great slope of eternal fertility and beauty, similar to the slopes of Etna, only here, in addition to the corn and the greenery of the rich crops, we have palm trees, bananas and other semi-tropical foliage. There is the highest peak on which Greek eyes rested: the Atlantean column of heaven. Here the wandering Perseus and Heracles arrived in search of the golden fruit guarded by the dragon, whose remains we saw in the dragon tree that we admired yesterday in La Orotava”.

The return to Santa Cruz de Tenerife took place throughout the same marathon day, stopping at La Orotava and La Laguna on the way back to Bacchante. A memorable dance, performed in tribute to the officers of the British corvette, was the perfect counterpoint to that busy day. Finally, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on December 6, 1879, they set sail for Bermuda, leaving behind that memory of a princely visit that was to remain etched in the retina and the memory of the island of Tenerife.

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