Joseph Churcher RN Chief Engineer Royal Yacht 1863 – on arrival of Princess Alexandra to marry Edward VII

This is a transcription from an original family document written by my relation Joseph Churcher (b. February 12 1829, Wickham, Hampshire, England) who was chief engineer on the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert II. (We have a decanter purported to be a gift to him from Edward VII.) The letter appears to document February/March 1863 when Princess Alexandra of Denmark arrived for her wedding to Edward VII.  They had been betrothed when she was sixteen and she married at nineteen. He writes:

February 26th Turned over from Royal George to Victoria and Albert to fetch the Princess Alexandra

February 28th At 11.30 A.M. Steamed out of harbour for Antwerp – arrived off Dover at 6.P.M. Anchored

March 1st got under weigh at 5.30 A.M. made for the Scheldt, arrived off Flushing at 12.30, off Antwerp at 4 P.M. Anchored.

March 5th. at 10.30 A.M. embarked their Royal Highnesses Princess Alexandra, Prince & Princess Christian of Denmark, The Princess Dagmar, The Prince William,  The Prince Frederik, The Princess Thyra and Prince Waldemar and such (“which together with the ship’s company made nearly 300 souls on board”) for England. Weighed anchor and steamed down the river amidst the deafening cheers of the inhabitants. The batteries also Saluting off Flushing at 4.30. P.M., when we were met by the Defence, and Resistance who manned Guards and Saluted 21 guns each. Immediately before we came up with them their bands struck up the Danish National Anthem followed by “God save the Queen”, the batteries on shore taking up the Saluting which altogether had a beautiful effect. At 10. P.M. in the midst of the North Sea we came up with the Revenge and the Warrior, who turned and received us in the centre when they both beautifully illuminated, at the same time firing a Royal Salute,  the Yacht at the same time sending up showers of Rockets which illuminated the heavens, and at that time of night and on the open sea had an awfully grand appearance.

March 6th found us anchored in Margate Roads. As soon as the good people of Margate saw us off their shores, all was bustle and excitement, flags were seen up on every flagstaff. Vessels of every size, from the fisherman’s lugger to the smallest boat that could float, came off crowded “to the water’s edge” with multitudes of loyal people anxious to catch a glimpse of their apparent future Queen, cheering lustily as they passed. While the Princess was not behind in graciously acknowledging their best efforts to show their affection and loyalty (“with a graceful bow and a wave of her handkerchief”)

At 8 A.M. Dressed ship, which was soon followed by the Revenge, Warrior, and the Juno (?) At 10.30 A.M. Admiral Sir Robert Smart of the Revenge, with his staff of officers, came on board and had the honour of being introduced (“by Captain Seymour C.B.”) to her Royal Highness and other members of the Danish Royal Family.

At 11 A.M. the Mayor and Corporation of Margate came on board and presented, theMayor presenting her an address which she graciously accepted. At 2 P.M. weighed anchor and ran for the Nore, arrived at 5 P.M.

The Warrior, Formidable, Cumberland, and the Leander, manned Guards and Saluted, the batteries on shore taking up the Salutation. Bonfires & Fireworks on shore, Illuminations and Fireworks afloat, so the evening passed away. Captain Seymour C.B., Admiral Sir Hope Johnston, and the distinguished officers had the honour of dining with their Royal Highnesses.

Departure from the Nore & arrival at Gravesend. Saturday morning March 7th all seemed bustle and excitement, the water literally covered with boats of every description crowded to excess with eager spectators. At 8 A.M. all the ship dressed, “rainbow fashion’, and the Salutes that blazed forth from their iron throats was truly deafening. At 9.30 A.M. weighed anchor, and the ships again sent forth their thunder, manned Guards and all hands cheering lustily. As we proceeded slowly up the river, we were met by myriads of steamers and all kinds of crafts, crowded to suffocation & with bands playing, some one tune, some another, the people shouting & yelling lustily. All seemed wild with excitement and as soon as a bonnet appeared above the bulwarks (no matter who wore it) it was sure to call forth renewed cheering, and cries of, “There she is !” etc. As soon as the  yacht hove in sight at Gravesend, the old fort at Tilbury opened her many mouths to welcome Her Royal Highness, which was taken up lustily by the Emerald & Racoon and manned Guards. Got alongside the pier a few minutes before 12 Noon.

Arrival of the Prince of Wales & Disembarkation of the Danish Royal Family. His Royal Highness Prince of Wales accompanied by Lord Alfred Paget and other great Officers of State came on board a few minutes past 12 Noon. The Prince immediately repaired to the Cabin that contained his affianced Bride. At 12.30 The Royal Pair emerged from the Royal saloon and made their appearance on the quarter deck and disembarked, The Princess leaning on the right arm of the Prince followed by the Royal family and officers.

Thanks to contact from Mr. Clifford Art, I have now ascertained that later Joseph Churcher RN was later chief engineer of H.M.S Hercules. He died in 1873, having caught pneumonia on a train journey. He was buried with full honours. Here is the account of his sending off as reported in the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, Wed. June 11th. 1873:

…’The funeral was one of the largest that has taken place in this cemetery for many years. There were eight mourners, including two of the deceased’s brothers and his son, Admiral Mcdonald and Captain Dowell, CB,  and nearly the whole of the officers of the Hercules attended. Between 300 and 400 others, including seamen, marines, and marine artillerymen, were also present.

The deceased was buried with naval honours, and the mournful cortege , which was headed by the band of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, playing the Dead March in Saul, left the Hospital at half-past two. The body was drawn by a conveyed to the cemetery on a gun carriage, drawn by a ship’s company. The coffin bore the following inscription:_

“Joseph Churcher, chief engineer HMS Hercules,

Died June 3rd, 1873, aged 44 years.”

The service was impressively read by the chaplain of the Hercules, the Rev. Robert O’Callaghan.’




2 thoughts on “Joseph Churcher RN Chief Engineer Royal Yacht 1863 – on arrival of Princess Alexandra to marry Edward VII

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

About Mel Churcher

I am an acting coach, voice coach, actor and director.