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More Leaves from the Journal
Death of the Prince Imperial 19 June 1879


Balmoral Castle, Thursday, June 19, 1879

At twenty minutes to eleven Brown knocked and came in, and said there was bad news; and when I, in alarm, asked what, he replied, “The young French Prince is killed;” and when I could not take it in, and asked several times what it meant, Beatrice, who then came in with the telegram in her hand, said, “Oh! the Prince Imperial is killed!” I feel a sort of thrill of horror now while I write the words.

I put my hands to my head and cried out, “No, no! it cannot, cannot be true! It can’t be!” And then dear Beatrice, who was crying very much, as I did too, gave me the annexed telegram from Lady Trere :—

Government House, Cape Town, June 19, 1879.

To General Sir Henry Ponsonby, Balmoral Castle.—For the Information of Her Majesty the Queen.

The melancholy tidings ha\e been telegraphed from Natal, that the Prince Imperial, when out on a reconnaissance from Colonel Wood’s camp on the 1st of June, was killed by a number of Zulus concealed in a field in which the Prince Imperial and his party had dismounted to rest and feed their horses. No official particulars yet received by me. The Prince Imperial’s body found and buried with full military honours at Camp Helezi, and after being embalmed will be conveyed to England. This precedes the press telegrams by one hour. I have sent to Lord Sydney to beg him, if possible, to break the sad intelligence to the Empress before the press telegrams arrive.

To die in such an awful, horrible way! Poor, poor dear Empress! her only, only child—her all gone! And such a real misfortune! I was quite beside myself; and both of us have hardly had another thought since.

We sent for Janie Ely, who was in the house when he was born, and was so devoted to him; and he was so good! Oh! it is too, too awful! The more one thinks of it, the worse it is! I was in the greatest distress. Brown so distressed; every one quite stunned. Got to bed very late; it was dawning! and little sleep did I get.

Friday, June 20

Had a bad, restless night, haunted by this awful event, seeing those horrid Zulus constantly before me, and thinking of the poor Empress, who did not yet know it. Was up in good time.

My accession day, forty-two years ago; but no thought of it in presence of this frightful event.

Had written many telegrams last night. One came from Lord Sydney, saying he was going down early this morning to break this dreadful news to the poor afflicted mother. How dreadful! Received distressed and horrified telegrams from some of my children. Heard by telegram also from Sir Stafford Northcote that the news arrived in the House of Commons; that much sympathy had been shown. It came to Colonel Stanley. Telegraphed to many.

Packed my boxes with Brown. Was so horrified. Always, at Balmoral m May or June, dreadful news, or news of deaths of Royal persons, come, obliging the State parties to be put off.

At twenty minutes past eleven drove to Donald Stewart’s and got out to say “Good bye,” as well as to the Profeits, and stopped at the door of the shop to wish Mrs. Symon good-bye, and also at Brown’s house, to take leave of the Hugh Browns. Home at twenty minutes past twelve. Writing.

Received a telegram from Lord Sydney, saying that he had informed the poor dear Empress of these dreadful news. She could not believe it for some time, and was afterwards quite overwhelmed.

How dreadful! Took luncheon with Beatrice in my darling Albert’s room. Beatrice was much upset, as indeed we all were. Even those who did not know them felt the deepest sympathy, and were in a state of consternation. He was so good and so much beloved. So strange that, as last time, our departure should be saddened, as, indeed, it has been every year, at least for three or four years, by the occurrence of deaths of great people or of relations.

We left Balmoral at half-past one, Janie Ely and Leila Erroll (full of feeling) going with Beatrice and me. It was a pity to leave when everything was in its greatest beauty. The lilacs just preparing to burst. Near Ballater there was a bush of white lilac already out. The dust dreadful. Very little whin, and far less of that beautiful broom, out, which was always such a pretty sight from the railway at this time of the year. We reached Aberdeen at twenty-eight minutes to four, and soon after had our tea.

At the Bridge of Dan we got newspapers with some of the sad details. Thence we turned off and passed again close to the sea by Arbroath, East Haven, Carnoustie (where poor Syrnon went and got so ill he had to be taken back), all lying low, with golf links near each, and the line passing over long grass strips with mounds and small indentations of the sea, such as are seen near sands, where there are no rocks and the coast is flat; but the ground rises as you approach Dundee.

We reached the Tay Bridge station at six. Immense crowds everywhere, flags waving in every direction, and the whole population out; but one’s heart was too sad for anything. The Provost, splendidly attired, presented an address. Ladies presented beautiful bouquets to Beatrice and me. The last time I was at Dundee was in September 1844, just after Affie’s birth, when we landed there on our way to Blair, and Vicky, then not four years old, the only child with us, was carried through the crowd by old Renwick. [Sergeant tootman at the time, who died in 1871.] We embarked there also on our way back.

We stopped here about five minutes, and then began going over the marvellous Tay Bridge, which is rather more than a mile and a half long. [The Tay Bridge was destroyed in the same year (1879) in the gale of the night of December 29, when a whole train with upwards of eighty passengers was precipitated into the Tay.] It was begun in 1871. There were great difficulties in laying the foundation, and some lives were lost. It was finished in 1878.

Mr. Bouch, who was presented at Dundee, was the engineer. It took us, I should say, about eight minutes going over. The view was very fine.

The boys of the training-ship, with their band, looked very well. The line through the beautifully wooded county of Fife was extremely pretty, especially after Ladybank Junction, where we stopped for a few minutes, and where Mr. Balfour of Balbirnie brought a basket of flowers. We met him and his wife, Lady Georgiana, in Scotland in 1842. We passed near Loch Leven, with the ruined castle in which poor Queen Mary was confined (which we passed in 1842), stopping there a moment and in view of the “Lomonds,’ past Dollar and Tillicoultry, the situation of which, in a wooded green valley at the foot of the hills, is quite beautiful, and reminded me of Italy and Switzerland, through Sauchie, Alloa, all manufacturing towns, and then close under Wallace's Monument. We reached the Stirling Station, which was dreadfully crowded, at eighteen minutes past eight (the people everywhere very enthusiastic), and after leaving it we had some good cold dinner, which reminded me much of our refreshments in the train during our charming Italian journey.

We got Scotch papers as we went along, giving harrowing details (all by telegraph) from the front, or rather from Natal to Cape Town, then by ship to Madeira, and thence again by telegraph here. Of nothing else could we think. Janie Ely got in at Beattock Summit, and wrent with us as far as Carlisle. She showed us a Dundee paper, called the “Evening Telegraph,’’ which contained the fullest and most dreadful accounts. Monstrous! To think of that dear young man, the apple of his mother’s eye, born and nurtured in the purple, dying thus, is too fearful, too awful; and inexplicable and dreadful that the others should not have turned round and fought for him. It is too horrible!


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