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
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!