The Flying Dutchman

In 1881, Queen Victoria’s grandsons, Prince Albert Victor and his younger brother, Prince George (who would later become George V of England when Albert Victor died unexpectedly ten years later) were on a three-year tour at sea. They were being educated in the navy, since military training has often been considered a valuable part of royal and aristocratic schooling.

Their ship was damaged, so they boarded a new ship called the HMS Inconstant while in Australia. That is not a great name for a ship. Nothing good is going to happen on a ship like that. The princes kept a joint log of their travels. The entry on July 11, 1881, contains a startling record. One of the princes writes:

“At 4:00 a.m., the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars, and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her … At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.”

Not only did over a dozen other crew members see the ship (or apparition or trick of the light or whatever), but the crews of two nearby ships, the Tourmaline and the Cleopatra, saw it as well.

Of course, for many sailors the Flying Dutchman is a portent of doom. The question is whether that doom in this instance was the death of the seaman who first spotted it, or the shocking death 10 years later of Prince Albert Victor, or the ‘doom’ of the princes’ education (which, upon their return after 3 whole years, was deeply lackluster and gravely disappointed Queen Victoria).

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