Sunday 26 July 2015

Dinner with Queen Victoria

The State Dining Room in the Semi-State Rooms,
Windsor Castle

My personal collection of historical ephemera includes an original and elaborately printed menu card for a Dinner given by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on the 15th May 1879.

Given in honour of the visit of the Empress Augusta of Germany [the Consort of the German Emperor William I] , the Queen's personal diary describes in detail the events that took place this day.

Augusta of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach 1811 - 1890,
Empress of Germany 1871 - 1888
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

The Empress Augusta, then aged 67, had arrived at Windsor Castle the previous day, the 14th May 1879, having been officially welcomed upon her arrival at Dover earlier that morning. The Empress had suffered from rheumatism for some years and Queen Victoria now found her "...aged and bent and she looks very ill." Rather less charitably, and upon meeting the Empress at a party given in her honour by Lady Salisbury some days later, Lady Lucy Cavendish referred to meeting "a wizzy [meaning wizened or withered] old lady, who was just curtseying and complimenting herself out of the house when we arrived."

Queen Victoria and her Daughter, Princess Beatrice,
 taken in the Queen's Private Sitting Room 1895.

Thursday the 15th May, "A showery morning", began in a relaxed manner with the Empress breakfasting with the Queen, "The Empress breakfasted with us in my room, and seemed so pleased to be there." By "us" she would be referring to herself and her daughter and constant companion, Princess Beatrice. As to "my room", this appears to be within Queen Victoria's own private apartments rather than the adjoining private family Oak Dining Room. Hence the Empress's obvious pleasure at being invited into this private and personal inner sanctum.

Queen Victoria with daughter Princess Beatrice and
her husband Prince Henry of Battenberg, and their
three children at luncheon in the Oak Dining Room
with two uniformed Indian servants. Queen Victoria
normally took lunch and dinner in this room if there
were no state occasions. Taken 1895.

Queen Victoria is known to have preferred a boiled egg for breakfast, being served in a gold egg cup, but a comprehensive selection of egg dishes, cooked meats, chicken, game birds and fish would be prepared by the Royal Kitchen for her family and guests who might desire a heartier meal. It would be normal for a large quantity of uneaten food to be returned to the kitchens yet the same quantity and variety of food would continue to be cooked and served each day.

A 'Clarence' Carriage from the Royal Mews

No further mention is made of the Empress until after luncheon, the Queen no doubt being earlier occupied with her red boxes and affairs of state. "The afternoon became very hot, so drove in the clarence [a covered horse drawn carriage with curved glass front side windowswith the Empress, to Cumberland Lodge & took tea there, with Lenchen and Christian" [her daughter Princess Helena, known in the family as "Lenchen", and her husband Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein]. Cumberland Lodge, a Grade II listed country house built in 1650, lies in Windsor Great Park and was at the time occupied by the former.

Cumberland Lodge, Windsor Great Park

My menu card refers to the formal dinner given by Queen Victoria that evening in the State Dining Room at Windsor Castle. The Head Royal Chef would have drawn up the menu which would then be amended or approved by the Queen.

The printed menu for the dinner
given by Queen Victoria described
in this Blog, 15th May 1879
[From my own collection]

"Had a large dinner of 32 in the Dining Room. Besides the Empress, whom Leopold led in, Lenchen & Christian (who led me in), Count Münster & Countess Marie, the Duke of Northumberland, the Salisbury's, Granville's, Sydney's, Lord & Lady A Loftus, Lord [?] Edgecumbe, The Empress's 4 people, the Duchess of Athol, Jamie Ely, the 2 Maids of Honour, Lord Yarmouth, Lady De Ros, Lord Torrington, Sir John Cowell, & Sir H. [Henry] Ponsonby, dinedThe band played during dinner."

The State Dining Room in the Semi-State Rooms, 
Windsor Castle

The dinner comprised of six courses all described in French, as was then the custom, on the elaborately printed souvenir menu card. English translations are provided :

Her Majesty's Dinner
Thursday, 15th May 1879

Potages (Soups)
A la Tortue (Turtle soup)
A la Julienne (Julienne cut vegetable Soup)

Poissons (Fish Course)
Whitebait (Fried baby herring or sardines)
Le Saumon bouilli (Boiled salmon)
Les Filets de Merlans frits (Fried whiting fillets)

Entrées (Entrees)
Les Petite Pâtés à la Bechamelle (Small pies with Bechamel sauce)
Les Ris de Veau, en escalopes sauteés (Sautéed veal sweetbreads)
Les Filets de Canetons, aux pois (Duckling fillets with peas)

Relevés (A Main Meat Course)
Les Poulardes à la Milanaise (Pullets in Milanese sauce)
Roast Beef
Roast Mutton

Rôts (Roasts)
Les Cailles Bardées (Roast quail wrapped in bacon)
Les Poulets (Roast pullet)

Entremêts (Desserts)
Les Asperges à la Sauce (Asparagus in sauce)
Les petits Gàteaux de Compiegne (Small 'Compiègne' cakes)
Les Tartelettes merniguées à l’Italienne (Italian style meringue tart)
Les Gelées d’Oranges oubannées (Jellied oranges)

The Great Kitchen at Windsor Castle,
from "Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management"

The dinner would be prepared under the supervision of the Head Royal Chef with no less than eighteen chefs of various levels of expertise and seniority working under his personal direction and a total kitchen staff of 45. This was besides the 300 plus indoors household staff which Queen Victoria employed, many following her around the various Royal residences.

The State Dining Room in the Semi-State Rooms, 
Windsor Castle

A formal evening dinner would normally be timed to last exactly an hour and a half at most. When Queen Victoria, who ate very quickly, finished a course the table would be immediately cleared for the next course, regardless if everyone had actually finished. Even though it broke Royal etiquette, The Queen once found it decidedly amusing when a guest vocally objected to his plate being quickly removed by a waiter as he had not yet finished, demanding that it be brought back! Many guests in fact found invitations to dine with the Queen an "onerous honour", if not in fact "purgatory", as she would be served before her guests but began eating immediately the food was placed in front of her. Those served last (normally being those of less importance in the social hierarchy) would hardly have time to eat a morsel of food before the waiters commenced clearing the table.

A Relaxed and Smiling Queen Victoria
[Source :]

But, unless she was in a disgruntled or melancholy mood, dinners with Queen Victoria were not always "irksome affairs". The Queen could be an entertaining host, full of conversation and, if one was lucky, often displaying her keen sense of humour. There are in fact numerous recorded instances where The Queen was observed to heave with laughter until tears rolled down her face upon hearing or observing something that she found amusing, attempting to hide her face with her napkin or handkerchief. But dining with an elderly German Empress no doubt made for a generally more restrained atmosphere, conversation with the Empress most likely being conducted in German.

The Crimson (Red) Drawing Room 
in the Semi-State Rooms, Windsor Castle

After the meal had ended it was then customary for the ladies to withdraw to the Drawing Room for personal conversation and tea or coffee leaving the men, who might remain in the dining room or retire to the library or billiards room, to enjoy an after dinner glass of port or cognac and maybe a cigar before later rejoining the ladies. The Drawing Room was strictly non-smoking. And while royalty may sit down, guests were normally expected to remain standing unless card games were being played. Queen Victoria would, at least in later years, be seated with her cup of coffee, the saucer being held by a page, as guests were brought up to speak to her.

[After the dinner] "We talked to the company in the Red [Crimson] Drawing room. Then the Empress & my daughters came for a short while to my room."  

Entry in Queen Victoria's Diary describing
the Dinner given for the German Empress,
at Windsor Castle on the 15th May 1879.
(as transcribed by Princess Beatrice)
[Source : Royal Archives]

Bibliography :

- "Life in the Victorian Kitchen: Culinary Secrets and Servants' Stories" by Karen Foy
- "Plenty and Want : A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day" by John Burnett
- "Queen Victoria : A Personal History", by Christopher Hibbert
- Various Internet Resources

Sunday 12 July 2015

"From the Utmost Ends of the Earth" - The Voyage of HMNZ Troopship No 106, Jun-Aug 1918 (Part Two)

My late Uncle, who wrote the descriptive
letter describing the eventful voyage of 
the 39th New Zealand Reinforcements
 to England in 1918.

Following on from my recent Blog [click HERE to view], this post concludes the story of the eventful voyage of the 39th New Zealand Reinforcements who travelled to England between June and August 1918. This is based around actual excerpts of a very interesting and descriptive letter written by my late Uncle. My apologies that the quality of the illustrations will vary.

Kingston Harbour & Wharf, Jamaica, 1915
[Source : Buflyer200]

"We had a pretty good time here for the three weeks we were here although the food was rough, very rough, and we lived a good deal on fruit. Fruit here is very cheap, the [natives] bringing it over from Kingston - 7 miles - in little boats and they did pretty well out of the troops.... Fruit is very cheap in Jamaica averaging 4d. per doz. for bananas, 4 to 6[d.] for fair size juice pineapples, other fruits were not in season for a month or so."

Kingston Jamaica looking out over the Bay
to Port Royal, taken 1920.
[Source : The Caribbean Photo Archive]

"Every second or third day a limited number from the reinforcements were granted leave and taken over to Kingston in boats towed behind the tug. It cost us nothing to go over and I think the main reason for letting us go was to get a bumper good feed or two into us, and we did too but had to pay solid[?] for it. Of all the places we have called at Kingston is the most expensive of the lot. The meals were excellent and we soon found out where we could get the same meal for less money, trust a soldier for finding these things out and we were not drawing much money at the time for from the day we sailed till we landed in England we were paid only a 1/- [one shilling] a day and we were paid the other 1/- a day in a lump sum... [upon arrival in England]."

The "R.M.S. Athenic" in Port.
[Source : Internet]

"On Tues sixteenth the Athenic got off and steamed very slowly round past Port Royal to Kingston. She had a rough spin and it is a miracle she ever got off at all for other vessels have run aground there and been smashed to pieces with the big waves."

[Note : The "R.M.S. Athenic" was sold to a Norwegian company in 1928 and re-named the "S.S. Pelagos", captured by the German Navy Oct 1941, torpedoed Oct 1944 (as an act of spite by the Germans), raised a year later, re-fitted and quite surprisingly continued in service until being broken up at Hamburg as late as 1962 after serving for a quite remarkable 61 years.]

The "SS Goentoer" in peacetime. In 1918 her
superstructure was painted in
an all-over dark or grey colour.
[Source : Dahmeijer Archives]  

"During this time they were fitting up a small vessel in Kingston [the "S.S. Goentoer"] to take us on, and when we heard that our Doctor had condemned her we reared up in earnest, so they must have fixed her up a bit better because the Doctor passed her later on and she duly arrived to take us off. The night before we went there was a lot of unrest among the men about whether we should go on board or not but the Doctor said she was right so that carried a lot of weight so went on board before breakfast and sailed about 9 a.m. leaving a cheering crowd of whites and [natives] and soon left Jamaica behind."

A Panorama of New York from
the Brooklyn Bridge, taken 1918
[Source : Wikipedia]

"The sea was a bit rough at first and a few were seasick but the next day the sea was lovely and remained so till we reached New York. After we left Jamaica we all wore lifebelts the whole day and slept with them handy at night. We were, although we did not realise it, passing through very grave danger and were within 2 hours sailing of where a vessel was being submarined and we had no protecting vessels of any kind but we got through without any mishap and on the eighth we anchored inside New York Harbour."

A bustling New York Harbour with
Lower Manhattan, taken 1920's.
[Source : Wikipedia]

"On Friday morning we sailed up the harbour and it is wonderful. Outside there are aeroplanes & manowars galore and inside steamers, big liners, ferry boats and bustling little tugs that seem to be here there and everywhere at once. Berthed about noon and got general leave in the city from 8 p.m... The New York people are the most hospitable crowd I have struck and just now their patriotism is at boiling point and they have a lot of time for soldiers." 

My Uncle's Souvenir of New York - a US One Dollar Bill
[From my own collection]

"We got general leave all day Saturday and had a great time. We were dressed in tunics, shorts and putters and it amused the Yanks who couldn't take their eyes off our hairy brown legs. They took us for motor rides with a big feed to top off with and refused to let us pay a penny."

A "New Zealander in New York",
from "Lights Out"
 [Source : Auckland War Memorial Museum]

"On Sunday morning we finished coaling and the carpenters finished putting tables etc into the holds so we could get a table to have our meals on which was something after the spin we had had and we left N.Y. in the afternoon and steamed away out in a great hurry. We were all very sorry to leave N.Y. so soon and everyone was downhearted but towards dusk when there was still no boats in sight she turned and the yarn soon got round that we had missed the convoy and were hopping it back to New York. Pleased! By jove it was the lucky 39ths again."

5th Avenue & Broadway, showing the
"Flatiron Building", New York, 1916
[Source : Wikipedia]

"We were back in New York harbour at 9 o'clock and anchored there till Tuesday when we upped anchor again and sailed into the same old wharf. We got leave every day till Friday and crammed into those few days car rides, pictures, long rides on overhead and sub-way, railways, theatres, rides to the top of high buildings and could walk around on top and gaze down on the little specks of motor cars below and smaller black dots for people."

A Military Parade Through New York, 1918
[Source :]

"On Friday morning we had a route march to Central Park and back headed by American Brass and Pipe bands and the Yanks were delighted. A moving cinema took us from quite close as we marched past and the picture is to be sent to all the principle towns in N.Z. so if you watch out you can hardly help see Fordie [Martin Forde] and I, we are right near the front."

An Atlantic Convoy during World War One
[source : Wikipedia]

"On Sunday morning we were marched back on the boat, pulled out, picked up our convoy at noon and sailed down the harbour in two lines. We had over a dozen vessels in our convoy and an uneventful trip across the Atlantic on a smooth sea."

[Private Alex. A. McLean,
Source : Auckland War Memorial Museum]

"We had one death on board a few days before reaching England... We don't as far as I see have much time for sorrow in the army as when one of our men died at sea [Private Alexander Archibald McLean of No 12 Platoon, C Company, 39th Reinforcements died of Pneumonia, 27th August 1918], he was buried at 9.30 a.m. with the whole ship at attention, after the burial prayer was read the whole convoy stopped for a couple of minutes while he was buried and in 5 minutes afterwards you wouldn't have known anything out of the usual had happened."

An Ocean Liner at the Landing Stage, Liverpool
on Mersyside, shown in peacetime. Riverside
Railway Station is the long building in centre
with the Prince's Dock at right.
[Source :

"We sailed into Liverpool on Saturday the last day in August [31st August 1918]. We were not there very long and it looks a very smoky show." 

 A cross-compartment train waiting at Liverpool Riverside Station.
Due to weight restrictions on the line to Edge Hill Station,
two LNWR Railway Webb Coal Tanks would draw the
trains through to Edge Hill Railway Station.
[Source : Chester Walls]

"We were put aboard a troop train, cross compartments with a door opening out on each side, right to each compartment, 3rd class and quite as comfortable as N.Z. first class." 

"Sling" Camp at Bulford, on the Salisbury Plain.
[From my own collection]

"We had a long trip through beautiful countryside and landed here [Sling Camp near Bulford on the Salisbury Plain] at 9.30 p.m.... I think we will have two or three months training here at the least.... before we go over the pond.... [So] Here we are safe at last after a long and very decent trip of 11 weeks and 2 days or nearly 80 days."

"Lights Out - The Dark Doings of the Thirty-Ninths",
the Cover Page of the 39th Reinforcement's Magazine,
being published after their arrival in England.
[Source : Auckland War Memorial Museum]

"I put your address in for a copy of the 39th magazine so please be sure and let me know if you get it.. P.S. Our letters are not censored from here."

Bibliography / Rārangi Pukapuka :
  • Personal family papers and photographs [from my own collection]
  • Auckland War Memorial Museum Library / Te Pataka Matapuna
  • National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
  • "Lights Out - The Dark Doings of the Thirty Ninths", being published after arrival in England.
  • Various Internet Resources