Extract from a letter written by Wardroom Steward Wallace Brownlow, HMS Active, to his father, in which he describes the transfer of the body of the Prince Imperial from HMS Boadicea to HMS Orontes at Simon’s Bay on June 15th.
“At 1 o‘clock this afternoon the boats from all the ships began to move to their respective positions, with the English ensign half-mast high. The Boadicea was by this time moored, and the men-of-war boats formed two lines from the Boadicea to the Orontes, and two Dutch men-of-war, which came in here yesterday, each sent a boat to join in the solemn ceremony which was about to take place. It was between these two lines of boats the funeral cortege had to pass. All the officers went on board the Orontes to receive the Governor, Sir H. Bartle Frere. At 3 p.m. the Governor left the dockyard in a steam pinnace, and we fired a salute of 17 guns. He passed under the Active’s bows, and stood up, hat in hand, we doing the same till he had passed us. Everything was now ready for the Prince’s remains to be to be transferred to the Orontes, and numbers of boats laden with human freight were out on the water to see the sight. At 3.30 a movement was discerned on the Boadicea, and the poor Prince’s body was slowly hoisted up to the main-yardarm, and the strains of a beautiful dead march came slowly vibrating o’er the calm waters to the eager, expectant on-lookers. Everything was still with the stillness of death. There was not a breath of wind nor even a ripple on the water, the flags drooping downwards, as if conscious of the solemn scene being enacted beneath them. The corpse was wrapped in the French tricolor, and it was slowly lowered over the side into the boat which was to bear it from one ship to the other. All the time the beautiful band of the Boadicea was playing soft and heavenly music, and the minute-gun was fired, which made it a more martial scene. Dr. Rooney, the Roman Catholic priest, went with the body into the boat, and stood at the foot of Prince’s coffin, sprinkling it with holy water. The English tars were standing uncovered, facing the remains of the poor, unfortunate youth who was killed while in the English service by the fierce and heathen Zulus. When Dr. Rooney had said a prayer over the corpse, our pinnace took the corpse in tow, and towed it to the Orontes through the two lines of boats. Everybody was standing, caps and hats off, while the boats were passing; and as they left the side of the Boadicea the band struck up that beautiful, soul-stirring hymn, ‘Adeste Fideles,’ or ‘O come all ye Faithful.’ It sounded so mournful, with the minute-gun booming in our ears. While everything was bright and fail to look upon, we were witnessing the funeral of a foreigner who died for the good of our country. God help his widowed mother in this her hour of trial and trouble, and may He give her the consolation which it is not in man’s power to give her.”
(Source: The South London Press, July 26, 1879)