Whilst most of us are familiar with the last Royal Yacht, HMY Britannia, her immediate predecessor was another long serving vessel. HMY Victoria and Albert was launched in 1899 but commissioned too late for use by Queen Victoria. Instead it would serve King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI.
The vessel had an antiquated look when launched as the design was made to resemble the 1855 side wheel steamer Victoria and Albert. Unlike yachts of other monarchs of the time the vessel was purely a yacht, not a combination yacht and warship. Belleville water-tube boilers provided steam powering two sets of vertical four cylinder triple expansion engines with combined 11,000 indicated horse power for eight hours and 7,500 indicated horse power on a continuous basis. The boilers were arranged in two watertight compartments one before the other with six boilers in the forward compartment and nine in the aft compartment. The engines were in two side by side watertight compartments. Three dynamo sets provided electric light power. Refrigeration units were placed at the aft end of each engine room. Coal capacity was sufficient for a steaming range of 2,000 miles at 14 knots.
Three masts were rigged fore and aft with two funnels for the five decked vessel. On the after half of the bridge deck was a 180 ft (54.9 m) pavilion with an 85 ft (25.9 m) dining room. A smoking room and reception room were also in the pavilion. An electric hoist was available from the reception room to the royal apartments below, becoming the first ship in the world to be fitted with an elevator.
During fitting-out the yacht had significant extra weight added including concrete ballast and even a large traditional capstan so the Queen could be entertained by watching the sailors work. This extra weight proved to be beyond the original design parameters and resulted in the ship tipping over when the dock was flooded – causing significant damage to the ship.
Victoria and Albert was commissioned at Portsmouth 23 July 1901 by Commodore the Hon. Hedworth Lambton, who hoisted his broad pennant. Nearly all the ship’s company of 230 men of the old HMY Victoria and Albert (1855) were transferred to the new yacht, which with an additional 100 men had a total ship’s company of 336.
King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited their new yacht in early August 1901, and used it for the first time when crossing the English Channel on 9 August 1901 to attend the funeral in Germany of the King’s sister, Empress Frederick. She was the base for the royal couple during the fleet review held at Spithead on 16 August 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII. Following the review, the royal couple toured the West Coast of Scotland and visited the Isle of Man, before the Victoria and Albert took Queen Alexandra to Copenhagen for her annual autumn visit. In late 1902 she was docked for several months to be fitted with telescopic masts.
King Edward later used the yacht for summer cruises most years of his reign, visiting various countries in Europe.
Victoria and Albert later served King George V, King Edward VIII and King George VI, and took part in two fleet reviews (in 1935 and the Coronation Review of the Fleet, 1937), but was withdrawn after the latter and decommissioned in 1939. She served as a depot ship during the Second World War, as an accommodation ship to HMS Excellent, and was broken up in 1954