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Alfred (Alfred Ernest Albert; August 6, 1844 – July 30, 1900) reigned as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha from 1893 to 1900. He was the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was known as the Duke of Edinburgh from 1866 until he succeeded his paternal uncle Ernst II as the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in the German Empire.

Early life

Prince Alfred was born on August 6, 1844 at Windsor Castle to the reigning British monarch, Queen Victoria, and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the second son of Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was second in the line of succession to the British throne behind his elder brother, the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

Prince Alfred

Alfred remained second in line to the British throne for twenty years, from his birth until January 8, 1864, when his older brother Albert-Edward and his wife Alexandra of Denmark had their first son, Prince Albert-Victor. Alfred became third in line to the throne and as Edward and Alexandra continued to have children, Alfred moved further down the line in the order of succession.

Entering the Royal Navy

In 1856, at the age of 12, it was decided that Prince Alfred, in accordance with his own wishes, should enter the Royal Navy. A separate establishment was accordingly assigned to him, with Lieutenant J.C. Cowell, RE, as governor. He passed the examination in August 1858, and was appointed as midshipman in HMS Euryalus at the age of 14.

In July 1860, while on this ship, he paid an official visit to the Cape Colony, and made a very favourable impression both on the colonials and on the native chiefs. He took part in a hunt at Hartebeeste-Hoek, resulting in the slaughter of large numbers of game animals.

On the abdication of King Otto of Greece, in 1862, Prince Alfred was chosen to succeed him, but the British government blocked plans for him to ascend the Greek throne, largely because of the Queen’s opposition to the idea. She and her late husband had made plans for him to succeed to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (Parents)

Prince Alfred, therefore, remained in the navy, and was promoted to lieutenant on February 24, 1863, serving under Count Gleichen on the corvette HMS Racoon. He was promoted to captain on February 23, 1866 and was appointed to the command of the frigate HMS Galatea in January 1867.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours on May 24, 1866, the Prince was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Ulster, and Earl of Kent, with an annuity of £15,000 granted by Parliament. He took his seat in the House of Lords on June 8.

While still in command of the Galatea, the Duke of Edinburgh started from Plymouth on January 24, 1867 for his voyage around the world. On June 7, 1867, he left Gibraltar, reached the Cape of Good Hope on 24 July and paid a royal visit to Cape Town on August 24, 1867 after landing at Simon’s Town a while earlier.

The Duke of Edinburgh

He landed at Glenelg, South Australia, on October 31, 1867. Being the first member of the royal family to visit Australia, he was received with great enthusiasm. During his stay of nearly five months he visited Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Tasmania. Adelaide school Prince Alfred College was named in his honour to mark the occasion.

On March 12, 1868, on his second visit to Sydney, he was invited by Sir William Manning, President of the Sydney Sailors’ Home, to picnic at the beachfront suburb of Clontarf to raise funds for the home. At the function, he was wounded in the back by a revolver fired by Henry James O’Farrell.

Alfred was shot just to the right of his spine and was tended for the next two weeks by six nurses, trained by Florence Nightingale and led by Matron Lucy Osburn, who had just arrived in Australia in February 1868. In the violent struggle during which Alfred was shot, William Vial had managed to wrest the gun away from O’Farrell until bystanders assisted.

Vial, a master of a Masonic Lodge, had helped to organise the picnic in honour of the Duke’s visit and was presented with a gold watch for securing Alfred’s life. Another bystander, George Thorne, was wounded in the foot by O’Farrell’s second shot. O’Farrell was arrested at the scene, quickly tried, convicted and hanged on April 21, 1868.