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Duke of Edinburgh (1844–1900)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

Duke of Edinburgh, by unknown photographer, c1867

Duke of Edinburgh, by unknown photographer, c1867

State Library of Victoria, H8397

Duke of Edinburgh (1844-1900), was born on 6 August 1844 at Windsor, England, second son of Queen Victoria. He entered the navy in August 1858 and travelled widely as a midshipman in the frigate Euryalus. In the winter of 1862-63 he was elected King of Greece but politics dictated his withdrawal and he was given instead right of succession to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was promoted lieutenant in 1863 and in 1866 became both a naval captain and Duke of Edinburgh. He commissioned his first command, H.M.S. Galatea, in January 1867, left for the Mediterranean in February and sailed for South America on 12 June for a state visit to the emperor of Brazil. Then after two months at the Cape, the Galatea reached Adelaide on 31 October 1867 to commence the first royal tour of Australia.

After three uneventful weeks in South Australia, the duke moved on to Melbourne where a shooting incident between Orange and Catholic factions and a riot due to inept handling of a free public banquet marred the generally enthusiastic atmosphere. He then visited Tasmania and arrived in Sydney on 21 January 1868. After a month of festivities he spent a week in Brisbane and returned to Sydney. Despite rumours of sectarian strife, he attended a picnic at Clontarf on 12 March where an Irishman, Henry James O'Farrell, succeeded in wounding him seriously. In a frenzy of outraged patriotism the New South Wales government sought unsuccessfully to uncover a conspiracy and, overruling the duke's eminently sensible proposal to refer the sentence on O'Farrell to the Queen, refused to recommend clemency. O'Farrell was hanged on 21 April and the duke who had recovered completely by 26 March left for England on 26 June. He visited Australia again informally, arriving in Fremantle on 28 January 1869 and leaving Sydney on 3 April. In both Sydney and Melbourne he dedicated hospitals commemorating his escape from death. In 1870 the duke made a final visit to dock the Galatea. He arrived at Sydney on 15 September, visited Melbourne for the Cup from 22 October to 19 November, and sailed early in 1871 without any ceremonies.

The duke married Grand Duchess Marie of Russia on 23 January 1874. He continued his naval career and on 3 June 1893 became admiral of the Fleet. On 22 June 1893 he succeeded to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and thereafter lived in Germany where he died of heart disease on 30 July 1900. He left four daughters, one of whom became Queen of Rumania; his only son predeceased him.

Although more reserved than his elder brother, the duke was reputedly cultured, intelligent and a fine seaman. His visits stimulated imperialist sentiment in Australia but the accompanying incidents aggravated sectarian tensions.

Select Bibliography

  • J. G. Knight, Narrative of the Visit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to the Colony of Victoria, Australia (Melb, 1868)
  • J. D. Woods, A Narrative of the Visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, K.G., to South Australia (Adel, 1868)
  • J. Milner and O. W. Brierly, The Cruise of HMS Galatea (Lond, 1869)
  • B. McKinley, The First Royal Tour 1867-68 (Adel, 1970)
  • P. M. Cowburn, ‘The Attempted Assassination of the Duke of Edinburgh, 1868’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 55, part 1, Mar 1969, pp 19-42
  • Australasian, 27 Feb–13 Mar 1869
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Mar–5 Apr 1869.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Edinburgh, Duke of (1844–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Duke of Edinburgh, by unknown photographer, c1867

Duke of Edinburgh, by unknown photographer, c1867

State Library of Victoria, H8397

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Prince Alfred
  • Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Duke of

6 August, 1844
Windsor, Berkshire, England


30 July, 1900 (aged 55)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.