Back to Home page

'The Cruise of H.M.S. Ophir' 1901

Shown to King Edward VII at Sandringham House by
Royal Command

Films at Sandringham 1901

Osborne 1898

In his Autobiography, Alfred West writes of his second Royal Command showing of 'animated photographs' on November 9th 1901 at Sandringham. Once again, the film had been taken by Alfred West's assistant Chief Petty Officer McGregor who had been taken on board as official photographer on a world cruise of the ' Ophir '


Alfred West writes:

"The "Ophir" returned to Portsmouth on a Wednesday, and I immediately went aboard to collect the films taken during the cruise, as no time was to be lost in having them developed ready for the Royal Command that I felt sure would soon be forthcoming. Nor was I far wrong, for only two days later, the Friday of that week, I received a telegram from Sir Charles Cust as follows :- "Be at Wolferton at noon tomorrow to show pictures of cruise of "Ophir" before His Majesty." The King and the Royal party were then in residence at Sandringham, and Wolferton is the station nearby.

The films were not ready, and I had none of my staff at hand to deal with them, and since I should have to leave that night if I was to be there at noon next day, I wired to Sir Charles Cust :-

"Impossible to be at Sandringham at noon tomorrow what time are the pictures to be shown?"

The reply came:-

"The pictures are to be shown at 8.30."

My answer was :-

"Will arrive 5 p.m. ample time to fix up and show at 8.30 have conveyance for staff and gear."

I also wired to the Polytechnic and my other companies, detailing the best men to be at "The Anchorage" that evening.

By working at full pressure, the films were got ready, and were run through a projector late that evening. The assistants all slept at my house, and next morning we caught an early train for London, in a reserved carriage the films were arranged in their proper order en route, under the direction of McGregor, who fortunately turned up at the last moment and was able to tell me which was which. Two cylinders of gas were picked up on arrival in London, in case electric light for the lantern was not available, for I did not intend to take any chances, and it was a good thing I had the forethought, for on arriving at Wolferton the first question I was asked was :- "Have you any gas?" and when I told the official that I had, he replied :-

"Thank goodness! I quite forgot to tell you that there is not enough power to supply you with electric light." A wagonette was waiting for the staff, and another conveyance for the gear.

At Sandringham carpenters and gardeners were ready to assist in erecting the screen, which was draped with flags, whilst on each side were banks of palms and flowers. The operator’s box was fixed up on a platform so as to raise the projector above, the heads of the audience. A screen was placed in front of the grand piano to hide the musical director, and plants and flowers were placed in front of it. By seven o’clock all was ready, and chairs were being brought in when I noticed that the front row had gold frames with crimson seats. "Who are sitting in these chairs" I enquired, sitting in one of them and looking up at the screen.

"Their Majesties and the Royal party", was the reply. "Too close, much too close," I answered.

A lady’s voice behind me remarked "Whatever are we to do?" Jumping up and turning round, I found that the lady was Queen Alexandra. Making my obeisance, I explained that I always arranged for the best seats to be at the back, as distance lent enchantment to the view. The Queen was very concerned, remarking :-

"There are so many coming that these seats cannot be moved further back." Turning round I had another look at the screen which was only bout 15 feet away, and assured the Queen that it would be quite alright, although it would have been better if the screen could have been put further back, which, however, was not possible, since it was already up against the wall. This ended the interview, Her Majesty, with a slight inclination of her head and with a sweet smile, departed.

Shortly afterwards. Prince George came in and called out :- "I say, Mr. West, I want you to explain the pictures, but don’t go saying ‘Your Royal Highness This’ and ‘Your Royal Highness that’.

"Very good, Sir, I quite understand," I replied with a smile, "but it will be somewhat difficult, as we have had so little time to study the pictures."

"Oh! Just say that we have arrived at Malta, or wherever it is, and I will do the rest." replied the Prince.

I handed him a parcel which I explained contained the programmes I had had printed for the occasion. "That is splendid!" he replied, "Just the thing!", and rushed off with them. A sumptuous dinner was provided for me and my staff, but with the exception of a glass of wine and a biscuit, I was to busy getting dressed and writing down what I could think of to say to join my company.

At 8.15 all was ready, and everyone in their places. The Royal Orchestra. In a recess near the screen, played the National Anthem, as, punctually at 8.30, the King entered with the Duchess of York on his arm; behind came Queen Alexandra arm in arm with her son the Duke of York. They walked down the centre of the room between the rows of chairs, and were followed by the ministers of state and other guests. Arriving at the front row of seats, the King directed the others to their seats, calling out :-

"Mary, you come and sit with me,"

"George, you sit with your Mother."

Then he looked round to see that all his guests were comfortably seated before finally seating himself. The whole proceedings were so homely, and the King was such a perfect host, that he was just the pattern of the country gentleman, a part he always loved to play when off duty.

It was a day of particular importance, for besides being His Majesty’s first birthday as King, it was also the day on which Prince George, Duke of York, officially became Prince of Wales. On the left of the Screen I stood waiting the signal to commence, which was signified by a little smile and a motion of assent from the King. Immediately the lights were switched off, and I started by saying:,

"May it please Your Majesty, these pictures I have the honour of presenting to you Illustrate the cruise of the "Ophir. The first shows the ship leaving Portsmouth Harbour."

As I stopped speaking, the slide appeared on the screen, and there was a hum of comment. After a few moments the operator began to fade it out, thinking that it had been projected long enough. "Show it again!" called out the King, "and don’t take any picture off until you see me wave my programme."

I bowed my acknowledgement of the command. The operator also heard, and the picture was again shown; he thereafter alto watched the King’s programme and acted accordingly. The various films showed the reception given to the Royal couple at different outposts of Empire - the ceremony of crossing the line - arriving in Australia - the review of troops at Sydney -log chopping competitions - Maori war dances in New Zealand - arrival in British Columbia - a panorama from the train going through the Rockies - Niagara Falls. The films were interspersed with lantern slides.

During the running of one of the films the Prince of Wales beckoned me over to him and asked me a few questions.

After pictures of the arrival home at Portsmouth, the entertainment concluded with a portrait of the King. The Orchestra struck up the National Anthem, and lights were switched on; the show had taken nearly an hour and a half.

Before leaving, both the King and the Prince of Wales came over to me, his Majesty expressing in kindly words the pleasure the pictures had given him, and regretting that more time could not have been given me for making the arrangements, but was very gratified at the way his wishes had been carried out. I took the opportunity of expressing the hope that I might have the honour on some future occasion of showing His Majesty some of my films of the Royal Navy. Of course it was wrong for me so to address the King, but the Prince of Wales covered my confusion by exclaiming : "Oh, yes, they are splendid!"

This ended the interview, and I made my obeisance as the King and Prince walked away to escort the Queen and Princess to the exit, followed by the guests in the same order as they had entered. Thus ended an evening which was, undoubtedly, the most memorable in my life.

Alfred West signified the success of the event by sending the pre-arranged codeword 'Snap' by telegram to his wife in Portsmouth .

The Telegram

The Telegram (sometimes called a 'Cable') is mentioned frequently in West's writing, and was the standard way to communicate quickly in the 19th and early to mid 20th Centuries - and it was ubiquitous - much as email is today. It had international coverage.

There are some links to facsimile telegrams in this article which relate to the arrangements for the Royal Command performance. West and his contemporaries would not have been surprised by today's immediate means of communication or this Internet site!

West visited Australia, and was fascinated by the fact that telegrams (cables) could appear to move backwards in  time:

"On the morning after my arrival I was up early, and as soon as it was open I went into the General Post Office opposite my Hotel. Then going up to the clerk at the counter I asked what must have sounded a rather curious question :-

"If I send a cable to London right now, will it reach there yesterday?"

The clerk looked a bit puzzled and said he’d go and enquire. Then coming back he told me it would! I had certainly arrived Down Under!"

Showing the film in Montreal:

There is a contemporary account of the showing of this film at the University of Montreal - where it was not well received:

"In showing the cruise of the Ophir I thought that the monument erected at Ottawa to our late beloved Queen, and unveiled by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, would certainly be respected, but the storm of jeers and hisses at this was even greater. The final pictures of the cruise, showing the return home and the Royal children going to meet their parents were received with uproarious demonstrations of disloyalty, and the final picture of His Majesty, the orchestra playing the National Anthem, brought things to a climax." (Montreal Daily Star, May 3, 1902 : 21.)

From the personal diary of the Prince of Wales (later King George V), 10th November 1901:

"Afterwards West and McGregor showed the cinematograph photographs, taken by the latter, during our tour in the Colonies in the ball room, all the tenants & servants came, they were interesting but not very successful."
Diary Extract reproduced by the permission of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.