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Royal and Imperial Yachts
Monarchs and Emperors found good use for steamships for their own private use, for visiting far-flung dominions and for diplomatic functions. The British monarch Victoria, later to become Empress of India at the Zenith of the new British Empire became possibly the world's most powerful ruler at a time of industrial expansion and technical change. Britain was at the forefront of these development and with dominions stretching across the globe had the world's leading shipbuilding industry to support her international trade, security and military ambitions. It was therefore natural that Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert who had a major interest in technical matters would look to have the finest of vessels available for their use.

Although sailing ships were available for the monarch to use, the new paddle steamer Victoria & Albert, which became available for service in 1843 was a sea-change in quality. A number of new paddle steamers designed specifically for royal use followed and other monarchs had their own steamers built for their own purposes. Royal yachts remain in service with many monarchs and in other countries, vessels remain available for use by state presidents both for state and personal purposes.  Whilst paddle steamers gave way to screw steamers and motor ships, one remarkable vessel, Egypt's El-Mahrousa survives. Originally a London-built paddle steamer launched in 1865, it clearly reflected the fascination Egyptian Khedive (Ismael Pasha) had for matters British, including Victoria's own vessel Victoria & Albert.  Although subsequently lengthed and converted to turbine power with screw propulsion in 1906, her paddle heritage remains and she is still in regular use by the Egyptian Navy and available for use by the President of Egypt. A number of paddle steamers on the Nile have been used for royal and presidential purposes including Kassed Kheir and the still-in-service quarter-wheel steamer Karim.

The number of paddle yachts built specifically for royal purposes was very limited although many naval vessels were commandeered on occasion for royal and diplomatic use 


Above : Osborne was the last British paddle steamer built specifically for royal use. It is seen here in a photo taken in the 1890s on a visit to Kiel in Germany 

Victoria & Albert
(1843-1868) 1034 GRT. Renamed Osborne in 1855
Victoria & Albert (1855-1901)  300 ft long, 2470 GRT. Scrapped in 1904
Osborne (1870-1908)  250 ft long, 1850 GRT

Small paddle steamers designed to transport the royal family and visitors, mail and supplies to their Isle of Wight residence (Osborne House) from Portsmouth

Elfin (1849-1901)
Alberta (1863-1912) 

Queen Victoria died in January 1901 whilst a new royal yacht, destined by be called Victoria & Albert was fitting out. Although it had a highly-traditional appearance, it was a screw steamer.


Denmark can claim the most modern paddle steamer built in Europe for royal use and the last such vessel to be decommissioned : Dannebrog
Photo by kind courtesy of Nationalmuseet Kobenhavn : Creative Commons licence

Between 1855 and 1880, the Danish Navy paddle steamer Slesvig was used as a Royal Yacht. Converted in 1855, the ship was built in 1846 by Robert Napier at Govan, Scotland as Copenhagen for CH Donner & Co of Altona (now part of Hanburg, Germany). It was taken over by the Danish Navy in 148 and renamed Slesvig. It was used by the Post Office for its service between Korsor and Kiel from 1850 to 1854. From 1880 until 1893 it was back in use by the navy.

Dannebrog entered royal service in 1880. She is seen above in 1913 after a major reconstruction in 1907 when she was lengthened, re-engined and received a second funnel. She was replaced in 1932 by a diesel-engined screw ship of the same name and was scrapped during 1934 


(1878-1909, renamed Kaiseradler in 1892 when a second Hohenzollern, a screw steamer, entered service)

Built in Kiel by Norddeutschen Schiffbau AG, the 82 m long paddler entered service in 1880. Replaced as principal yacht in 1892, she still took part in many activities, notably the opening of the Kiel canal in 1893.  Removed from service in 1909. she was scrapped in Danzig (now Gdansk)
Photo in the public domain - from the collection of  Gesellschaft fur Kieler Stadtgeschichte


Greif (1869-1885) 

Built in London in 1857. 69 m, 1350 GT. Originally the Jupiter, she was bought by the Austrian navy in 1859 and scuttled at the entrance to the Venice lagoon.
It was raised and became an Aviso in the navy before being converted for use as an Imperial Yacht. 
Carried Emperor Franz Josef to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.  Decommissioned, hulked and renamed Alpha in 1885. Used for torpedo training

Fantasie (1858) 

Built by the Thames Ironworks & Shipbuilding Co at London. 55 m, 408 GT.

Miramar (1872)  
Built by Samuda Bros, Poplar, London. 92.7 m, 1968 GT.  

Extensively used by the Imperial family, especially Empress Sissi

With help from the Serbian forum on Paluba

The Austrian (Austro-Hungarian from 1867) Navy had several paddle "Avisos"

Vulcano (1843), Messagiere (1847), Achilles (1848), Custoza (1848), Curtatone (1848), Roma (1848), Santa Lucia (1850), Volta (1850), Kaiserin Eliasbeth (1850), Taurus (1851), Gorzkowski (1854), Prinz Eugen (1854) and Jupiter (1857)


Standart  (1857-
(1871-1898, surviving as a training ship until 1905)  Length : 94.8 m
Livadia (1873-1878, wrecked on the Crimean Coast during the Russo-Turkish war)
Tsarevna (1874-1917)



Jingei was already outdated when she was commissioned having been in construction for almost ten years. She was used very little and was turned over for various Imperial Navy purposes, remaining in service until 1903 and then hulked


Above : French Imperial Royal Yacht L'Aigle at Port Said in 1869 on the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal, attended by Empress Eugenie.
Source : wikipedia - photographer unknown

Built in Cherbourg in 1857 to replace the previous vessel "La Reine Hortense"
Overall length 90 metres (82 at the waterline)
2 x cylinders of 2000 mm - piston stroke 1800 mm
Converted to a gunboat in 1870 and from 1873 was a corvette renamed "Le Rapide"
Decommissioned in 1885 and sold in 1891. Scrapped at Cherbourg


Built in 1865 by Laird at Birkenhead
240 ft : 659 GRT.
Originally built as Penguin to the order of agents for the US Confederacy but not completed in time to fulfill that role
Sold to the Greek government as a naval vessel in 1867 with the intention of being used to assist the uprising in Crete against Ottoman rule
Converted to a Royal Yacht in 1869 and used by King Georgios I


It is unclear exactly what can be regarded as an Imperial Yacht for the Ottoman Sultan. A number of vessels (paddle steamers in the second half of the nineteenth century) have sometimes been described as Imperial Yachts but were naval "Aviso" ships, ie messenger vessels which were used by the Sultan or his ministers for diplomatic missions. Istanbul, built in England in 1865, appears to have been used by the Imperial family for pleasure purposes and for transport to their various residences until at least well into the twentieth century. 
Sultaniye appears to have been gifted from the Egyptian Navy by the ruling Khedive to his imperial overseer, the Sultan, and extensively used for diplomatic purposes and possibly personal use until assigned to the navy full time as an Aviso


Appears to be very similar to the four "Avisos" built in London for the Ottoman Navy in 1865 (Talia, Izzedine, Fuad and Ismail)


Built in 1853 by CJ Mare at Blackwall (near London)
391.1 ft.  Engine by Maudsley & Co of London
Built for the navy of the Ottoman province of Egypt and named Feyz-i Cihat
Rebuilt in 1861 by Forrester & Co at Liverpool
Given to the Ottoman Sultan as a gift in 1862 and renamed Sultaniye
Used for numerous diplomatic missions
From 1877 it was used as an Aviso by the Ottoman Navy
Laid up in 1905
Scuttled at the harbour entrance of Izmir in 1912 in anticipation of an Italian attack on the port

EGYPT (Part of the Ottoman Empire until 1914, ruled as a semi-independent Khedivate from 1867 and under British control until independent as Kingdom from 1922)

1849 : Sayed Pacha : Built by Caird of Greenock for Mohammed Said

1865 : El Mahrousa  (converted to turbine steamer in 1905 and still in existence) and Bordein, both by Samuda Bros, London, for Khedive Ismail Pacha

1926 : Kased Kheir : Built by JI Thornycroft in Southampton in kit form for King Fuad I. 237 ft 9 in x 32 ft


The yacht El Mahroussa survives in magnificent condition at Alexandria where she serves as Egypt's presidential yacht and makes occasional short sailings. She was originally built in 1865 by Samuda Brothers at Wapping, London, as a paddle steamer for the Khedive Ismail Pasha, with two cylinder oscillating engines built by J Penn (2 x 110 in x 96 in). The vessel, which remained in royal service until 1952, is much changed from the ship originally delivered. Lengthened by 40 ft in an Italian yard in 1872 then again by 16 ft at Inglis' yard in Glasgow in 1905, she was also converted to screw propulsion and fitted with Parsons steam turbines built at their own engine works. In 1905, turbines were still a new form of marine engineering, the first commercial ship to be so equipped being only four years previously. In 1919 she was converted from burning coal to burning diesel oil. She has had an interesting history, being the first vessel to sail through the Suez Canal when officially opened in 1869, escorted royalty into exile, including ex-King Farouk in 1952 (at the time the ship was renamed as El Horriya) and even went to the United States for that country's bi-centennial celebrations in New York in 1976. She returned to her original name in 2000. In 2015 she was the ship used to inaugurate the New Suez Canal built alongside the original canal to increase capacity

Above : This is thought to be a photo of El Mahrousa in her days as a paddle steamer. Photo by kind courtesy of Istvan Radi from his collection  


Kased Kheir was used to take the deposed King Farouk into exile in 1952. In 1958 it was used as an annexe at the Navy Hotel in Cairo. Reportedly sand in 1971 near Edfu, upper Nile after catching fire on a cruise.

Above : Post card view by kind courtesy of Norman Stewart

Quarter-Wheel Steamer Karim
A steam-fired paddler, built in 1917. She is understood to have been built to a design of the Lytham Shipbuilding & Engineering Co for use on the Rivers Tigris and Eurphrates in Baghdad for the British Army. A number of vessels were sent to Iraq, but possibly six (one of which which became Karim), went for use in Egypt instead. Soon afterwards she was used by the then Sultan, later King Fuad I of Egypt and later by his son and, after the republican revolution, state presidents.

She has been in regular passenger service for public cruises since refurbishment in 1991. The 45.8 metre long vessel has 15 luxury cabins and is equipped for 30 passengers. Her normal schedule is for 7-night cruises from Luxor to the Aswan Dam at Lake Nasser and is operated by local company Spring Tours.
She has stern-placed side wheels, the so-called "quarter-wheel" arrangement, which can be operated independently and are driven by two compound engines.

Karim 5.jpg
Photo kindly supplied by Mr Morsi Shehata, General Manager of Spring Tours
A number of vessels were recorded as having been built for the Khedive of Egypt. Whether these were Royal Yachts in the true sense of the word is unclear

Nile :
Built in 1862 by Jones, Quiggin at Liverpool. 1350 GT

The Eyptian government also owned a number of paddle steamers in the second half of the nineteenth century which the ruling Khedive no doubt used on occasion

Fayoum : 
Built in 1864 by Samuda Bros. at Poplar, London. 289 ft : 1642 GT.  Converted to a screw steamer in 1881


It is believed that the Danube river  paddle steamer Borcea, built in 1914, was for the use of King Ferdinand of Romania until seized in the wake of World War II. After a long and varied career, she remains in use at Braila, Romania

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