The Channel Fleet at Christiania

Sunday, October 10 – 1886

The British fleet has now gone, bearing with it the best wishes and pleasant remembrances of all the good people of Christiania, From the moment the anchors dropped last Thursday week to the time they were weighed yesterday morning, Christiania has been in a state of life and bustle which it has never before known, and was found fully equal to the occasion.

The welcome was such that it appeared as if the people of Norway had entered into a defensive and offensive alliance with us, that they felt we were altogether brothers and jolly good fellows, and that the time the fleet stayed here ought to be the happiest in the lives of both English and Norwegian alike.

Thursday, the day of their arrival, was chiefly devoted to the reception, by the admirals, of official visits and the consequent burning of powder.

On Friday morning the admirals called on the Prime Minister and other high dignitaries of the Norwegian Government and of the city of Christiania. Mr. Sverdrup received the officers of the fleet with much courtesy and friendliness, and dwelt on the great sympathy that exists between the two nations, and which the visit of so large a fleet could not but foster and cement.

His Excellency invited both the admirals to meet the King at dinner the following evening. On Saturday, his Majesty Oscar 11, and Prince Oscar arrived under salutes from the fortress, and the fleet and streets were more crowded than I have ever seen them, although there were not many blue jackets or red coats about.

In the evening the state dinner at the Prime Minister’s took place, and the health of Queen Victoria was drunk with great enthusiasm. Some of the junior officers played a football match in the afternoon, and, much to the wonder of the Norwegians, no one was much hurt, although one man received a nasty kick, which put him for a day or two on the sick list.

On Sunday Admiral Fremantle and many of the officers and men attended divine service in the English Church. The streets were gay the whole day with crowds of inhabitants and peasants, who had turned out to see the Englishmen, and the red coats and blue jackets mingling with these, made the long stretch of Carl Johan’s Gade, from the Storthing to the Royal Palace, very bright indeed.

On Monday the King held a Levee, at which all the officers off duty were presented to his Majesty, and Prince Oscar lunched with Admiral Fremantle on board the’ Agincourt.

His Royal Highness was shown all over the ship afterwards.

In the evening the burgher ball was given in the Freemasons’ Hall. It was subscribed for by 800 citizens of Christiania, the subscribers being limited to that number for want of room. As far as dancing was concerned the number might have been still more limited, as during the first part of the evening it was impossible to dance with comfort.

However, with this exception, the ball was the greatest success, and the committee of management deserve the highest praise for the excellence of their arrangements.

When the officers arrived the great ball-room was crowded with ladies eager to begin dancing, and the ball committee took admirals and officers by the arm and led them into the room, introducing them right and left, so that the whole 1,000 people were soon on friendly terms, and as soon as Prince Oscar had opened the ball with Miss Corbott, the daughter of her Majesty’s Minister at Stockholm, dancing became general.

It was wonderful to notice how the ladies suddenly began to speak English, which, as a rule, many of them were at first loath to do from excessive bashfulness, for, generally speaking, Norwegians talk the English language very well.

Two large rooms had been laid out for supper with a table across the head of one for Prince Oscar and the chief guests. The toasts of “His Majesty King Oscar II,” and of “Her Most Gracious Majesty Victoria. Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India, long may she reign,” were hailed with ringing cheers, the short, sharp, inspiriting Norwegian “Hurrah,” mingling with the long, sturdy, and invincible “Hip, hip, hip, hurrah “of the Englishmen.

The smallest midshipman in the room then proposed the health, as the local press put it, “of the nice Norwegian lady whom he had found beautiful wherever he had been.” This was received with renewed British cheers, and dancing was recommenced and kept up till nearly two o’clock.

The sailors were delighted with their reception and with the ball altogether; and, indeed, all was done that was possible to make them feel at home and welcome.

The following day, Tuesday, it was the officers’ turn to show what they could do to reciprocate the hospitality they had received.

The officers of the fleet combined to give a dance on the Minotaur from 3 to 6.30 p.m., and they invited all those who had taken part in the ball of the previous night.

The quarter-deck of the Minotaur had been turned into a splendid ball-room and decorated with flags, palms, and ferns, with an elegant fountain in the centre.

There was in reality more room than in the building used the night before, and the huge ship accommodated her guests comfortably without crowding.

Refreshments were served on the gun-deck and in the admiral’s dining-room, while a smoking-room was rigged up forward on the main deck.

The scene was fairylike, especially when, as it became dark, the ship was festooned with electric lights and the fountain was illuminated by electric light from below in ever-changing colours.

The visitors could not tear themselves away until seven o’clock, and even then many took officers ashore with them and got up impromptu dances at their own homes.

On Wednesday Admiral Fremantle and several officers drove up to Frognerseter, on the top of a high hill overlooking the town and fjord, from whence, as the day was clear, they had a lovely view.

The officers of the Agincourt in the afternoon gave a charming little dance and collation to about 150 ladies and gentlemen, which only broke up when it was time for the chiefs to go to dine with the King.

His Majesty bad invited the admirals, captains, and commanders to dinner at the Palace, and the number of guests was 90.

The dinner was served in the ball-room of the palace, such a banquet being quite unprecedented, and none of the dining-rooms being capable of holding so many guests.

His Majesty proposed the toast of the Queen, and expressed the pleasure it was to himself and his people to welcome her Majesty’s fleet not only to Christiania but to Norway. Before the party broke up his Majesty presented Admiral Hewett with an ancient Norwegian drinking horn mounted in silver.

His Majesty had fixed Thursday at ten o’clock for his visit to the fleet, and punctually at that hour the signal gun from the Minotaur announced the King’s embarkation, and each ship saluted with 21 guns and yards manned.

The Minotaur was first visited, and the King then went to the Agincourt, where he spent over an hour in inspection. The next ship to receive the Royal visitor was the Monarch, and as soon as his Majesty was safe on board she was cleared for action ready to receive an enemy.

When all these manoeuvres were over the King went on board the Sultan. She had got out her torpedo nets the night before, and an attack by torpedo boats was now made upon her.

Three boats bore down upon her at lightning speed, and discharged their Whitehead torpedoes, all of which struck the netting, while the Sultan replied by a broadside and a withering fire from Gardners and Nordenfelts. Then two spar torpedoes were fired, and sent up immense volumes of water into the air, and another heavy cannonade from the Sultan brought this mimic warfare to a close.

His Majesty then inspected the Iron Duke, and returned to the Minotaur to lunch, where Mr. and Miss Corbctt and several other officials had been invited to meet him.

After lunch the Curlew— perhaps at the present day the most interesting; of all the vessels — was inspected by the King, who took the greatest interest in all the new improvements in guns and torpedoes, and at 5.30 p.m. his Majesty returned to shore under a general salute from all the ships; the yards being manned and the officers and crews cheering lustily.

His Majesty and Prince Oscar had thus spent 7 hours on board the fleet, nearly the whole of which was taken up in inspection and witnessing manoeuvres of all kinds.

One unfortunate result of the King’s visit lasting so long was that a football match which had been arranged to take place at four o’clock against the Christiania Football Club had to be postponed as the Fleet team was unable to get on shore, and the many thousand people who had collected round the ground to witness it had to be contented with a scratch game by members of the club.

The following day (Friday) the match came off under Association rules, with 13 aside, and the British team won by three goals to none.

They did not get these without a struggle, however, for the Norwegian team are sturdy fellows, and can run like deer, but they have not played long enough to understand the science of the game, and are no hands at dribbling or keeping together.

This match has created a great deal of enthusiasm for football, and probably the next time a British football team visits Christiania it will find opponents who will give plenty of hard work and be difficult to beat.

One of the prettiest and most interesting entertainments was a lunch given by his Majesty on Friday to the officers of the fleet at his villa, named Oscarshall, on a peninsula in the Fjord.

In the grounds are an old stav-kirke, or wooden church, and a peasant’s cottage, mentioned in a former letter.

Lunch was laid out in this cottage, and consisted of nothing but Norwegian peasant’s food, which was served by peasants in national costumes. The loving cup of mead was handed round in a very handsome silver flagon, and his Majesty pledged his guests in old Norse style as the “friendly Vikings who had come to visit his shores.”

The King and his guests then visited the old church, and his Majesty sat down at the harmonium and played several old Norse sacred tunes, which added in no small degree to the charm of this al-fresco entertainment.

I have thus spoken of all the principal entertainments which were given in honour of her Majesty’s fleet, but it would be impossible to place on record the innumerable private acts of hospitality by military and naval officers and civilians, which filled up every spare moment of our sailors’ time.

Picnics, lunches, suppers, riding and driving parties, were organised on all Bides, and nothing more could have been done in the way of entertainment by their Norwegian hosts.

It was a gracious act of King Oscar to come to his Norwegian capital to head his people in their true and warm welcome of the British sailors, and such hospitality and good fellowship will live long in the heart of every man in the British fleet; and every Englishman will feel pleased, and thankful and proud that Great Britain has such warm hearted, true, honest friends as the Norwegian people, and will consider the honour done to his countrymen as an honour to his Queen, his country, and himself.
(Morning Post, 15-10-1886)

Christiania 1890

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