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  • Writer's pictureSi Biggs

His Majesty King George V Colonel in Chief of the Royal Marines

On 2nd January, HRH the Duke of York, now His Majesty King George V, was made Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Marine Forces, in 1901 the corps numbered 19,800, an office which he graciously continued to hold on his accession to the throne in 1910.


His Majesty King George V Colonel in Chief of Royal Marine Forces

On the 26th February he sailed in the Ophir for a tour of the Dominions and Colonies, returning in November and was accompanied by Royal Marines from the RMLI and Band.

Photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York leaving Sydney, 6 June 1901 6 - 6 Jun 1901. A photograph showing King George V (1865-1936) when the Duke of Cornwall and York and Queen Mary (1867-1953) when Princess Mary, Duchess of Cornwall and York leaving Farm Cove, Sydney. The photograph shows the Duke and Duchess being rowed away in the Royal Barge by members of the crew of HMS Ophir (not in this photograph?). There are two rowing boats to the left of the photograph where members of the crew are holding their oars straight up in the air. There are rows of guards standing on the harbour and the Government House can be seen in the distance. Provenance From an album collated and arranged by Queen Mary between September 1900 and July 1901 [Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023]

The Royal Couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, the future King George V and Queen Mary travelled on board HMS Ophir, a steamer specially commissioned for the Tour.


At the time, the Tour was the largest undertaken by a member of the Royal Family, covering 45,000 miles in seven months. It visited Gibraltar, Malta, Aden (now part of Yemen), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa and Canada. The Tour was originally intended to be made by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in order to thank the people of the British Empire for their contributions in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) but also to provide an opportunity for a member of the Royal Family to open the first Parliament of Australia following the country's federation in 1900.

Photograph taken on the quay or dock at Halifax, Canada, by HMS Ophir, of King George V (1865-1936) and Queen Mary (1867-1953) when Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. This was probably taken on the occasion of the group photograph with the entire crew of HMS Ophir, towards the end of their tour of Canada in October 1901. Royal Marines can be seen in the background. [Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023]

However, following the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, it was decided that the new heir to the throne would make the journey instead. George opened the Parliament at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne on 9 May 1901. In 1903, the event was commemorated by the Australian artist, Tom Roberts, in a large painting presented to King Edward VII in 1904 (see RCIN 407587). Popularly known as the 'Big Picture', the painting now hangs at Parliament House, Canberra.

Photograph of Sergeant Major Howard, RM, on board HMS Ophir. During this part of the 1901 Dominions tour, the ship was probably somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean [Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023]

A special RM detachment under the command of Major C Clarke was embarked; also the Band of the Chatham Division RMLI, which in commemoration of their services was granted the 'White Rose of York' to be worn on their helmets and caps.


All images with kind permission of The Royal Collections Trust and © His Majesty King Charles III 2023


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