Prince Albert 1st, a pioneer of Marine Sciences

The first years

Albert Honoré Charles Grimaldi was born in Paris on November 13, 1848. He began to travel at an early age with his parents, Prince Charles III and Princess Antoinette-Ghislaine, or with his tutor. In addition to traveling between Paris and Monaco, he has visited various regions of France and neighboring countries: Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy. The family castle of Marchais, in the department of Aisne, is surrounded by vast wooded areas or dotted with ponds: the young Prince travels them relentlessly and thus, acquires the habit of physical exercise, walking and horseback riding. Through fishing and hunting, he developed his gifts as a born observer of Nature; he learned to distinguish between plant and animal species and to recognize the relationship between the living world and the environment.

Prince Albert also shows, from adolescence, a passionate attraction for the sea, perhaps aroused by his outings with Monegasque sailors and fishermen or by reading about his travels and polar expeditions.

After his secondary school studies, at Collège Stanislas in Paris and then at La Chapelle Saint-Mesmin, near Orléans, he obtained his father's agreement to become a naval officer. His initial training was entrusted to an officer of the French Imperial Navy, Lieutenant Florent Anthouard, in 1865-1866 in Lorient. The following spring, Queen Isabelle II welcomed him as an ensign in the Spanish Navy where he will spend two years. After a few months on the Iberian coasts of the Atlantic, he sailed and stayed in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Before returning to Europe, he undertook a long journey to the United States. Back in Monaco, he bought a small cutter, the Isabella II, with which he sailed not only around the Principality but from the coast of Tuscany to the Catalan coast.

On 21 September 1869, Prince Albert married Lady Mary Victoria Douglas-Hamilton. From this union was born his only son and successor, Prince Louis II.


The Prince and oceanography

When the Franco-Prussian war broke out, the Prince put himself at the disposal of the French Navy. Thus, Napoleon III conferred him the rank of lieutenant. At the fall of the Empire, he returned to Monaco so he resumed his land voyages and his navigations on board the Isabelle II, replaced in the autumn of 1873 by a schooner, built eleven years earlier in Gosport by the Camper & Nicholson shipyards. He renamed Hirondelle this magnificent sailing ship of 32 meters in length and a displacement of 200 tons. She sailed the western Mediterranean (1876 and 1877), the Atlantic to the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores (1879) and the waters of the British Isles and Iceland (1882). These travels permitted him to perfect his experience as a naval officer, as he felt that his situation as Hereditary Prince did not exempt him from acquiring a trade.

In the interval of the cruises, Prince Albert traverses the majority of the European countries. His notes testify to his attention and his discernment: they are not limited to the picturesque landscapes and the interest of the monuments. They abound in remarks on economic, ethnographic and geopolitical data. The Prince's linguistic knowledge continues to grow. His literary publications, in particular his autobiographical work, “La carrière d'un navigateur”, attest to his perfect mastery of the French language.


The scientific beginnings

The Prince also uses his travels to visit museums, to meet academics and members of learned societies. When he resides in Paris, he frequents scientific circles: Sorbonne, Faculty of Medicine, Museum of Natural History, where he has been introduced by his childhood friend, Dr Paul Regnard. Charles Darwin's publications, Claude Bernard's work, and Louis Pasteur's discoveries not only maintain passionate discussions among specialists, but also raise hopes for attentive and enlightened minds. Scientific and technical progress cannot fail to bring more justice and well-being to humanity. They should also give, if not "the" answer, at least answers to the primordial question of the origin of Life. All these debates, all these researches have a deep resonance in Prince Albert's mind.

During four summers, an "underwater dredging commission" undertook work on board French Navy vessels: the Travailleur, in 1880, 1881 and 1882, then the Talisman, in 1883, as far as the Sargasso Sea. Shortly after the last campaign, an exhibition organized at the Museum to present the results was a huge success. The interest that Prince Albert takes in this exhibition, the encouragements that Professor Alphonse Milne-Edwards, head of these missions, gives him, lead to his decision. He will devote himself to oceanography, driven by his experience as a sailor and his attraction for science.


Oceanographic campaigns

From summer 1884, he decided to harvest on the surface during the journey from Lorient to the Baltic Sea. The shipwreck of the Hirondelle that occurred between Denmark and Sweden caused the loss of some of the samples. Therefore, the campaign was only as a “prelude” to the oceanographic campaigns that will be lead, the following year.

The operations carried out on board the Hirondelle aimed at studying the movement of surface water masses in the North Atlantic by the launching of nearly 1,700 floats between 1885 and 1887. In addition, diversified and perfected devices allowed the harvesting of animals from the surface to depths close to 3000 meters, particularly in the Azores region.

L'Hirondelle's scientific activities ended in 1888. Its dimensions became insufficient for a growing number of machines. The absence of an auxiliary engine limited the number and depth of operations desired, regardless of the dedication and robustness of the fifteen or so sailors on board. In addition, Prince Albert wanted to participate actively in the Universal Exhibition of 1889, as well as in several of the many congresses organized in Paris, on this occasion. Half of the Monaco Pavilion was reserved for the presentation of the animals collected, the material used, the photographs, models and maps. Thanks to that, the Monaco Pavilion was the high point of the exhibition, both for scientists and the general public.

On September 10, 1889, Prince Charles III passed over so, his only son became Prince Albert I. From then on, he had to reconcile his responsibilities as Sovereign Prince with his scientific work, to which he remained as attached as ever. He ordered from the Green shipyards of Blackwall near London, a three-masted ship specially designed for oceanographic operations. With a length of 53 meters and a displacement of 650 tons, she is equipped with an auxiliary engine with a power of 350 horsepower. In accordance with his customary approach, the Prince insisted that the most recent advances in technology be applied to it: electric lighting, seawater distiller, cold rooms, steam-powered sounding machine. The three laboratories were equipped with roll tables, lighting tables and have a distribution of distilled water and seawater. The ship named “Princess Alice”, in honour of Prince Albert’s second wife, was launched on February 12, 1891. Seven campaigns were carried out with this yacht from 1891 to 1897, in the Mediterranean but especially in the temperate Atlantic near the Azores.

To carry out increasingly diversified research at ever-greater depths, Prince Albert ordered a new yacht from the Laird shipyards in Birkenhead near Liverpool. With a length of 73 meters and a displacement of 1400 tons, her 1000 horsepower engine allows her to reach a speed of 13 knots. Launched on November 27, 1897, she received the same name as the previous yacht: Princess Alice. Construction, layout and equipment are successful in all respects and allow twelve extremely successful campaigns, between 1898 and 1910. Four of them take place as far as Spitsbergen. During the summer of 1901, the most southern operations carried out by the Prince took place, halfway between the Cape Verde Islands and Ecuador. The deepest station is carried out at a depth of 6035 meters and allows the capture of a Fish and several Invertebrates. Among the scientists on board were two French physiologists, Charles Richet and Paul Portier. This allowed them to began the experiments that would lead them to the discovery of the phenomenon of anaphylaxis, the key to allergic reactions.

The distant and sometimes difficult navigations of the second Princess Alice forced the Prince, to order a new yacht from the Forges et chantiers de la Méditerranée, in La Seyne near Toulon. Even bigger (82 meters in length and 1600 tons of displacement), even more powerful (two 2200 horsepower engines), the ship is equipped with two propellers and wireless telegraphy. Launched on February 6, 1911, she receives the name of the small schooner of the beginnings: Hirondelle. The First World War put an end to its scientific activities, after only five campaigns.


Campaign results

In total, twenty-eight oceanographic campaigns that Prince Albert I organized and directed, between 1885 and 1915. Undertaken during the summer period, their duration varied from seven to fourteen weeks, depending on the year. In addition, from 1894 onwards, the Prince took advantage of his stay in Monaco during the winter and spring to carry out a number of operations between the continent and Corsica. It is then, that new machines are experimented and new methods are developed.

During the campaigns, the Prince assumes command of the yacht. For navigation, on board the Hirondelle he was assisted by a boatswain, Jean-Auguste Le Gréné. On the other three ships, he was assisted by a second in command: a British, Captain Henry Charlwood Carr, then a Frenchman, Commander Georges d'Arodes de Peyriague. From 1902, a young French officer, Ensign Charles Sauerwein, replaced in 1906 by Lieutenant Henry Bourée, completed the maritime staff.

For scientific questions, the Prince decides himself on the place and program of research. Marine meteorology was the subject of many operations from 1904 to 1907, under the responsibility of Hugo Hergesell. Sometimes, the choice of the Prince is guided by a current problem. For instance, in 1903 when, in an attempt to remedy the sardine crisis affecting the French Atlantic coast, the Prince and his collaborators carried out a detailed study of the biological and physico-chemical factors of the Bay of Biscay.

However, the work on board is mainly of two types of operations. First of all, the animals are harvested, to depths sometimes exceeding 6,000 meters, with particular attention paid to the existence and abundance of fauna living in open water, in the intermediate levels between the surface and the bottom. This bathypelagic fauna is indeed the subject of lively discussion at the time. Biological sampling is complemented by the study of the characteristics of the environment where these organisms live: temperature, salinity, circulation of water masses.

Baron Jules de Guerne, then Dr. Jules Richard, took part in all the campaigns starting from 1887. Some scientists were invited to take part in the work (Charles Richet and Paul Portier, the biochemist Gabriel Bertrand, the oceanographer Julien Thoulet, the zoologists Louis Joubin and Louis-Eugène Bouvier, the algologist Louis Gain, the German planktonologist Karl Brandt, two Scots, the physicist John Young Buchanan and the polar explorer William Speirs Bruce, the German meteorologist Hugo Hergesell). From 1888, an artist was on board, whose main task was to note the color of organisms as soon as they came out of the water, before the original shades faded.

A total of 3698 stations will be operated under the direction and permanent control of Prince Albert. A station includes a series of more or less numerous and complex operations. After having established with precision the geographical position of the vessel, the depth is determined thanks to a sounder that goes up with a sample of the substrate that can be analysed then. Water intakes for analysis and temperature measurements are generally made at the surface and at various depths. A device is then immersed which, depending on the research planned, is a planktonic net, dredge, trawl, trap, longline, trammel or tiller.

The animals collected are subject to a first sorting as soon as they are harvested. Once the campaign is over, they are classified according to zoological groups and then entrusted to the best specialists, both French and foreign, for a final examination. Indeed, unlike his friend King D. Carlos of Portugal, another "sovereign oceanographer", Prince Albert believes he has neither the time nor the competence required to identify animals, among which are often new species or even new genera. However, he shows a sustained interest in this work, which is the subject of preliminary notes in specialized journals. For summary monographs, he created a series under the explicit title of Results of scientific campaigns, carried out on his yacht by Albert I, Sovereign Prince of Monaco. The first of the one hundred and ten fascicles appeared in 1889. The text is composed and printed in Monaco, on laid paper with the Prince's coat of arms and monogram. For the plates, the drawings of the scholars are associated with the colour notes of the artists on board; the printing is entrusted to the best lithographers of the time. The care taken at all stages of the publication under the constant supervision of the Prince allows to bring together scientific rigor and aesthetic quality in this series and to establish its lasting reputation.


Scientific inventions

Prince Albert contributed to the progress of oceanography in very specific fields: the reliability and abundance of samples and data depend on the quality of the instruments used. From the beginning of its campaigns, it has attached the greatest importance to this question. Fascinated by inventions such as the cinematograph, color photography and aeronautics, he is keen to apply new processes and new materials to oceanographic instrumentation, without neglecting proven techniques that have been used for a long time. He invented or perfected numerous devices: floats launched by the Swallow, surface trawl, rudder net, curtain net, keyed depth sounder, sounding machine, trihedral and hexagonal pots. Its employees are just as inventive. Jules Richard creates a water sampling bottle, a small net for harvesting plankton while the ship is underway, a wide-opening net for vertical fishing of bathypelagic fauna. The "dredge sounder" is designed by engineer Maurice Léger.


Ocean mapping

Mapping is the second area that has benefited from Prince Albert's initiatives. For the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889, he had a huge map made where the routes followed during the four campaigns of the Hirondelle are traced as well as the displacement of the water masses of the Atlantic as established from the course of the recovered floats. Three years later, this diagram of ocean circulation was the subject of a detailed map, presented at the Academy of Sciences in Paris and at the annual congress of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Edinburgh.

The four campaigns in Spitsbergen gave rise to the publication of a whole series of maps: Hydrography of Red Bay following the surveys of Lieutenant (Navy) Guissez; Topography of the northwestern part of the main island as well as Prince Charles Foreland, explored by the Norwegian mission of Gunnar Isachsen and the Scottish mission of William Bruce.

The major contribution of the Prince is, without a doubt, the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans. Following a decision taken at the International Congress of Geography, in Berlin in 1899, a meeting of experts was held in Wiesbaden four years later. Professor Julien Thoulet's proposals for the main features of this map: scale, projection, bathymetry, were discussed and adopted. The twenty-four sheets came off the presses in the spring of 1905, with all the drawing and printing costs borne by Prince Albert, who continued to sponsor and finance the second edition, published from 1912 onwards.


Raising Public Awareness: The Oceanographic Museum

Prince's oceanographic companies have been of particular importance in a third area: contributing to a better knowledge, therefore a better understanding, of the role played by the marine environment in a large number of human activities. Presenting the results of its campaigns and the means used to obtain them, was one of the solutions adopted by Prince to this end. Even before the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889, he had taken part in the Antwerp Exhibition in 1885. Subsequently, he took part in the Universal or thematic (maritime, fishing) Expositions in Brussels (1897 and 1910), Paris (1900), St. Petersburg (1902), St. Louis (1904), Marseille and Milan (1906), Bordeaux (1907), Bergen (1910) and Vercelli (1913).

It is to both conserve and present his collections of specimens and instruments and to raise awareness among the wide public that the Prince decided to create the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco. The construction of the building began as soon as the works were awarded in 1898. The ceremonies of laying the "foundation stone" the following year and the inauguration in 1910.

The results of the campaigns were presented to the scientific community through presentations to learned societies, in particular the Paris Academy of Sciences, as well as to national and international congresses, but the Prince also wishes to inform wider audiences. During his first campaign, he gave a lecture for the Geographical Society of Paris. This type of society was then in its golden age and it was most often to their members that the Prince spoke: in London (1898), Laon (1899), Marseille (1904), Edinburgh, Glasgow and Munich (1907), Rome and Brussels (1910), Madrid and Vienna (1912), New York (1913) and Washington (1913 and 1921). While the sovereigns and heads of state honoured these conferences with their presence, the Prince was also keen to show his interest in the "People's Universities". On three occasions, he came to speak to members of the Cooperation of Ideas, at the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris. When he decided to create an Oceanographic Institute, intended to extend and structure the courses and conferences he organized in Paris from 1903 onwards, he stipulated that the new establishment, inaugurated in 1911, should provide education at two levels: university and "popular".

Still hoping to increase the scope of oceanographic studies and to encourage international cooperation, Prince Albert accepted the presidency of two commissions created at the Geography Congress of Geneva (1908). The Atlantic Commission did not survive the First World War. The Mediterranean Commission was definitively organized in Madrid in 1919 and did not cease to pursue its activities, with the help of Monaco and its Princes.

The results obtained prove clearly that Prince Albert did not care to be a patron or a yachtsman practicing as an amateur a "leisure oceanography". His contemporaries are perfectly aware of this: Academies and learned societies have called him to sit among their members and have awarded him their most prestigious distinctions, both in Europe and America. In Washington, in the spring of 1921, he took stock of his scientific work in his Discourse on the Ocean, before receiving the Agassiz Medal, awarded by the National Academy of Sciences.



Oceanography is not the only scientific field in which Prince Albert was interested. Like his grandfather, Prince Florestan, he carried out some excavations in the caves of Baoussé-Roussé, a short distance from the French-Italian border, near the hamlet of Grimaldi. The work continued by specialists, whose discoveries justify the creation of a Museum of Prehistoric Anthropology in Monaco. The study of caves in northwestern Spain, particularly in Altamira, also benefits from the patronage of the Prince. The questions raised by the origin of life, the evolution of organized beings, natural selection, the struggle for existence, fascinate the Prince. To promote research related to these questions, he founded the Institute of Human Paleontology in Paris.


The Sovereign

Prince Albert's scientific activities do not divert him from his responsibilities as Sovereign. Administering such a cramped territory may seem an easy task, but great vigilance is required to ensure that a population where nationals are fifteen times less numerous than foreigners, of very diverse origins and cultures, lives in harmony. Monaco's development must continue and be modernized. Therefore, a first Constitution is promulgated, in 1911: codes and laws are revised. New schools, a high school and a public library are created. An hospital, equipped with the latest improvements, replaces the old Hôtel-Dieu. A waste incineration plant and a sewerage system are put into operation. The drinking water supply is improved; electric lighting and a telephone network are installed. To diversify the economy, a few industries are set up and the port benefits from considerable work. A palace of fine arts is built and it hosts an annual exhibition of paintings, sculptures and engravings, as well as theatrical performances and conferences. Under the impetus of Raoul Gunsbourg, the Opera acquired a worldwide reputation.

Prince Albert's concern for justice is reflected in the social field by the support he gives to the mutual insurance company, which he considers to be the guarantor of social security and promotion for workers. Equal respect for human dignity leads him to intervene energetically in favour of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.


A man of peace

As a tireless apostle of peace between individuals and nations, he advocates the settlement of conflicts through arbitration. After hosting the 11th Universal Peace Congress, he created in Monaco an International Institute for Peace, a prefiguration of the League of Nations. Eight members of which have received or will receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He tirelessly strives to achieve, if not reconciliation, at least a rapprochement between France and Germany. The unfolding of the First World War inspired him to write his book “The German War and the Universal Conscience”. Although he had placed so much hope in scientific progress to establish social justice and international understanding, the conflict was a trial he did not survive for long. He died in Paris on June 26, 1922.


Jacqueline Carpine-Lancre - January 2004