The Royal Connection

Among the Academy’s historic members, we have counted lawyers, apothecaries, brewers. But did you know that among that membership there even was a prince?  

Prior to his ascension to the throne, Albert I, Prince of Monaco spent his youth sailing the ocean, first as a navigator in the Spanish Navy and later in the French Navy during the Franco-Prussian War. Despite his heroic exploits and accolades, he found that after leaving the service his passion was rather in discovering the depths of the world’s oceans.

Prince Albert dedicated four yachts to this endeavor: the Hirondelle, Princesse Alice, Princesse Alice II and Hirondelle II. Outfitted with the most up-to-date scientific equipment and staffed with some of the world’s foremost scientists, Albert traveled through the Mediterranean, to the Azores, even as far as the frigid North Pole.

Beginning in 1885 and up until 1915, Albert and his crew studied all aspects of the ocean including currents, geography, meteorology and zoology. Their research even went to depths as far as 6,000 meters below the ocean’s surface!  

The numerous discoveries made during these expeditions were thoroughly documented in a 110-volume series, Résultats des campagnes scientifiques accomplies sur son yacht par Albert Ier, prince souverain de Monaco, published from 1889 until 1950 and written primarily by scientist Jules Richard. The Academy has a complete set of this work, the earliest volumes deposited by the Prince himself!

In recognition of Albert’s contributions to both oceanography and his work to preserve our oceans, he was nominated as a corresponding member of the Academy by librarian Edward Nolan and malacologist H.A. Pilsbry and elected on Jan. 29, 1901.

The most breathtaking aspects of these works are the evocative illustrations of creatures found at the very depths of our oceans. And visitors to our current exhibition, Extreme Deep: Mission to the Abyss, can see these detailed scientific artworks through the run of the show.

The illustration below of a vampire squid (named here as Melanoteuthis lucens now accepted as Vampyroteuthis infernalis) by Mlle. Vesque was published in volume 54, Céphalopodes, 1920. The specimen was collected in the Sargasso Sea, south of the Azores, at a depth of 3,465 meters below the ocean’s surface. Although the specimen was difficult to preserve, artist Louis Tinayre made a quick watercolor sketch soon after it was collected, allowing Vesque to accurately portray the squid’s true appearance. 

Another remarkable plate in this series shows the variety of fish that can be found in the depths of the ocean. Seen below from vol. 35, Poissons II, 1911 are the scaly dragonfish (Stomias boa boa), bobtail eel (Cyema atrum), gulper eel (named here as Gastrostomus bairdi now accepted as Eurypharynx pelecanoides), and the daggertooth (Anotopterus pharao) illustrated by Emma Kissling. These were all found during various expeditions at depths ranging from 2,200 to 5,100 meters below the ocean’s surface. The initial sketches also were done by Tinayre, preserving the original coloring of these fishes that decay so rapidly once they leave their waters.

Albert’s passion for our world’s oceans did not stop at his own expeditions, but is a legacy that still carries on today through the work of the Institut océanographique, founded in 1906, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, founded in 1910, and the environmental advocacy and oceanographic exploration of his great-great-grandson Albert II, Prince of Monaco.

By Kelsey Manahan-Phelan, Special Collections Librarian, Academy Library and Archives

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.