He painted the town red and his horse black. Born in 1846, Lord Charles Beresford (known to his friends as Charlie B) was the second son of the Fourth Marquis of Waterford, Ireland. When he joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1859, he received his training on HMS Britannia
. His first posting was as a 19-year-old midshipman onboard the Clio
He only spent five months here, but in that time, he established a remarkable reputation. Charlie B, accustomed to fine living and riding the best Irish thoroughbreds, was able to supplement his seaman's pay from his own personal fortune. However, the adventure of renting a cheap piebald pony to gallop the five-mile stretch between Esquimalt Harbour and the lively inner core of Victoria, didn't appeal to him. And people smirked. So, Charlie painted the pony black. For a while, the animal looked impressive, especially on the day he raced the horse along Esquimalt Road in a cloud of dust, a squawking goose tucked under each arm and an irate farmer in hot pursuit. There was a sharp curve in the road and Charlie B found the geese a bit too much to handle, so he set them free, stopped his horse, burst into uncontrollable laughter and paid the fuming farmer. To mollify the man, whose temper was still flaming, Charlie B invited him to dine onboard the Clio that night as his honoured guest. That was typical of Charlie B - a rascal, a prankster with a genuine warm heart and generous temperament, which was why he was later described as the "most popular man in the navy."
Then, one day, it rained and paint ran off his black pony. Charlie enjoyed the joke as much as those who made it a point of ridicule. His jokes were always harmless, although often outrageous, like the time he paraded a group of his friends into the dining room of one of Victoria's most sedate and exclusive hotels. With the guests seated in their usual pose of quiet, dignified and sombre opulence, Charlie jumped on to one of the tables and announced that he was about to hold an auction. Patrons were aghast, as he sold off the entire contents of the hotel's larder, for prices far below their market value, allowing only the sailors to bid. A pig was sold for a few shillings and a turkey for 50 cents. When the larder was empty, he gathered up all the items and took them back to the Clio, where the sailors feasted on a sumptuous meal - a welcome change from their usual fare of navy rations. The hotel owner was not the least perturbed. He had stood and watched the proceedings with a benign smile on his face. He knew what would happen next morning. Sure enough, Charlie B returned to the hotel and paid the owner handsomely.
Only five months after he arrived in Victoria and near Christmas, he accidentally fell into the hold of the Clio, fracturing three ribs. The 19-year-old sailed back to England the same week. But his escapades weren't over. In 1874, at age 25, he received his commission and that same year, still serving in the navy, he entered Parliament as the Conservative member for County Waterford, a seat he held for six years. Throughout his life, he had several stints in Parliament, representing a variety of constituencies, always campaigning for naval reform and better conditions for the men. Winston Churchill, however, was not impressed by Charlie's performance in the House. He described Charlie B as "one of those orators of whom it is said that before they get up to speak they do not know what they are going to say, when they are speaking they do not know what they are saying and when they have sat down they do not know what they have said."
In 1875, he was promoted to Commander and became aide-de-camp and close personal friend to the Prince of Wales - later, King Edward VII. But then a situation occurred that strained their relationship. Everyone knew of the Prince's peccadillos. He was married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark and they lived at Marlborough House, but he had a legendary wandering eye for the ladies. He had his harem of sophisticated young ladies known as the "Marlborough House Set." One of the Prince's favourite paramours was Lady Daisy Brooke, the Countess of Warwick, known to her friends as "Babbling Brook." It was only a matter of time before the beautiful chatterbox caught Charlie B's eye and a romance ensued. His Royal Highness was clearly displeased, especially as Charlie himself was also married, at this time, to Mina, a woman with whom he was always deeply in love. Matters between he and the Prince soured further when it was discovered that Daisy was pregnant with Charlie's baby. Mina had intercepted one of Daisy's letters to Charlie, which gave Mina the perfect instrument for blackmail to keep Daisy out of Charlie's reach. Charlie cheerfully accepted the inevitable.
His irrepressible high spirits, charming manner, stunning good looks and love of foolish fun made him the life and soul of every party. On one occasion, he had a wager with his friends at the St. James Club in London that he would walk naked through Hyde Park the next morning. Word spread and crowds gathered to watch as Charlie B arrived in a carriage from which the floorboards had been removed, strolling slowly through the park with only his head and feet visible. At a party in a rambling old country house one weekend, he caught the eye of a pretty girl with a nod and a wink. Later that night, trying to find his way through the dimly lit halls, he threw open one of the bedroom doors, jumped on the bed in a single bound and found himself astride the startled Bishop of Chester. But everybody liked him. Princess Alexandra called him her "Little Rascal" and Queen Victoria admitted that she found him "very funny."
But there was a serious side to Charlie B. No longer welcome in the Prince's company, Charlie gave his total attention to the navy. In 1882, as Commander of the Condor, he played a key role in the siege of Alexandria, earning his nation's praise with a phrase that stuck throughout his career, "Well done, Condor!" Then, in 1884, while commanding the Sophia, in the Nile Expedition and under heavy enemy fire, he was one of the main instruments in the relief of Khartoum, the occasion on which General Gordon lost his life. His exploits of daring on this occasion were reported in detail in the daily press and again, he was the nation's darling.
He only came back to Victoria once more before his death at age 73 in 1919. In 1911, as the recently retired Admiral of the Channel Fleet, he came to the new Empress Hotel to speak to the Canadian Club, whose members greeted him with a "tornado of enthusiasm." But his speech made no reference to the larks of a 19-year-old midshipman who had painted the town red and his pony black 46 years before.