Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Keppel, GCB, OM (14 June 1809 – 17 January 1904) was a British admiral and son of the 4th Earl of Albemarle. “A man might achieve great legislative results, do great deeds, and be a most useful member of society, but unless he possessed the gift of personality he would be to the general public as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Henry Keppel undoubtedly possessed that gift.
Below is the eighth installment in our series of a selection of his memoirs, others will follow over the coming weeks.
Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – 1854
Proceeding to the Crimea
In November the somewhat inglorious campaign in the Baltic came to an end, and the ‘St. Jean d’Acre,’ with her jolly, cheerful skipper, as Clarence Paget called his brother-officer, returned to Plymouth. Before December was over he was ordered to prepare for reception of troops and proceed to the Crimea.
It was a bitter winter, but all on board the St. Jean d’Acre were determined to make the best of the situation, the cheery Irish recruits eating half a ton of raw turnips intended for the sheep. It was not many days before they were off the entrance of the Straits of Gibraltar, with a strong easterly wind and the usual inrush of sea. As it was about dinner-time, Keppel had sails furled, and left the Master to steer by the well-lighted Spanish coast. When the Captain came on the poop-deck, shortly followed by his guests, a bright light, broad on the port bow, made him inquire of the Master what it was. He said it was Tarifa Point. Having ascertained the bearings, Keppel saw at once that it must be Europe Point, some twenty miles in advance, and ordered, ‘Starboard the helm.’
Twenty years had elapsed since, when in command of the ‘Childers’ brig, he had made almost monthly visits to meet the English mail at Gibraltar. His poor nervous Master, who could not have reckoned on the rush of sea into the Mediterranean, exclaimed, before his generals and other guests: ‘You forget, sir, that you have on board 1,200 men, in addition to the ship’s company.’ Keppel at once ordered him to his cabin under arrest. In a few minutes they had the full blaze of lights on the Rock itself; the harbour was a mass of shipping. They could only obtain proper anchorage by passing under the stern of the largest transport he could find. They had, fortunately, there about the most promising of young captains, George Grey, in charge of the dockyard. His perfect arrangements for coaling made the work easy.
On arrival at the snowclad Balaclava the first person who came up was a long soldier, without coat or jacket, braces hanging down his back, carrying a bucket of water in one hand and lugging a goat up with the other. He said, ‘How are you, Keppel?’ He replied, ‘All right, thanks,’ and passed on. On arriving at the Guards’ ground, the first person he saw standing at his tent door was Mark Wood. While chatting the soldier with braces down passed. He asked, ‘Who is that soldier? he seems to know me.’ Wood said, Of course he does; that is Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar.’
He found Sir Colin Campbell on the high ground, his jacket flying open as if it were summer. Their meeting was cordial. He was asked whether he would have his Southdown cut up or whole. He preferred it home fashion, with the saddle.
Talking to Sir Colin Campbell about the disastrous charge at Balaclava, Keppel asked whether it was true he had refused to form square to resist the Russian cavalry at Balaclava. He said a double line of Highlanders was enough, and, if I did not mind the snow, he would show me the Russian horses.
Excerpt from Sir Henry Keppel – Admiral of the Fleet – by Sir Algernon Edward West – 1905
Further Reading and External Links