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. Below is an excerpt from his memoirs as published in one of the books in our library ‘Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – Admiral of the Fleet – by Sir Algernon Edward West’ -1905.
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Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – Plymouth
After leaving Plymouth, Harry was sometimes at Bishopstoke, and sometimes passed the winter months at Torquay with his family; but wherever they went Harry always had a pieda-terre with a comrade in London. For a long time he shared an apartment with his old shipmate and kinsman, Lord Edward Russell, who was as fond of racing as Harry himself, and many were the race-meetings they attended together.
The east end of Piccadilly at night was not a quiet spot, and I recollect his telling me that a solicitous lady followed him till he took refuge in his house and slammed the door. On getting upstairs he was pursued with shrieks and yells, and had to descend again, to find he had caught the skirts of his persecutress in the door, from which he had to release her.
Lord Edward and he were looked after by a charming housekeeper called Patty, who made them most comfortable. But nothing lasts in this world, and Lord Edward’s death brought this happy menage to an end. When this happened Harry’s old flag-lieutenant, Lord Charles Beresford, insisted on placing a room at his disposal in his house in Eaton Square.
Harry was always fond of a story of how, one day, at a Levee he dropped his sword, and Lord Rosebery picked it up for him, saying, ‘Let me be the first man that has ever given you back your unsurrendered sword.’
When Harry was ninety-one years of age he had, for the first time in his life, a tooth which bothered him; so his daughter took him to a dentist, who pronounced the tooth to be so sound and so firmly fixed that he declined to pull it out. Harry was annoyed at his fruitless journey and his fruitless fee, and when his daughter came to dinner he told her that he was not going to be dictated to by a dentist, and that he had himself extracted the sound tooth.
After his wife’s death, in , he followed the Prince of Wales’s advice, and practically gave up his country places, and lived in chambers adjoining those of his nephew, Admiral Stephenson, in the Albany, perhaps agreeing with Dr. Johnson that ‘London is the best place in summer and the only place in winter.’
In these rooms he collected the pictures and photographs of all his friends, which I can see before me still: The simple bed, with his earliest commission, signed by Nelson’s flag-captain, Hardy, framed, over his head; engravings of Nelson’s victories; photographs of the King and Queen, given ‘to her beloved Little Admiral’; portraits of Coke of Norfolk and Sir Francis Burdett; Sir Dighton Probyn charging at the head of his splendid Lancers in the Indian Mutiny, and a hundred others.
He led a hardy life. Meeting me in a bitter east wind one day in Piccadilly, on his way to church, he asked how Mr. Gladstone was. I told him he was very ill. ‘Ah’ he said, ‘he is over-nursed. If he would do as I do climb up eighty steps, have a cold bath every day, and sleep with his window always open he would never be ill.’
Harry was a constant attendant at church. A simple sailor, he was a man of simple faith, and was one of those who ‘go down to the sea in ships, and see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep.’
On one occasion his niece surprised him in his room with the Bible open before him. ‘You have come unexpectedly,’ he said, ‘but I need not be ashamed of being found doing what I do every day of my life.’
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