Memoirs of Henry Keppel -1809

Memoirs of Henry Keppel -1809

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 first installment of a selection of his memoirs, others will follow over the coming weeks,

There was life in the ‘small thing’

There was life in the ‘small thing’Harry Keppel, in the description of his sailor’s life, tells how he was born at Earl’s Court, Kensington, on June 14, [1809], so frail a child that he was deposited in his father’s footpan, to be interred in a garden at the back of the house, not being thought of sufficient importance to be entitled to a grave in consecrated ground; and yet, so wonderful are the contradictions and vagaries of Nature, that this frail atom of humanity, saved by the fond care of his nurse, lived to the age of ninety-four.  Descended from the Arnold Joost Van Keppel who accompanied the Prince of Orange to this country in [1688], and was created Earl of Albemarle, Harry unquestionably inherited his ancestor’s ‘sweet and obliging temper and winning manners.’  Burke said,   ‘The Keppels have two countries one of descent and one of birth.  Their interests and glory are the same.’

It is needless to say that Harry was born a pure Whig; and as his elder brother’s sponsor was Charles James Fox, so his was Henry Lord Holland, on whose statue in the park of Holland House is inscribed this quatrain:

Nephew of Fox and friend of Grey,
Be mine no higher fame
If those who deign to watch me say
I’ve sullied neither name.

His elder brother, Lord Albemarle, in his ‘Fifty Years of My Life,’ tells us how as a boy fresh from Westminster he obtained a commission as ensign in the 14th Foot, and was just in time to take part in the battle of Waterloo.

Harry has often told me how vivid was his recollection of hearing the news of that battle in his Norfolk home, and of his firm belief that his brother had personally vanquished the Great Napoleon Bonaparte in single combat.  This idea was not at all dissipated by the hero-worship which surrounded that brother on his return to Quidenham.

Out hunting one day, his fond father turned to a Norfolk farmer, and said with pride: ‘What do you think of my son’s horsemanship?’

‘He du ride just like a fule,’ replied the farmer in his Norfolk dialect.

Keppel’s schooldays were the schooldays of thousands of other high-spirited boys; and he remained a high-spirited boy to the end, an example of the truth and best meaning of the saying: ‘Whom the gods love die young.’

‘Granny’ a little child once asked, ‘are you old or young?’ ‘My dear’ was the answer,  ‘I have been young a great many years.’

And in his old age Harry Keppel was still young.

Coke of Norfolk, as he was habitually called, was a Whig of the old Charles Fox school, whose political sympathy with the Keppels drew the two families into close intimacy; and at an early age, when a large party was assembled at Holkham, Mr. Coke took Harry into his study and told him to sit in a particular chair; which he did, not without some apprehension of what was to follow.  He was soon relieved on being told by Mr. Coke that he had been sitting on the chair on which Nelson had once sat.  How little either then thought that the boy would follow in that great man’s footsteps!

Excerpt from Sir Henry Keppel – Admiral of the Fleet – by Sir Algernon Edward West – 1905

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Further Reading and External Links

Henry Keppel on Wikipedia