Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – 1848

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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 sixth installment in our series of a selection of his memoirs, others will follow over the coming weeks.

Chapter VI

The Ship MaeanderIN [1848] all seemed to be in a state bordering on anarchy in the Malayan Archipelago. Each petty chief quarrelled with and attacked his weaker neighbours, and they all dreaded onslaughts from powerful pirates who hovered about the coasts.  Sir James Brooke, as Her Majesty’s Commissioner to the Sultan of Borneo, was Keppel’s guest on the Maeander, and together they cruised through the various islands, losing many of the crew from fever, and in brighter moments shooting wild cattle and deer; but the coral reefs and sandbanks made the navigation difficult, and the journey was enlivened not only by such dangers, but by the constant apprehension of treachery from the natives.

Having pulled and poled over a bar, and up a shallow salt-water creek, on the east side of the bay, a little to the northward of where they were anchored, they landed a small shooting party, and were shown some particularly likely looking ground, covered with long grass, and intersected in all directions by the fresh tracks of wild cattle.  A hog was the result of their sport; but three large deer made their appearance on the edge of the jungle just as the guns had been discharged at the less dignified game.

In December, with the tender ‘Jolly Bachelor’ in company, they weighed anchor and stood towards the island of Mallewali, and soon entered among the dangers of the Sulu Seas. As far as the eye could reach from the masthead patches of sand and coral banks were visible. But the weather was fine, the water smooth and clear, and with the tender sounding ahead they proceeded, nothing daunted by appearances, for they could always pick their way by daylight and anchor at sunset.

Mallewali itself was surrounded by these coral reefs, and there appeared to be a fine harbour to the eastward, but certainly no safe entrance for a ship the size of the ‘Maeander’; but exploring parties were landed, and the island was well traversed, no traces of inhabitants being seen, and only tracks of big game.

Among the many who succumbed to the attacks of Labuan fever was a young fellow, the finest of the crew, in the prime of life; he had several times rallied, but two days previous to his death he sent to take leave of his Captain, who had for some time been endeavouring to cheer him up; but the surroundings did not tend to joyfulness, for the sick were suspended in cots on both sides of the main deck, and when a death occurred it was difficult to hide from the others what had taken place.  This young man was the last of the barge’s crew who was taken ill, and had attended most of his shipmates in their attacks of fever.  There was a happy expression of countenance and a generosity about this poor fellow that had endeared him to officers and men.  He had left the address of his mother, and of a poor young girl to whom he was betrothed.  These are the sad necessities of a sailor’s life; but Providence seems to have endowed them with specially recuperative powers, helped by constant change of scene and plenty of occupation.

Excerpt from Memoir of 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