Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – Thrash a Bobby


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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. Below is an excerpt from his memoirs as published in one of the books in our library ‘Sir Henry Keppel – Admiral of the Fleet – by Sir Algernon Edward West’ -1905.  Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here or search our library here.

Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel  – Departure from Red-Tape Pedantry

Amongst the many merits that rigorous impartiality might attribute to Harry, perhaps the strict official dignity of the Jack-in-office was wanting. Meeting at middy in the tramcar between Plymouth and Devonport, he called him aside and said: ‘Don’t you tell my flagcaptain you saw me here; he would not approve.’

But this was not his only departure from red-tape pedantry. Eight lieutenants got into a row at the Plymouth Theatre with the police. Some of their captains wanted to bring them before a court-martial; but one of them told what had occurred to the Admiral, who scoffed at the idea of a court-martial, and only remarked that ‘he was glad to hear that there was a naval officer left who could thrash a bobby.’

Harry’s fame had followed him from the sea to the land, and he soon became the most popular man in the neighbourhood of Plymouth. Every country house was opened to him, and every host competed for the pleasure of his company. His near neighbour, Lord Mount-Edgcumbe, Johnnie Bulteel at Pamflete, Lord St. Germans at Port Eliot, Mr. and Mrs. Hartmann at Saltram, Admiral Parker, Sir Massey Lopes – always kept open gates and arms to welcome him.

Among his hunting friends were ‘Squire’ Charles Trelawney the master of the Dartmoor Hunt, who used to say that the combination of Keppel as Commander-in-Chief, Heneage as flag-captain, and Charlie Beresford as flag-lieutenant, was enough to demoralise any fleet – and the sporting parson, Russell, aged eighty-three; but with him, as with Harry, age was of no account. Many a time, Lieutenant Charles Windham, who succeeded Lord Charles Beresford as his flag-lieutenant, tells me, the Admiral, after a hard day’s hunting, would ride home twelve or fifteen miles, pulling up at a roadside inn for nothing more than a cup of tea or coffee.

He was kindness itself to all the commanding officers under him, and his sharpest rebuke to a captain who had failed in some point of duty was to call him ‘Mr.’ On one occasion he was very angry, and his secretary asked whether he should send the captain a rap over the knuckles. ‘No,’ said Harry, ‘one cannot say what one means nowadays; when I was a boy a captain displeased old Sir John Duckworth, who sent him a message through the speaking-trumpet in language which I dare not record in these pages.’

Harry loved the company of young men. It has been said that a man is only the age he feels himself to be, and if this is true Harry was younger than the youngest of his lieutenants, some of whom, to please him on his birthday, hired a drag, and asked the Admiral to drive them over to the Totnes Steeplechases, which he did. Oddly enough, the groom who came to look after the team had served with Harry in the ‘St. Jean d’Acre.’


Further Reading and External Links

Henry Keppel on Wikipedia