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 concluding installment 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.
Catch-up with earlier posts in this series here.
Memoirs of Henry Keppel – 1904 – Little Admiral
And so the ‘Little Admiral,’ who had weathered so many storms, had at last ‘fitted foreign’ and set forth on the journey that he had long wished for, with a certainty that he would gain the haven where he would be. He often longed for a ‘mysterious union’ with his native sea, and always hoped to be buried in its voiceless embrace. ‘One must be eaten by something he would often say,’ and I would much rather be eaten by shrimps than by worms.’
I believe that when his nephew, Sir Harry Stephenson, was in command of the Channel Fleet he had made arrangements for a simple sailor’s funeral. But it was not to be, and on January 21, , I attended the dear Admiral’s funeral at Winkfield. The solemnity of it will never be effaced from my memory. His coffin was draped with the Union Jack of the ‘Majestic,’ on which lay his cocked hat and sword. Behind the gun-carriage on which the coffin was placed there were drawn up petty officers from H.M.S. ‘Mars,’ ‘Hannibal,’ and ‘Gladiator’; behind them, ship’s companies from H.M.S. ‘Victoria and Albert,’ ‘Osborne,’ ‘Vernon,’ ‘Hannibal,’ and ‘Victory.’ Amongst the wealth of wreaths that covered the carriage, one was conspicuous, on which was written, with her own hand, ‘In loving memory of my beloved Little Admiral, the best and bravest of men. Rest in peace. ALEXANDRA.’ The King and the German Emperor were represented, and naval and military officers and troops of friends vied in the proof of their friendship and respect.
The little church was filled by sailors bringing garlands of flowers, which were placed on the coffin while the beautiful hymns, ‘Oh, rest in the Lord’ and ‘Lead, kindly light ,’ were being sung.
Safe home, safe home to port –
Rent cordage, shattered deck,
Torn sails, provisions short,
And only not a wreck.
But oh, the joy upon the shore
To tell our voyage – perils o’er.
And there were many tears silently shed by those who had known and loved the ‘Little Admiral.’ And when the body was lowered into the grave, in presence of his gallant son, and the orders were given to fire three volleys in the air, and the ‘Last Post’ was sounded, many sobs were heard, and it would have required a stony heart not to be moved. Those who were present saw his little grandson, who had just joined the Service, standing at the salute, with the tears rolling down his cheeks. He was thinking probably of his grandfather, who had once been as he was, and was now again as a little child.
While the funeral was taking place at Winkfield Church, an impressive service was being held at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s, which was attended by the King and Queen, who herself chose the hymns that were sung. Harry Keppel’s body sleeps in the little churchyard by the side of his wife, and surely neither Westminster Abbey nor St. Paul’s ever witnessed a more impressive ceremonial.
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