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 fifth installment in our series of a selection of his memoirs, others will follow over the coming weeks.
CHAPTER V – Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel
In bitter cold, hazy weather in midwinter the ‘Dido’ arrived at Spithead, and Keppel was looking forward to joining his wife, whom he had not seen for four years, at her father’s house, only fourteen miles off, when he got orders to proceed immediately to Sheerness. This was more than human nature could endure, and so his resourceful imagination came to his help for a way out of the difficulty.
To his dismay, the Admiral at Portsmouth, with whom he was dining, said he would send him aboard on his tender, and then the reckless audacity of the man asserted itself.
He found the Master of the ‘Dido’ who was about his size and build, made him put on his cocked hat, sword and epaulettes, while he donned the Master’s oilskin and pea-jacket, accompanied him aboard in the tender, touched his hat to him, and was landed by a waterman at Gosport, while the Master in disguise took the Dido’ to Sheerness.
Such a daring bit of foolhardiness makes one shiver, even after the lapse of more than half a century. It is not difficult on reading of these scrapes to understand the saying of a somewhat severe old admiral, who said, speaking of Harry: ‘The bravest man that ever lived, who ought to have been turned out of the Service years ago.’
The following morning Keppel and his wife started off to post to Sheerness, where he changed clothes with the Master, and all was well. The Dido’ was paid off, the men receiving 4,000l in prize money.
His old fondness for the racecourse took him, of course, to Goodwood. His wife was not so much at home in racing circles as he was, and, seeing Lord Albemarle in deep conversation with a lightweight in a blue coat, brass buttons, yellow leathers, and mahogany tops, she inquired whether that was her father-in-law’s jockey. ‘No,’ said Lady Albemarle, ‘that is the Duke of Bedford.’
Newmarket succeeded Goodwood, and he attended the races in good sporting company. His natural taste for the Turf was fostered by Sir Joseph Hawley, ‘the lucky baronet,’ who had married one of the Miss Crosbies and become Harry’s brother-in-law. He was only five years younger than Harry, and after a short career in the Army and as a yachtsman had devoted his time and money to the Turf, where he achieved enormous successes with Teddington, Beadsman, Musjid, Blue Gown, Aphrodite, Mendicant, and Caractacus. Whenever Harry was ashore in the racing season he paid a visit to his kinsman till his death in .
Before that he took a great interest in the training of Sir Joseph’s fine stud and in their performances. Admiral Rous, who was his senior by some nine years, had left the Navy in , and was considered one of the finest handicappers in the world. It is easy to imagine what fun those race meetings must have been, when the sailor fresh ‘from war’s alarms,’ who had been absent for years, came amongst his old friends again at Goodwood or Newmarket.
Excerpt from Sir Henry Keppel – Admiral of the Fleet – by Sir Algernon Edward West – 1905
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