Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – 1856

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

Memoirs of Sir Henry Keppel – 1856


IN July [1856] Harry was offered the broad pennant in India.  Just before the sailing of the ‘Raleigh’ to the command of which he had been appointed, the officers were invited to dinner with Admiral Sir George Seymour.

Among the wardroom officers on board the ‘Raleigh’ was his old friend, the Rev. Josias Thompson.  Keppel had been with him many years, and, as is usual among old shipmates, had given him a nickname of ‘Thomas’; many knew him by no other.

The morning of their departure the regular Admiralty pilot, whose name was Thomas, was on board.  Two steamtugs, ordered from the Dockyard, were in attendance; but, the wind being fair, Keppel had no idea, in a sailing frigate, of being towed.  He himself took charge, and was in the act of making sail, when the dear old Sir George, who had been to Haslar to attend the funeral of an old shipmate, suddenly appeared on board, and turning to him, said, ‘Don’t let me interfere, but is Mr. Thomas on board?’  ‘Yes, sir.’  ‘Where is he?’  ‘Forward on the starboard side, sir, standing on a gun carriage.’  Harry was too busy making sail to go with the Commander-in-Chief, for the tide was rising.  On inquiring who had attended the Admiral, he found that he had gone forward and, making a bow to the pilot, stated that, as the Commodore was going to take a parting dinner, he hoped to have the pleasure of Mr. Thomas’s company.

The ship ran out like the beauty she was, saluting the Admiral’s flag before coming to anchor.  Near dinner-time Harry and his wife were among the early arrivals. They noticed a gentleman standing on the rug by the fire with a white choker and new suit of clothes; no one seemed to know him.  On dinner being announced the Admiral took in Keppel’s wife; he, Lady Seymour.  The turtle soup had been served, when the Admiral addressed our strange friend with, ‘Mr. Thomas, will you have the goodness to say Grace?’  The poor pilot’s neighbour whispered to him, ‘Say, “Thank God.”‘

Dinner over, the Admiral nudged Keppel’s wife, saying, That’s a queer parson of yours.’  And then, in a louder voice, called out, ‘Mr. Thomas, have the goodness to return thanks,’ he (Keppel) at the same time asking Lady Seymour who Mr. Thomas was.   Lady Seymour turned to the butler, and sent him to tell the Admiral that Captain Keppel had never seen that man before.  At this moment some of the senior captains spotted our friend the pilot.  He never afterwards met his friends in Portsmouth that they did not ask him to say Grace.

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

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.


Further Reading and External Links

Henry Keppel on Wikipedia