Below is the twelfth installment in our series on Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Keppel, GCB, OM (14 June 1809 – 17 January 1904). He 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.
On October 31, 1869, came the end of Keppel’s naval career in China.
At Hong Kong every honour was paid him, and, contrary to all precedents, salutes were fired, though all his uniforms were packed up. The ‘Galatea’ manned yards, and the ‘Little Admiral,’ rigged up in a Norfolk jacket, with his boy Colin clinging to his hand, passed the pier and embarked on the ‘Galateas‘ barge, manned by His Royal Highness and wardroom officers and steered by the Commodore, to take him off; while another barge was manned by the gunroom officers to take his wife and children. Colin, however, refusing to quit his hold of him, partook of the honour of being so conveyed. Never was such a demonstration for an admiral on his leaving his station. His Royal Highness came into his cabin on deck, and there presented him with a gold watch as a souvenir; which he said would do afterwards for Colin, who seized the case containing the watch and insisted that it had been given to him. Harry, however, was never without it till his death.
On shoving off the Prince and his crew gave three more parting cheers. The ‘Salsette’ screwed ahead to the eastward, and having gained room, turned round, passing again through the ships, when the cheering was repeated by the foreigners as well as our own men-of-war; even the invalids from the hospital-ships caught the kind infection.
At Singapore a great dinner was given to him. His old friend, Mr. W.H. Read, who is still alive, on taking the chair, came at once to the toast which had brought them together, and went into a long detail of the ships in which he had served and commanded on this station, beginning with the ‘Magicienne.’ A laugh was raised when he alluded to the Tumongong of Muar offering Keppel the hand of his daughter. ‘Then,’ Read said, ‘there was the “Dido.” I remember her well, with her taut spars, sky-sail poles, flying kites, and graceful hull, dashing about the station in every direction, and always in for a fight when one was to be had. The “Maeander” with Sir James Brooke; his merits recognised, the K.C.B. installation took place here. The “Raleigh,” in which 50-gun frigate he sailed into this beautiful harbour from the westward to show his confidence in its safety, and the wisdom of the P. and O. in taking his advice when he told them of its existence in . Fatshan, “the smartest cutting-out affair of modern times,” Last comes the “Rodney,” of which vessel I can only say we have seen too little; but we endorse the verdicts of Hong Kong and Yokohama: he never undertook what he did not carry out, and a better passport to posterity after such a stirring life no man need possess.’ Read concluded his speech by asking them to drink ‘Long life and prosperity to the gallant Admiral, with three times three and don’t be afraid of bringing the roof down!’
Excerpt from Sir Henry Keppel – Admiral of the Fleet – by Sir Algernon Edward West – 1905
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