Memoirs of Henry Keppel – 1890



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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 ‘Memoirs of 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 – 1890

The German Emperor had a story of Harry’s going on board the ‘Hohenzollern’ with the Prince of Wales at Cowes. Not knowing the new regulations of [1890] as to saluting, he took off his cap to the Emperor; whereupon the Prince of Wales said, ‘Admiral, that’s wrong’; and he replied, ‘No, sir, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

His temperament was not fitted for unmitigated domesticity, and after one of his accidents he tore off the bandages the doctor had put on him, and went away for a change and some amusement. His over-anxious wife in a day or two telegraphed to him: ‘How are you, and where shall I find you?’ to which, to her infinite amusement, the answer came: ‘Am quite well. You cannot find me.’

With Lady Keppel he was staying with Sir Massey Lopes at Maristow, where he arrived at 9 o’clock in the morning, having ridden twelve miles from Devonport; he then drove to Totnes races, and back to Devonport at 11 P.M., and from there again he rode back to Maristow a good day’s work for a man of his age!

At Totnes he found that Lieutenant Windham was riding in one of the steeplechases. ‘By Jove’ said the Admiral, ‘if I had known that, I would have gone round too.’

On another occasion he drove out in a hansom cab to dine about six miles from Devonport. On coming away he found the driver drunk, so he left him behind and drove from the inside of the cab to the Admiralty House, where the sentry, seeing it arrive apparently without a driver, came to the charge, and was not a little surprised to see the Commander-in-Chief get out.

During his time at Plymouth he entertained the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh, and also Sir Samuel and Lady Baker; and when the ‘Alert’ and the ‘Discovery’ sailed down Channel, the Admiral went aboard in a heavy sea to bid them farewell. His nephew, now Admiral Stephenson, was on board, and, with all the officers and men, was delighted at the Godspeed given to them by the ‘Little Admiral.’

In [1876] his time of office at Plymouth had come to an end.

There is, perhaps, no sadder fate for a man than to have to confess that for the rest of his natural life he must only be an onlooker, and must take no active part in the profession which through so many years has been the very breath of his nostrils, and find comfort in retrospection and philosophy only.

There is an old and very true Greek saying, ‘Arms for the young, councils for the middle-aged, and prayers for the old’; and the problem at last comes to every man – How to grow old gracefully. Never to give pain to any living being; to rejoice in the happiness of others, and to make it his own; to avoid becoming a mere censor minorum, and to abstain from thinking that any change is bad, and that because he is old everything is going to the dogs; to be ready to give advice when asked, and only when asked; to give the benefit of his experience when sought for, with a pretty sure conviction that it will do no good; to offer generous sympathy to the young, who are in the thick of the fight, and never to sneer at them; to show an example of what the life of a Christian gentleman should be; to work, if possible, as long as the merciful gift of capacity is left, never forgetting that at any moment the fiat may go forth:

Lusisti satis, edisti satis, atque bibisti,          Latin to English Translation
Tempus abire tibi est

These were the conditions which Harry endeavoured to fulfil when the time had come for the final wrench from the Service he had loved and followed so well, and it required all the strength and courage of his character to realise that his active life at sea was over.


Further Reading and External Links

Henry Keppel on Wikipedia