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Home-Loney-Background-The Royal Navy-Obituaries

The following obituary for Frederick William Richards appeared in the Times newspaper.

Obituary from the Times newspaper
30 September 1912


We regret to announce that Admiral of the Fleet Sir Frederick Richards died at his house, Horton Court, Gloucestershire, at 2 o’clock on Saturday morning.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Frederick William Richards, G.C.B., son of an old war officer, Captain Edwin Richards, R.N., and of a family long settled in county Wexford, was born on November 30, 1833. Educated at the Naval School, New Cross, he entered the Navy in his 15th year, and served for several years on the Australian Station, at the time of the great excitement caused by the discovery of gold. He was promoted to be lieutenant on October 31, 1855, and was sent home to pass his examination, but not in time to see anything of the war with Russia. In June, 1857, he joined the Ganges, which was fitting for the flag of Rear-Admiral Robert L. Baynes, Commander-In-Chief in the Pacific, and under the immediate command of those excellent officers, Captain John Fulford and Commander Hugh Talbot Burgoyne, who was afterwards lost when in command of the Captain. In April, 1859, Admiral Baynes appointed Richards his flag lieutenant, and on February 9. 1860, promoted him to command the paddle-wheel sloop Vixen, which he took home and paid off in the spring of 1861. From March, 1862, to October, 1865, he commanded the Dart, gun-vessel on the West Coast of Africa, and shortly after his return to England was promoted to be captain, February 6, 1866.

Four years later he was appointed to the command of the Indian troopship Jumna, in which he served for three years; and in October, 1873, was appointed to command the Devastation, the first sea-going turret-ship which had been designed without auxiliary sail-power. As a consequence of the loss of the Captain in 1870 serious anxiety existed in the public mind in regard to the safety of turret-ships of moderate and low freeboard. A special committee on designs for ships of war had been appointed in 1871, under the presidency of Lord Dufferin, and one important section of its work had relation to the sea-going capability of the Devastation class. With the addition of superstructures this was declared to be satisfactory, but the Admiralty decided that exhaustive sea trials should be made in order to settle the question once for all. Captain Richards’s appointment to this exceptional command was, therefore, a mark of the high estimation in which his professional qualifications were held by their lordships, and this estimate was fully justified by the manner in which the trials were conducted and reported upon by Captain Richards. The Devastation was ordered to the Mediterranean late in 1874, and it was arranged that the late Mr. William Froude - to whom his original researches on the behaviour of ships at sea had given great authority - should proceed on this voyage and make scientific observations with the aid of novel instruments invented by himself. His report was published as a Parliamentary paper end set the public mind at rest. The friendship thus begun between Mr. Froude and Sir Frederick Richards continued until the death of Mr. Froude in 1879, when on a visit to South Africa and the guest of Commodore Richards.

South Africa and Burma.

In May, 1877, Captain Richards returned to England, and in January, 1878, took command of the Pembroke at Chatham on his appointment as Captain of the Steam Reserve, a post which he held until the following October, when he was appointed Commodore and Senior Officer on the West Coast of Africa, and hoisted his flag in the Boadicea. On his arrival at the Cape of Good Hope he had news of the disaster at Isandhlana and promptly took the Boadicea up the East Coast, though not within the limits of his station. In March he reinforced the small army with about 250 men, whom he himself accompanied and with whom he was present at the battle of Gingihlovo and the relief of Eshowe. He was again present at the action of Laing’s Nek on January 28, 1881. He had been made a C.B. on November 27, 1879, and on May 24, 1881, was made a K.C.B. On June 9, 1882, he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral and terminated his service on the Cape Station. From July, 1882, to May, 1885, he served as Junior Lord of the Admiralty under Lord Northbrook, and then became Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies. He occupied the position for three years, and during that period cooperated with the troops employed in the annexation of Burma, and was officially thanked by the Government of India for the very complete and prompt manner in which he placed the whole force under his command at the disposal of the Government of India, and for the admirable manner in which the Naval Brigade was organized and equipped.

On his return home in 1888 he was appointed to act with Sir William Dowell and Sir Vesey Hamilton on a committee to report on the lessons of the naval manoeuvres of the year, and especially as to "the feasibility or otherwise of maintaining an effective blockade." Their Report contained a most able discussion of the conditions of modem naval warfare, a clear statement of the vital importance of absolute supremacy at sea to the continued existence of the British Empire, and an enunciation of the "two-Power standard" as the basis of shipbuilding programmes for, and the constitution of, the Royal Navy. This comprehensive treatment of the subject no doubt went much beyond the strict terms of reference under which the committee was appointed, and some of the main conclusions were challenged by the Admiralty and opposed in a memorandum prepared by the First Sea Lord (afterwards Lord Hood of Avalon). Appearing as it did at a time when considerable anxiety was felt in regard to the sufficiency of our naval strength, and when the Northbrook programme (of 1885) had constituted a virtual admission that public anxiety on the subject was justified, this Report of the three Admirals had a great effect and undoubtedly exercised considerable influence on the Government, which introduced the Naval Defence Act of 1889 soon after, and by that Act admitted the necessity for building 70 ships of various classes to be completed by 1894, at a cost of about 22 millions sterling.

The Hartington Commission.

Another important position most ably filled by Sir Frederick Richards during the period (1888-90) which elapsed between the dates of his service afloat was membership of the Harrington Commission on Naval and Military Administration. Reference to the Parliamentary papers will show how wise and well-expressed were his opinions on this important subject, to which he had given much thought and in regard to which his experience was exceptional. But it is well known that he did much more than appears from published papers, and that his influence on the proceedings and conclusions of the Commission was considerable, and justly so.

In October, 1888, he had been promoted to the rank of vice-admiral, and in November, 1890, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief in China. That position he held until June, 1892, when he was selected by Lord Spencer for the appointment of second Naval Lord of the Admiralty, and to succeed Sir Anthony Hoskins as Senior Naval Lord when the latter retired. This retirement took place in August, 1893, when Sir Frederick Richards was appointed to the highest position which a British naval officer can occupy. He continued therein until August, 1899, reaching the rank of admiral in September, 1893, and that of Admiral-of-the-Fleet (by a special Order in Council) in November, 1898.

During the long period Sir Frederick Richards acted as the First Naval Adviser of the Government remarkable progress was made in all branches of naval administration and equipment. To him was due the initiation of the Spencer programme of shipbuilding, of which the details were not embodied in an Act of Parliament like the Naval Defence Act of 1889, although in magnitude it far exceeded its predecessor. This programme was accompanied by a scheme for manning the Fleet, as well as by a programme of naval works such as had never been undertaken previously.

The expenditure under the latter head was met by a Naval Loan Act, the operation of which still continues, although no additional works have been embraced under its provisions during the last few years. Amongst these works may be mentioned improvements in and deepening of naval ports and harbours at home, the construction of harbours at Portland, Dover, Gibraltar, and Simons Bay, as well as large extensions of dockyards at Devonport, Malta, Gibraltar, Hong-kong, and Simons Bay.

At the Admiralty.

Lord Spencer, as is now well known, carried this great scheme of naval expansion in the face of strong opposition from Mr. Gladstone and other members of the Cabinet; and he found one great source of strength, when insisting on the necessity for its adoption, in the firm, indeed the uncompromising, attitude of Sir Frederick Richards and his naval colleagues on the Board. All who have been favoured with an intimate knowledge, and still more with the friendship, of Sir Frederick Richards would know that behind an old-world courtesy and kindness of manner there existed a strength of purpose which was unyielding in matters of principle or personal conviction; and that was the case when the adoption of the Spencer programme was in question.

When Mr. Goschen succeeded Lord Spencer at the Admiralty, his confidence in the First Navel Lord was as great and as well justified as that of his predecessor. In the critical times when the great Russian shipbuilding programme of 1898 was announced, and when the incidents of Fashoda occurred, it was indeed fortunate that the country had available the services of two such fearless and devoted public servants. The public will never know the inner history of that period, or what it owes to Mr. Goschen and Sir Frederick Richards. On one occasion, at a private dinner given by a large and representative body of naval officers, the writer had the pleasure of listening to a tribute rendered by Mr. Goschen to the great services of Sir Frederick Richards. In the course of that remarkable speech Mr. Goschen dwelt feelingly upon the fact that the name of the man to whom the Empire owed perhaps more than to any living man for the efficiency of its naval defence was hardly ever seen, in the newspapers and was probably unknown to the majority of his fellow-citizens. No more fitting or true appreciation, could have been given of the qualities of the great public servant whose death we now record. But it is also proper to remember that Mr. Goschen gave public proof of the value of the services rendered by Sir Frederick Richards, when he procured the Order in Council of 1898, by which Sir Frederick was specially promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet and so kept on the Active List until he reached the age of 70. Again, in 1904, on the nomination of Lord Goschen at Chancellor of the University of Oxford, the honorary degree of D.C.L. was bestowed on Sir Frederick Richards.

After seven years’ service as First Naval Lord, including very strenuous and continuous effort, Sir Frederick Richards relinquished that Office, and would probably have done so earlier but for the exceptional circumstances above mentioned. He was succeeded by Lord Walter Kerr, who in the main followed out the great lines of policy which Sir Frederick Richards had initiated. In his retirement Sir Frederick Richards maintained interest in naval affairs, but rarely made any public appearance in connexion therewith. It is well known that he was not in sympathy with many of the changes introduced since 1905, and that he considered it desirable to have an inquiry into their nature and probable influence made by a competent authority. On two or three occasions he publicly expressed his views on these points, but for the most part he kept silence, and he never took a share in controversy. His whole life has been devoted to the Navy and his sole desire was for the welfare of that great Service. Personal considerations never influenced his action, and to those who had the honour of his friendship his death means a void which cannot be filled. His affectionate loyal nature, his charming personality, and his ample generosity will never be forgotten by them.

Sir Frederick Richards married on October 30, 1866, Lucy, daughter of the late Mr. Fitzherbert Brooke, of Horton, Gloucestershire, and widow of the Rev. Edwin Fayle. She died in 1880 and left no children.


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