Royal Navy obituary in the Times newspaper
Royal Navy obituary in the Times newspaper

Royal NavyObituaries

The following obituary for Lord Charles William de la Poer Beresford appeared in the Times newspaper.

Obituary in the Times newspaper
8 September 1919


As we announce on another page, Admiral Lord Beresford died suddenly on Saturday night from cerebral apoplexy, at Langwell, Berriedale, Caithness.
Charles William De la Poer Beresford, the second son of the fourth Marquess of Waterford, was born in Ireland on February 10, 1846. He was educated privately and entered H.M.S. Britannia as a cadet in 1859. As a boy he was what is known as "a pickle," and unless we are mistaken he once described himself as having been a "scallywag." In any case his temperament and his inclination both indicated the Navy as his future profession, though his father, as he used to tell, was not very willing to let him join it. At last, finding that he could do nothing with him unless he was allowed to have his way, his father yielded and wrote to the captain of the Britannia to say that he understood that he kept an academy for the training of young gentlemen for the Navy and that he should be glad to know his terms. So Lord Charles himself used to tell the story to his friends, but perhaps there is a spice of romance in it.
He became a sub-lieutenant in 1866 and a lieutenant in 1868. There are many stories of his pranks as a midshipman, how once at Honolulu he joined with his messmates in carrying off the eagle from the Consulate of the United States and was ordered by his Commander-in-Chief to replace it, and how later at Madeira, when a shipmate of the late Duke of Edinburgh, he managed to appropriate a fine old lantern which adorned the doorway of one of the principal residents in Funchal. He became a commander in 1875, and in that year he was appointed A.D.C. to the late King Edward VI., then Prince of Wales, and accompanied his Royal Highness in that capacity on his memorable tour in India during 1875 and 1876. In 1874 he had been elected M.P. for Waterford, and retained that seat until 1880.


During these years, he was perhaps better known to the world as a dashing sportsman, a prime favourite at Marlborough House, and a prominent and popular figure in smart society than as a naval officer. But his great professional chance came in 1882, when, as commander of the Condor, he played his historic part in the bombardment of AlexandriaExternal link and received from his Commander-in-Chief the famous signal, "Well done, Condor!"
After the bombardment and during the disturbances which followed it, he was sent on shore to organize the police of the distracted city, a force of Marines being placed under his command. His work in this capacity was admirably and most effectively done. "I say without fear of contradiction," wrote the Correspondent of The Times on July 24, 1882, "that no such work has ever been done with such complete absence of violence."
It needed nerve, determination, tact, and resource far beyond the ordinary, and so deep was the impression made on those in authority that, when the late Sir Edmund Henderson, the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, resigned his office in 1886 after the West-end riots of that year, the vacant post was offered to Lord Charles - it had previously been offered to the late Sir Redvers Buller - by the late Mr. Childers, who was Home Secretary at the time. Lord Charles was at first not disinclined to accept the offer, but was wisely dissuaded by his brother, Lord Waterford, who represented that he had already made his mark in his own profession and achieved a high place in the public esteem, and that he ought not lightly to abandon a Service in which he was so well qualified to shine.


Lord Charles was promoted captain for his services at Alexandria and received several Egyptian decorations, being also mentioned for gallantry in dispatches. In 1884 he was attached as captain to the staff of Lord Wolseley during the Nile Expedition for the relief of General Gordon at KhartumExternal link, and subsequently he was placed in command of the Naval Brigade on the Nile, which he commanded at the battle of Abu KleaExternal link. He also commanded the expedition which went to the rescue of Sir Charles Wilson in the Sofia, and, as all the world knows, he conducted that difficult operation with conspicuous gallantry and success.
There is no episode in his career which has impressed the popular imagination more deeply than his keeping the Sofia under a heavy fire, which he steadily returned, while his engineer officer repaired the boiler. Of these exploits the Secretary of the Admiralty said in the House of Commons: - "The rescue of Sir C. Wilson by Lord Charles Beresford was a feat of arms equally remarkable for the skill and gallantry displayed." Similar language was used by Mr. Gladstone, Lord Salisbury, and Lord Hartington in the debates on the votes of thanks passed by both Houses of Parliament for the operations in the Sudan, and besides other mentions in dispatches Lord Wolseley, in August, 1885, wrote of Lord Charles as "an officer whose readiness of resource and whose ability as a leader are only equalled by his daring." For these services he was made a C.B., and received the Nile medal with the Abu Klea clasp.
In August, 1885, Lord Charles was elected M.P. for Marylebone, and again in June, 1886. In this latter year, on the formation of Lord Salisbury's second Administration, he was appointed Fourth Sea Lord of the Admiralty, but resigned that office early in 1888, nominally because he objected to sign the Estimates about which he had not been consulted, but really because he was dissatisfied with the provision made by the Government for maintaining the strength of the Navy. He always held that it was his action on this occasion which led to the passing of the Naval Defence Act in the following year.


In 1891 Lord Charles was appointed to the command of the UndauntedExternal link, on the Mediterranean Station, and while serving in that command he gave very timely and efficient help in the salvage of the Seignelay, a French man-of-war, which had gone on shore on the coast of Tripoli. The UndauntedExternal link was stationed at Alexandria at the time, and her officers were making preparations for a ball to be given on board. The news of the Seignelay's mishap was received at 1 o'clock in the morning, and by daylight the ship was steaming at full speed to the scene of action, where her officers and men worked night and day until the Seignelay was towed off in safety. For this service, during a subsequent visit of the British Mediterranean Fleet to the Golfe Juan, where a French fleet was at anchor, the French Admiral went on board the UndauntedExternal link and conveyed the personal thanks of the French Government to her captain, officers, and men. Lord Charles himself was presented with a beautiful Sevres vase, and would have received the Cordon of the Legion of Honour had he been permitted to do so by his own Government.
From 1893 to 1896, Lord Charles Beresford served on shore in command of the Steam Reserve at Chatham, and busied himself greatly with the efficiency of the dockyard and the sea trials of ships completed there during his term of office. Early in 1897 he was appointed A.D.C. to Queen Victoria, and in that capacity he took part in the Jubilee procession of that year. In September of that year he was promoted to flag rank as Rear-Admiral, but, not being immediately employed afloat, he re-entered Parliament as member for the city of York, retaining his seat until, in 1900, he was appointed Rear-Admiral Second-in-Command in the Mediterranean, the Commander-in-Chief at the time being the present Lord Fisher (then Sir John Fisher).
During this period he visited China, in 1898-99, on a special mission undertaken at the request of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Great Britain. The results of his mission were published in 1899 in a lively volume entitled "The Break-up of China." In the Mediterranean he enjoyed a very active term of service, his relations with Sir John Fisher being much more cordial than they afterwards became. Both he and his commander-in-chief were consumed with zeal for the welfare and efficiency of the Fleet, and together they were probably rather an acute thorn in the side of the Admiralty. On one occasion Lord Charles allowed a private letter, in which he had expressed his views on the policy of the Admiralty, to be made public, and much sharp comment was passed on what was deemed, if not a breach of naval discipline, at any rate an unusual and reprehensible forgetfulness of the proprieties of the Service. But much was always forgiven to a man of the public record of Lord Charles Beresford, and no official notice was taken of his indiscretion. Indeed, the blame fell mainly on his correspondent at the time, for it was not until after he had hauled down his flag and was again on half-pay that he avowed that the letter in question had been published with his consent.


In February, 1902, on his return from the Mediterranean, Lord Charles was elected M.P. for Woolwich, and retained that seat until February, 1903. In October, 1902, he had become a Vice-Admiral, and in April, 1903, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet, and held that post until 1905, when he was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. In 1906 he became a full Admiral, and in 1907 he succeeded Sir Arthur Wilson in command of what had previously been known as the Home Fleet, but was now renamed the Channel Fleet, the name of Home Fleet being transferred to a newly constituted force in home waters consisting partly of fully-manned battleships of the newest construction and partly of older vessels manned with nucleus crews. It was during, and to some extent just before, this command that a series of events occurred which brought Lord Charles's name very prominently, and in some cases rather painfully, before the public.
It was a time in which the naval forces in home waters were undergoing a prolonged and somewhat kaleidoscopic process of transformation, on the initiative and under the inspiration of Sir John Fisher, the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. Lord Charles Beresford was very imperfectly in sympathy with the changes then being made, and not perhaps very discreet in allowing his lack of sympathy to be known. His relations with the Admiralty were at times exceedingly strained, and more than once took the form of an acute personal antagonism to Sir John Fisher. Probably there were faults on both sides, and perhaps too little consideration was shown to the susceptibilities of the generous and impulsive Irishman who, besides being a prime favourite with the public, had made himself by the common consent of the Naval Service one of the most capable and accomplished sea officers of the day.
It is, fortunately, needless to recall these unhappy dissensions in detail, and it must suffice to say that in the spring of 1909 Lord Charles Beresford was directed by the Admiralty to haul down his flag. This, however, was not a punitive termination of his command, as the Channel Fleet which he had commanded was at the same time abolished as an independent command, and reconstituted as one of the divisions of the now fully developed Home Fleet. There was, therefore, no place in it for an officer of Lord Charles Beresford's rank, though it may be conjectured that had his attitude towards the Admiralty been more submissive and his interpretation of the requirements of Naval discipline less eccentric, he might have been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet.


No sooner had he hauled down his flag than Lord Charles Beresford addressed to the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, a voluminous letter in which the policy of the Board of Admiralty, and its outcome in the organization of our naval forces in home waters, were subjected to a very trenchant and outspoken criticism. On the reception of this letter the Prime Minister forthwith nominated a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence - consisting of himself and four of the Secretaries of State - to investigate and report on the charges advanced by Lord Charles Beresford. The Report of this Committee, which was published in the summer of 1909, was so judicially framed that, while in substance it vindicated the policy of the Admiralty, it was in form capable of being so interpreted as to seem in some respects to justify the criticisms of Lord Charles Beresford.
The subject, however, gradually ceased to attract public attention. The First Sea Lord became Lord Fisher in the autumn of 1909, and shortly afterwards retired. Lord Charles Beresford once more sought a seat in Parliament and was returned by a large majority for Portsmouth at the General Election in January, 1910. The fact that when Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson succeeded Lord Fisher as First Sea Lord of the Admiralty he made no conspicuous changes in the policy identified with his predecessor may perhaps be taken to show that the criticisms of Lord Charles Beresford were, in the judgment of so distinguished and experienced an officer as the new First Sea Lord, either exaggerated or ill-founded. Lord Charles continued to sit for Portsmouth until 1916, when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Beresford of Metemmeh and of Curraghmore.
No one ever came into contact with Lord Beresford without being captivated by the charm of his winsome personality. Breezy, genial, good-humoured, and sweet-tempered, with all the bonhomie of an Irishman, all the frankness of a seaman, and all the shrewdness of a man of the world, he was beloved by his officers, almost idolized by his men, a cynosure in Society, and a prime favourite with the people. Such qualities have their defects, and he was certainly not without them. But they were also associated with very high professional attainments, for which the world at large perhaps gave him less credit than he deserved. He took his profession very seriously, and he spared no pains to fit himself for the high duties of command. He was seen at his best afloat, and his best was very good. There were some few episodes in his career which distressed some of his best friends. But, take him for all in all, he was a first-rate sea officer, and a man of rare personal and social charm.
He married, in 1878, Mina, daughter of the late Mr. Richard Gardner, M.P. for Leicester, and leaves two daughters.

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