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Item Ref:  BSL - Admiral Keppel


Both Signed "Henry Keppel"
aboard St. Jean D'Arc
Both Sent to Captain Giffard, later Rear Admiral Giffard

Friday 17th
Off Sebastopol

Letter 1 - p1

Letter 1 - p2

Letter 1 - p3

Letter 1 - p4

Letter 2 - p1

Letter 2 - p2

Envelope Cover

Reverse of Cover with embossed seal

An Extremely Fine pair of letters written by Captain Henry Keppel (later Admiral of the Fleet) while off shore of Sevastopol on the eve of the French Assault in February 1855. He references the French, Admiral Lyons Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, alternative landings at Anapa, his frustration at the lack of use of the Heavies (his own St. Jean D'Acre) and the "fun" Captain Giffard would have in his frigate the Leopard (a paddlewheel frigate).

Historical Note

Admiral the Honourable Sir Henry Keppel, G.C.B., O.M. D.C.L. (1809 - 1904)

Sir Henry Keppel was invested as a Knight Grand Cross Order of the Bath (G.C.B.). He held the office of Groom-in-Waiting to HM Queen Victoria between 1859 and 1860. Principal naval aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. He was decorated with the Order of Merit (O.M.). Admiral of the Fleet. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws (D.C.L.).

Keppel was a son of the 4th earl of Albemarle and of his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Lord de Clifford. He entered the navy from the old naval academy of Portsmouth in 1822. His family connections secured him rapid promotion, at a time when the rise of less fortunate officers was very slow. He became lieutenant in 1829 and commander in 1833. His first command was largely passed on the coast of Spain, which was then in the midst of the convulsions of the Carlist War. Captain Keppel had already made himself known as a good seaman. He was engaged with the squadron stationed on the west coast of Africa to suppress the slave trade. In 1837 he was promoted post captain, and appointed in 1841 to the service in China and against the Malay pirates, a service which he repeated in 1847, when in command of H.M.S. MŠander. The story of his two commands was told by himself in two publications, The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy (1846), and in A Visit to the Indian Archipelago in H.M.S. MŠander (1853). The substance of these books was afterwards incorporated into his autobiography, which was published in 1899 under the title A Sailors Life under four Sovereigns. In 1853 he was appointed to the command of the St Jeanne d'Arc, a ship of 101 guns, for service in the Crimean War. First posted to the Baltic Feet, he was subsequently sent with other "Baltickers" to the Black Sea. But he had no opportunity to distinguish himself at sea in that struggle, as can be seen in these letter where he expresses his frustration at not being able to get into the fight. Later, as Captain of the Rodney and commander of the naval brigade he landed to co-operate in the siege of Sevastopol, he was more fortunate, and he had an honorable share in the latter days of the siege and reduction of the fortress. After the Crimean War he was again sent out to China, this time in command of the Raleigh, as commodore to serve under Sir M. Seymour. The Raleigh was lost on an uncharted rock near Hong Kong, but three small vessels were named to act as her tenders, and Commodore Keppel commanded in them, and with the crew of the Raleigh, in the action with the Chinese at Fatshan Creek (June 1, 1857). He was honorably acquitted for the loss of the Raleigh, and was named to the command of the Alligator, which be held until his promotion to rear-admiral. For his share in the action at Fatshan Creek he was made K.C.B. The prevalence of peace gave Sir Henry Keppel no further chance of active service, but he held successive commands until his retirement from the active list in 1879, two years after he attained the rank of Admiral of the Fleet. Admiral Sir Henry Keppel was a close friend of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and entertained him at his home "the Cottage" at Bishopstoke.

Keppel's command, the HMS St. Jean D'Acre, was named for the great Syrian coastal fortress assaulted and captured by the Royal Navy in 1840. HMS St. Jean D'Acre was originally ordered as a pure sailing ship in 1844 but never begun and cancelled the following year. Re-ordered with auxiliary steam power in February 1851, she was laid down at Devonport that June and launched in March 1853 at a cost of GBP107,561. A large two-decker measured at 3,253 tons, she was 238 feet long with a 55 1/2 foot beam and mounted 101 guns of varying calibre, notably 36-8in. muzzle loaders on her lower deck. Fitted with 600hp Penn engines, she achieved just over 11 knots on her trials and became a highly regarded ship throughout her career. Initially attached to the 'Western Squadron', she then enjoyed the rare distinction of serving with both the Baltic and Black Sea fleets in 1855 during the two quite separate phases of the Crimean War. Her final overseas posting was to the Mediterranean Fleet (1859-61) and went homeward bound in February 1861 under Captain Thompson. Thereafter paid off and laid up in reserve, she was sold to Castle's ship breakers in 1875.

Text of Letters:

March 5th 1855
My dear Giffard

It is our fate to remain here, you will have the fun when the time comes - will you if you have an opportunity to be kind enough to pick or buy me a pork or two if you can procure such a thing. Out here we hear no news -

Very truly yours
Henry Keppel

Off Sebastopol, February  Friday 17th 1855

My dear Giffard,
Thank you for your kind letter, how glad you must be to have your ship to yourself and .... as I am, to be clear of old Christie and Chad (Barum Lumpus and Zed). I am afraid however that we Heavies are not likely to find much more to do in these seas than we had in the Baltic but there is a comfort and consolation in being under a Chief (Chief of Black Sea Fleet - Lord Edmund Lyons) in which one feels every confidence - I hinted to him about Anapa but he did not seem to think it practicable and I believe he was there himself once looking at it with watering mouth - Princess Royal has arrived but I am not aware of any other Baltickers coming this way - Here we are as you left the place and although the Frenchmen are anxious for the assault I cannot conceive that much can be done until the army are in a position to invest both sides and then the Screw Liners ought to enter the Harbour at any price but you frigates will for the present have all the fun - Wishing you every success Believe me my dear Giffard

Very truly yours,
Henry Keppel

1]  A week later the French failed in their assault of Sevastopol.
2]  The Princess Royal was a 91-gun screw-propelled second-rate, launched 1853 and sold in 1872.
3]  The Leopard (Captain Giffard's ship) was a wooden-hulled paddle frigate, launched 1850 and sold 1867.
4]  Anapa is the northernmost Russian resort area on the coast of the Black Sea. The rocky shore, practically vertical in the south part of the Krasnodar region, finally becomes a white sandy beach at the Anapa cape spreading in a curve for 25 miles. This was a potential landing site for an alternative front in the Crimean War and that is why Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons mouth watered as he was in close consultation with General Ragland about the landing operations.
5]  "Christie" was the Superintendent of Transports, Captain Christie. His main responsibility was to get the ships into the harbour and unload them.

This is  very pair of two Very Fine letters and one envelope on embossed St. Jean d'Acre stationary from a prominent Captain of the Crimean War who went on to become Admiral of the Fleet before he retired. They are loaded with Crimean War content as he is frustrated by the lack of naval action for the "Heavies" and is envious of the frigates inshore action as he writes a favourite captain in his fleet, Captain Giffard aboard the Leopard.

Keppel's Naval Commands -

1834 - 1838 - Commander in Childers, Mediterranean, then Cape of Good Hope
1841 - 1844 - Captain in Dido, East Indies (including the first Anglo-Chinese war and Sir James Brooke's campaign for the suppression of Borneo piracy)
1847 - 1851 - Captain in MŠander, East Indies (again cooperating with Brooke), then Australia and the Pacific
May 1853 to July 1855 - Captain in St Jean d'Acre (from commissioning at Plymouth), Western squadron, then (May 1854) the Baltic and (1855) the Black Sea during the Crimean War
July 1855 to January 1856 Captain in Rodney, Mediterranean, in command of the Naval Brigade ashore in the Crimea where he won fame.
January 1856 to September 1856 Captain in Colossus, in charge of a division of gunboats
September 1856 to April 1857 Commodore in Raleigh, second in command, East Indies and China, (including 2nd Anglo-Chinese War) (until wrecked near Macaw when the ship struck an uncharted rock; all saved)
May 1857 to August 1858 Hoisted his broad pennant in the chartered river steamer Hong Kong for operations in the Canton River
February 1860 to February 1861 Commander-in-chief, Cape of Good Hope and west coast of Africa (but rapidly transferred to the Brazilian command, and then recalled after an affair with the wife of the Cape governor, Sir George Grey on the voyage out
January 1867 to July 1869 Commander-in-chief, China (flag in Rodney)
November 1872 to November 1875 Commander-in-chief, Devonport
5 August 1877 Admiral of the Fleet
1878 Appointed Naval Aide de Camp to Queen Victoria
14 June 1879 Retired Admiral of the Fleet

Singapore's Keppel Bay, the country's primary deepwater harbor was discovered by Admiral Sir Henry Keppel, the harbour provided a sheltered location for the establishment of the British Empire's colonial outpost in the country.

Keppel was the author of:
A Visit to the Indian Archipelago in H.M. Ship MŠander
A Sailors Life under Four Sovereigns - 3 Volumes of Memoirs
The Expedition to Borneo of H.M. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy

Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

End of Item - BSL - Admiral Keppel

Tel: 573-335-7720

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