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

Royal NavyObituaries

The following obituary for John Edmund Commerell appeared in the Times newspaper.

Obituary in the Times newspaper
22 May 1901


We regret to announce that Admiral of the Fleet Sir John E. Commerell, V.C., died suddenly yesterday morning at his residence, Rutland-gate. Up to Monday night he was apparently in his usual health, and when he retired for the sight was quite cheerful. Subsequently he felt unwell, and Miss Commerell was summoned. Medical assistance was obtained, but death occurred very quickly. Although the end was so painfully sudden it was not altogether unexpected, as Sir John Commerell had long suffered from acute gout with kidney trouble and the complications which frequently result in uric-acid poisoning and sudden death. The coroner for the district has been communicated with, but an inquest will not probably be considered necessary.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Edmund Commerell, V.C., G.C.B., second son of Mr. J.W. Commerell of Strood Park, Horsham, was born in London on January 13, 1829. Entering the Navy at the age of 13, he served in China during the latter months of the first war, and afterwards, in the Firebrand, with Captain, afterwards Admiral of the Fleet, Sir James Hope during the operations in the Parana, including the engagement with the batteries at Obligado on the 20th November, 1845, when the chain was cut by the boats of the Firebrand under the immediate supervision of Hope. It must count as one of the anomalies of our service that this piece of work, more dangerous, more important than many for which decorations and promotions or even Victoria Crosses have been freely given, passed without any official recognition beyond the C.B. to Captain Hope, which, equally with the K.C.B. to Sir Charles Hotham, was given for the general, not the particular service. After his promotion to the rank of lieutenant in December, 1848, Commerell served in the Mediterranean and in the Channel; in the Baltic in 1854, and in 1855 in the Black Sea, when he was promoted on September 29 to the command of the Weser, a small gun-vessel, which he took into the Sea of Azoff and the Putrid Sea, and landing there with a very small party made a hazardous journey inland, and set fire to a large store of forage and corn, October 11, 1855. The service was recognized as one of great importance, and Victoria Crosses were awarded to Commerell and the two seamen who accompanied him. In 1859 he was commander of the Fury in China, and on June 25 commanded a division of the seamen landed for the attack on the Ta-ku forts. The attack was repulsed with great loss, but the courage and persistence displayed were, both officially and by the public, considered to be honourable in the highest decree, and Commerell was promoted to the rank of captain on the 18th July, 1859. In 1866, in command of the Terrible, he assisted in laying the Atlantic cable, a service which was specifically rewarded by a civil C.B. In 1869 he received the more appropriate military order. In 1868-69 he commanded the turret ship Monarch, an experiment on a large scale, and in her, in December, 1869, took across to the United States the body of the celebrated philanthropist, George Peabody.

In February, 1871, Commerell was appointed commodore and Commander-in-Chief on the West Coast of Africa and at the Cape of Good Hope. In August, 1873, when reconnoitring up the river Prah, to discover the position of the Ashantis, he was dangerously wounded by a musket shot in the lungs, which compelled him to go back to the Cape, and eventually to invalid to England. On March 31, 1874, he was nominated a K.C.B. On November 12, 1876, he became a rear-admiral, and the following year he was sent out to the Mediterranean as second in command under, and at the special request of, Sir Geoffrey Hornby, with whom he worked most cordially not only in the active service of the Fleet but in the internal arrangements for the comfort and welfare of the men. "Commerell," wrote Sir Geoffrey, early in 1878, "has made friends with the Vali of Smyrna and arranged for some of the petty officers to go there on leave for 24 to 30 hours. He has got the promise of a quarantine island and establishment, where he hopes to open a canteen and land the general leave men. He has seized a quantity of bad liquor on shore, and threatened to hang the Greek to whom it belonged. As Commerell is the Vali's friend, it is supposed the threat may be carried out - an idea which is very advantageous to us. In fact, if we could but hang all the Greeks, the Eastern question might soon be happily settled." And a few months later he wrote to Mr. W.H. Smith, then First Lord of the Admiralty:- "I venture to hope that you may he willing and may find occasion to bring Sir E. Commerell to her Majesty's recollection. His work has been more difficult than mine, as he had less assistance and a more exposed position ... I ever feel deeply indebted to him for the ability and loyalty with which he has always helped me." Sir Edmund Commerell's commission as vice-admirai was dated January 19, 1881, and in November, 1882, he went out as Commander-in-Chief on the North American and West Indian station. He returned to England in the autumn of 1885, and at the general election of that year was returned to Parliament for Southampton, as also in the general election of the following year. At this time and for the next two years he endeavoured to hammer some sense of the needs of the Navy into a careless and unsympathetic public, and he may be credited with a large share in calling up that feeling which produced Lord George Hamilton’s Naval Defence Act of 1889. But Commerell had resigned his seat some months before, on being appointed, in July, 1888, Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth. He had attained the rank of admiral on April 12, 1886, and on the Queen’s Jubilee, June 21, 1887, was advanced to be a G.C.B. As Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth at the time of the German Emperor’s visit and the Naval Review in 1889, he was necessarily thrown into close correspondence with the Emperor, who afterwards presented him with a sword accompanied by an autograph letter. He has been held to be, in a peculiar degree, a persona grata at Court, and, though not the senior admiral on the list, was promoted, in accordance - it was said - with Queen Victoria’s special nomination, to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet on February 14, 1892, in the vacancy caused by the death of Sir Provo Wallis. He was placed on the retired list in January, 1899. He has been, since then, on different occasions detailed as naval officer in attendance on the German Emperor during his visits to this country, and from 1891 was Groom-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria, in which position he was recently acting at the Court of King Edward.

Sir J.E. Commerell married, in 1853, a daughter of Mr. Joseph Bushby, of St. Croix, West Indies, and Halkin-street, London.

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