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

Royal NavyObituaries

The following obituary for Hon. Edmund Robert Fremantle appeared in the Times newspaper.

Obituary in the Times newspaper
12 February 1929



We regret to learn that Admiral the Hon. Sir E.R. Fremantle died in London on Sunday at the age of 92.

In him the Navy loses the senior officer of his rank on the retired list, and the oldest, for he was the only flag-officer remaining who was born in the reign of William IV. He had held flag rank since 1885, and the ancient and honourable office of Rear-Admiral of the United Kingdom since 1901. In spite of his great age, Sir Edmund was a prominent figure in London almost up to the last. He rarely missed an important dinner or other engagement, and his energy was remarkable. At levées and other State ceremonies, his venerable appearance, in uniform, with his snow-white hair and side whiskers, will be much missed; he was one of the most picturesque figures to be seen in the Royal carriages at the State opening of Parliament. He attributed his long life to drinking in moderation, smoking in moderation, and plenty of outdoor exercise.

Sir Edmund took an active part in the work of public institutions and bodies connected with the sea and sailors, being a member of the Navy Records Society, and the Royal United Service Institution, a vice-president of the Missions to Seamen, and an Associate of the Institution of Naval Architects. In his 87th year he broadcast an appeal for the Navy League. As the columns of The Times have shown, he was a frequent contributor of articles and letters on subjects connected with his profession. On Trafalgar Day, 1921, he wrote for The Times a new account of the battle, based on family papers which had been recently discovered by his nephew, the third Lord Cottesloe. Had he lived, he would have celebrated this year the 80th anniversary of his entry into the Navy. He was proud of having lived to see his eldest son, Admiral Sir Sydney Fremantle, who retired last year, reach the top of his profession after a distinguished career. His eldest grandson, Sir Sydney's son, is a lieutenant in the Navy.

Edmund Robert Fremantle was the fourth son of the first Lord Cottesloe, who died in 1890 at the age of 92, and grandson of that Captain - afterwards Admiral Sir Thomas - Fremantle who is so familiar to all students of the life of Nelson. He was born on June 15, 1836, and, after going to school at Cheam, Surrey, entered the Navy in 1849, on board the Queen, a three-decker of 116 guns, at Plymouth. In 1852, as a midshipman of the Spartan, under the command of Sir William Hoste, he saw some active service in the Burmese war. As mate and acting lieutenant he continued in the Spartan till 1856, and after passing his examinations was promoted to lieutenant on January 14, 1857. In 1858 he was in the Royal Albert as flag lieutenant to his uncle, Sir Charles Fremantle, then commanding the Channel Fleet. In 1860 he was a lieutenant of the Neptune, Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir) Geoffrey Hornby in the Mediterranean, and on July 9, 1861, was promoted to commander. From 1864 to 1867 he commanded the Eclipse, a barque-rigged steam vessel of 700 tons, on the Australian station, and during that time - in 1866 - married, at Sydney, Barberina, daughter of the Hon. Robert Isaacs, Solicitor-General of New South Wales. On April 15, 1867, he was promoted to the rank of captain; and in 1873-74 commanded the Barracouta on the West Coast of Africa, when he was senior officer during the Ashanti war, in which he claimed to have fired the first shot. In the advance on Kumasi he was severely wounded in the right arm, and for his services he was created C.B. on March 31, 1874, and C.M.G. on May 8 following.

From 1877 to 1879 he commanded the Lord Warden, of the Channel Fleet, one of our earliest ironclads, and at this time, in June, 1877, was awarded the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society for jumping overboard and saving the life of a boy in Plymouth Sound. It was his first rescue medal, but not his first rescue, for while serving in the Spartan in China he had saved a man from drowning. In February, 1880, when in command of the Invincible, he jumped overboard fully dressed, with boots, when the ship was steaming six knots, and saved the life of a man; a gallant feat, for which he was awarded the gold medal of the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Society, and the Stanhope gold medal, and the silver medal of the Royal Humane Society. He used to say that the question was raised whether as captain he ought to have left his ship but the point was not pressed. From 1881 to 1884 he was senior officer at Gibraltar, at the time when Lord Napier of Magdala was Governor there.

In April, 1885, he became a rear-admiral, being, with the exception of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, the youngest officer on the flag list. During 1886-87 he was second in command in the Channel, and from 1888 to 1891 was commander-in-chief on the East India station. In 1890 he personally commanded a naval brigade on a punitive expedition against the Sultan of Vitu. He was promoted to K.C.B. on May 25, 1889, and to vice-admiral on August 30, 1890. From 1892 to 1895 he was commander-in-chief in China, where he had the opportunity of studying and investigating at first hand the stirring incidents of the war between China and Japan. On October 10, 1896, he was promoted to admiral; from June, 1896, to 1899, He was commander-in-chief at Plymouth, where he introduced several administrative reforms, and on June 3, 1899, he was made G.C.B. Two years later, June 15, 1901, having attained the age of 65, he was put on the retired list.

Sir Edmund had always shown a certain literary aptitude. He read several papers before the Royal United Service Institution, at which, from the time when in 1861-64 and in 1867-73 he was on halfpay as commander and captain, he was a regular attendant. He also won, in 1879, the gold medal of the institution. In 1898 he contributed two biographical chapters to "From Howard to Nelson: Twelve Sailors," edited by the late Sir John Laughton, and after his retirement he continued his studies, writing in various periodicals. In 1905 he published his reminiscences under the title of "The Navy As I Have Known It." In the controversy in The Times in 1920-21 on the subject of great capital ships, he was one of those who supported the big ship and refused to overrate the importance of the submarine menace.

As one of the "'as beens," as sailors would say (he wrote in The Times), although I have my ideas as to the course the Admiralty should adopt, I would rather leave the difficult problem to the Admiralty and the men of recent war experience.

He recalled that 35 years before, when there was a naval panic on the appearance of the fast torpedo boat, a motion was made in the House of Commons to stop the building of the Nile and Trafalgar then. in course of construction, and he wrote articles in the Nineteenth Century and Blackwood pointing out that the conclusions of the French in this respect were premature and erroneous. On June 15, 1916, Sir Edmund commemorated his 80th birthday by writing to The Times in reply to certain criticisms on the Jutland battle, fought 15 days earlier, and on August 31 of the same year he and Lady Fremantle celebrated their golden wedding. Lady Fremantle, who had been made C.B.E. for varied and valuable War work, died on May 5, 1923. He leaves five sons, including Sir Selwyn Fremantle, I.C.S., retired, and Mr. A.E.A. Fremantle, late R.N.V.R.

The funeral will be at Swanbourne on Thursday at 2.30, after service at St. Michael’s, Chester-square, at 11 o'clock.

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