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

Royal NavyObituaries

The following obituary for Lord Walter Talbot Kerr appeared in the Times newspaper.

Obituary in the Times newspaper
13 May 1927


We regret to announce that Admiral of the Fleet Lord Walter Talbot Kerr died early yesterday morning at Melbourne Hall, Derby, at the age of 87. He was one of the last naval survivors of the war with Russia of 1854-5 and of the Indian Mutiny. His long and distinguished career of over half a century included more than 12 years in high administrative posts at the Admiralty, and both at Whitehall and in the Fleet his services were of great value to the country.

Lord Walter Kerr was born at Newbatttle Abbey on September 28, 1839, the fourth son of the seventh Marquess of Lothian by his marriage with Lady Cecil Talbot, daughter of the second Earl Talbot. It was this Lord Lothian whom Sir Walter Scott described as the most perfect type of a true gentleman. He died in 1841, and Lady Lothian was left with seven children, who all regarded her with deep affection. In 1851 Archdeacon Manning and Hope Scott "went over" to Rome, and Lady Lothian soon followed them. The guardians of the children accordingly felt it their duty to take certain steps which had unexpected results. All the children except the two elder, who succeeded as eighth and ninth marquess, adopted their mothers faith and Lord Walter’s reception had its humorous side. His brother, Lord Ralph, afterwards Major-General and K.C.B., thus describes it in a letter written in the summer of 1856 and printed in the memoir of his mother:- "Walter got leave, and came to spend a week with us [at Ryde], He was very affectionate, but took much pleasure in asserting his religious independence and attacking my superstitious religion. He was a regular lively young middy, and pretended to be above such follies as popery. His week was up and he was due to return to his ship.

Lady Lothian came and told Lord Ralph that Walter had been received by the priest at Ryde. Poor boy (Lord Ralph continues), he was touched at leaving his mother and sisters, and went off to the Church and was received. On his rejoining his ship, my mother got Bishop Grant of Southwark to come down to Sheerness, where he gave Walter his first communion and confirmed him. . . . While he was at Sheerness, a signal was made to his captain from the Admiral commanding, at lord Frederick Kerr’s request:- "Send Lord Walter ashore to be confirmed by the Archbishop of Canterbury." Walter expostulated: "I can’t, I’m confirmed already!" "How?" "By the [Roman Catholic] Bishop of Southwark." The fat was in the fire. I think his captain saw the joke, for he was always kind to him. But my poor mother required a very broad back, and had to go abroad again to let the storm abate.

The midshipman who was the cause of so unprecedented a signal had been sent in 1851 to Radley, then under its first Warden, the Rev. R.C. Singleton. He entered the Royal Navy in August, 1853, and served in the 120-gun ship Neptune (Captain Frederick Hutton), and afterwards in the Cornwallis, 60-gun screw ship (Captain George Wellesley) during the Baltic expeditions of 1854-5. He thereby saw war service, and earned the Baltic medal, before he was 16.

In 1856 Lord Walter became a midshipman of the steam frigate Shannon, which, under the gallant Captain William Peel, went out to the China Station, and was ordered to Calcutta when the Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857. The offer of Captain Peel to form his ship’s company into a naval brigade being accepted, he landed with about 410 seamen and marines, including the late Admiral of the Fleet, and proceeded in river steamers up the Ganges to join the force advancing to relieve Lucknow. Lord Walter served with the brigade all through the Mutiny and was present at the siege and capture of Lucknow. On September 28, 1858, a few days after the Shannon left Calcutta to return to England, he was specially promoted to sub-lieutenant, and a year later, at the early age of 29, to lieutenant. He then served for three years in the steam frigate Emerald (Captain Arthur Cumming), in the Channel, and for another three years in the Princess Royal, flagship of Admiral Sir George St. Vincent King, in China. On his return home he was promoted to commander on April 3, 1868, and six months later joined the Hercules, commanded in the Channel Squadron by Captain Lord Gilford. While in her he was awarded the silver medal of the Royal Humane Society for a most gallant act of life-saving. He jumped overboard from a height of 30ft. into the river Tagus to the rescue of a man who had fallen from the mizzen rigging.

In August, 1871, he became commander of the Lord Warden, flagship of Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton, in the Mediterranean, and in November of the next year was promoted to captain, Although rather young - only 33 -for a post captain, his reputation already stood high in the Service. Lord Fisher, in his book of "Memories," published in 1919, relates how at this time he (Fisher) "wished very much for the Mediterranean flagship; but my life-long and good friend Lord Walter Kerr was justly preferred before me." After promotion to captain, Lord Walter had, as was usual then, nearly two years on half-pay. During this time, on November 18, 1873, he married Lady Amabel Cowper, the youngest daughter of the sixth Earl Cowper. He resumed sea service again on October 1, 1874, when he was appointed to command the Agincourt, flagship of Rear Admiral Beauchamp Seymour (afterwards Lord Alcester), in command of the Channel Squadron. Here he served for three years, the latter part of the time in the Minotaur. In February, 1880, Beauchamp Seymour, now a vice-admiral and K.C.B., was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, and once again Lord Walter Kerr was his flag-captain, in the battleship Alexandra. In November, 1881, the latter was appointed in command of the Medway Steam Reserve, and so missed the operations of the Egyptian War of 1882 and the bombardment of Alexandria.

From Sheerness, Lord Walter went to the Admiralty in 1885 as Private Secretary to the First Lord, and served under Lord George Hamilton in this capacity for five years. It was an important epoch in modern naval administration, witnessing the agitation which culminated in the great Naval Defence Act of 1889, and the future First Sea Lord was able to gain a valuable insight into Admiralty business. From January, 1887, to January, 1889, when he became a rear-admiral, he was an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. On leaving the Admiralty, he hoisted his flag in the Trafalgar as Second-in-Command in the Mediterranean, where he served from April, 1890, to March, 1892. His keen interest in the traditions and history of the Navy was indicated during that time by his having printed for the ship’s company of his flagship a pamphlet entitled "The Story of Trafalgar," written at his request by Professor Sir John Knox Laughton. On his return home, he became Junior Sea Lord of the Admiralty in Lord Selborne’s Board, and in November, 1893, he was nominated as Second Sea Lord, holding this office until May, 1895. He was then appointed Vice-Admiral commanding the Channel Squadron, with his flag in the Majestic, for two years.

After a term on half-pay, he was nominated, in August, 1899, as First Sea Lord in successor to Admired of the Fleet Sir Frederick Richards. During his five years in this responsible post he maintained the efficiency of the Navy at a high standard, and also gave encouragement to the early reforms introduced by Lord Fisher, who was his Second Sea Lord in 1902-03, particularly the great scheme of naval entry and education in pursuance of which the colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth were opened. On June 16, 1904, Lord Walter was specially promoted to be an Admiral of the Fleet (additional), “in recognition of the great value to the Navy and to the nation of his 50 years of naval service.” He retired from office on October 21 following. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant and J.P. for Derbyshire in 1906.

Lord Walter Kerr was a prominent Roman Catholic layman, and was President of the Catholic Union of Great Britain from 1917 to 1921, a member of the Catholic Education Council, and vice-president of the Catholic Record Society. During his service in the Navy he was much concerned with the religious welfare of the men and compiled forms of prayer for them.

Lady Amabel Kerr, a lady of marked literary gifts, died in 1996, having had four sons and two daughters. One of the former, Andrew William Kerr, born in March, 1877, entered the Navy like his father, and served as a commander during the Great War. The eldest son, Ralph Francis Kerr, became a Roman Catholic priest, the two other sons held Army commissions, and one of the daughters became a nun.

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