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

Royal NavyObituaries

The following obituary for Geoffrey Thomas Phipps Hornby appeared in the Times newspaper.

Obituary in the Times newspaper
4 March 1895


We regret to announce the death, at the age of 70, of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Geoffrey Thomas Phipps Hornby, which took place at 9 o’clock yesterday morning, at his residence, Lordington, Hampshire. About ten days ago he caught a chill while returning from Chichester on his tricycle, and this afterwards developed into a sharp attack of influenza. Dr. Bostock, the family physician, was called in, and under his treatment the Admiral appeared to make satisfactory progress towards convalescence. Subsequently, however, alarming symptoms were developed, followed by a general collapse. Dr. Wallace, of Southsea, was summoned for consultation, but the patient’s condition was seen to be hopeless.

For many years Sir Geoffrey Hornby has been the most striking naval figure in this country, and perhaps in the world. By the service as a whole he has been regarded with an unwavering confidence such as has been extended to no other flag officer of our time. By the Admiralty, as is well known, he was, for a long period, regarded as the man who, in the event of the outbreak of a naval war, must be placed in chief command of our main fleet. At Court he was appointed in 1886 to the honourable post of First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp to the Queen, which he gave up in 1888. He was only placed on the retired list so recently as the 20th of last month. By the general public, his views on naval matters have always been accepted as embodying the expression of the ripest opinion and the widest experience, as formulated by the most capable British sea-officer of his day; and abroad, as his official visit in 1890 to Germany fully demonstrated, his professional criticisms had a weight which belonged to those of no other foreigner. Slight, active, stern of face, yet full of humour, simple and open in character, and devoted to the service and to the welfare of his country, he was an ideal naval officer, organizer, and leader of men; and beyond this he was an admirable host, a typical English squire, and one of the best riders and shots in his county. In society, therefore, as well as in the Navy, his death leaves a gap which will not easily be filled.

Geoffrey Thomas Phipps Hornby was one of eight children (the present Provost of Eton being another) who were borne by Sophia Maria, eldest daughter of the Right Hon. General John Burgoyne, to Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir) Phipps Hornby, one of the heroes of the battle of Lissa. The elder Hornby, who was a son of the Rev. Geoffrey Hornby, rector of Winwick, Lancashire, by the Hon. Lucy Stanley, sister of Edward, twelfth Earl of Derby, served as mate in the Victory just before the battle of Trafalgar, received a gold medal for the gallant manner in which he commanded the Volage, 22, in Hoste’s action on March 13, 1811, reached flag rank in 1846, was Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific from 1847 to 1850, and died an Admiral and a G.C.B. in 1867 at the age of 82. The younger Hornby was born on February 20, 1825, entered the Navy in 1837, and, as a midshipman, saw active service during the operations on the coast of Syria in 1840. Promoted to commissioned rank in 1844, he was appointed at once to the Cleopatra, 26, Captain Christopher Wyvill, which was then engaged on the Cape station in the suppression of the slave trade. This vessel was paid off at Chatham early in 1847, and, after six months on half-pay, Mr. Hornby became flag-lieutenant to his father in the Asia, 84, Captain Robert Fanshawe Stopford. In her he visited most parts of the Pacific, and, on his promotion to the rank of commander in 1850, came home. He attained post rank in 1852, but does not appear to have been again employed afloat until 1858, when, as captain of the steam frigate Tribune, 31, he returned to the Pacific. Thenceforward he saw almost continuous service. Early in 1861 he went to the Mediterranean as captain of the wooden screw line-of-battleship Neptune, 86, and began to show himself not only as an exceptionally good commander but as a trainer of exceptionally good officers. The Neptune, in 1860, was chosen as the flagship of Vice-Admiral William Fanshawe Martin, Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, and Captain Hornby, who remained in her as flag-captain (Rear-Admiral S. C. Dacres being Captain of the Fleet), then had serving under him such men as afterwards became Admirals Sir E.R. Fremantle and J.O. Hopkins, and Captain H.G. Andoe. Scarcely was the Neptune paid off before Captain Hornby took command of the Edgar, 71, as flag-captain to Rear-Admiral S.C. Dacres in the Channel. Among the lieutenants of that ship were the officers who have since been better known as Admirals P.H. Colomb, Sir R.H. More Molynenx, R.O’B. Fitzroy, and G.D. Morant, each of whom, it may be safely said, owed much to the fact of having served during the commission. Very soon after having paid off the Edgar at Portsmouth, Captain Hornby hoisted his broad pennant in the wooden steam frigate Bristol, 31, as commodore of the first-class and Commander-in-Chief on the West Coast of Africa. He held this appointment from 1865 for more than two years, having as his flag-captain Admiral L.E.H. Somerset, as his commander Rear-Admiral R.O’B. Fitzroy, and as his flag-lieutenant Captain J.A.T. Bruce.

After an interval of half-pay, and after promotion to flag rank while still in his forty-fourth year, he was appointed in the summer of 1869 to the command of the Detached Squadron, and hoisted his flag in the steam frigate Liverpool, 30, Captain J.O. Hopkins. Under Rear-Admiral Hornby’s constant supervision this squadron attained a remarkable degree of smartness and efficiency, and the long cruise was a | never-to-be-forgotten experience in the professional life of every officer and man concerned. Not long after his return to England the Rear-Admiral was appointed to the chief command. in the Channel, and hoisted his flag in the Minotaur, Captain R.O’B. Fitzroy. His next sea-going appointment, after promotion to the rank of Vice-Admiral, was that of Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. This was dated January 15, 1877. He had previously served as Second Sea Lord of the Admiralty. The times were troublous, the Russo-Turkish War was upon the point of breaking out, and it was everywhere felt that in the Mediterranean the presence of a strong Admiral was essential. Vice-Admiral Hornby proved himself worthy of the choice that had been made. He hoisted his flag in the Alexandra, with Rear-Admiral Sir J.E. Commerell as his second in the Bellerophon, and with Captain R.O’B. Fitzroy once more as his own flag-captain. Diplomacy, organization, and tact, as well as a judicious display of force and determination, were required all through 1877, and more especially in January and February, 1878, when the invader was at the gates of Constantinople, when we were apparently on the brink at one moment of war with Russia and at another of hostilities with Turkey, and when the Cabinet at home was torn by internal dissensions and weakened by crippling resignations. But during the whole anxious period the Admiral never made a mistake, though upon occasions he boldly assumed responsibilities from which ordinary men would have shrunk. In January, 1878, he took his fleet to the mouth of the Dardanelles; in February he took it through the Strait, with every ship cleared for action, and in momentary expectation of seeing all the eleven batteries on the European bank, and all the five on the Asiatic, open fire from their 360 heavy guns; and anchored it safely near Prince’s islands, in the Sea of Marmora, within sight of Constantinople. Three weeks later the Treaty of San Stefano was signed. The Admiral, who remained in the Mediterranean until 1880, was made a K.C.B. for his services there, in the following year he was appointed president of the Royal Naval College; and from November, 1882, to November, 1885, he flew his flag in the Duke of Wellington as Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, except during the few weeks for which he was absent in command of the Evolutionary Squadron in the summer of 1885. On that occasion he hoisted his flag once more in the Minotaur. The operations, which were, in fact, the first of the annual naval manoeuvres, lasted from June 1 to July 17, and were taken part in by 13 ironclads and a number of cruisers, gunboats, and torpedo-boats. They were productive of many valuable lessons, and included the attack and defence of the harbour of Berehaven, in Bantry Bay, and the practice of fleet tactics in the Channel, the Atlantic, and the Irish Sea.

This was Sir Geoffrey’s last experience in command afloat. In the ensuing December he was created a G.C.B. and retired - still, both mentally and physically, a very active man - to his house at Lordington, near Emsworth, after having, at the comparatively early ago of 60, held the highest position that in peace time is open to a British naval officer. But, although thenceforward he lived chiefly in the country, he in nowise withdrew in the slightest degree from association with the service upon the active list of which he still, up to little more than a week ago, remained. He doubtless felt, as every one else did, that should war come while he continued eligible to serve he would assuredly be called upon. He therefore kept himself fully abreast of every new development of the science of naval warfare, wrote, as well as read, much, and was frequently at Portsmouth. In 1887, at the time of the jubilee celebration, he was officially present at the review at Spithead ; in 1888 he took a prominent part in the agitation which resulted in the passing of the Naval Defence Act of 1889. Upon the death of Sir A.P. Ryder, he reached the rank of Admiral of the Fleet; and in 1889, upon the occasion of the visit of the German Emperor to the fleet at Spithead, Sir Geoffrey was attached to his Majesty in the capacity of honorary aide-de-camp. The Emperor William was much impressed by the strong individuality and great experience of the Admiral of the Fleet, and in the following year asked for him to be sent in an official capacity to witness the German combined manoeuvres on the coast of Schleswig-Holstein. Sir Geoffrey, accompanied by Captain A.W. Moore, R.N., and Lieutenant R.S.P. Hornby, R.N., as his aides-de-camp, went over, and met with a reception which was very gratifying not only to him, but also to every Englishman who had an opportunity of observing the deference and hospitality that were shown to the Admiral of the Fleet, whose only regret was that he was unable to speak a word of German, On the other hand, he excited the admiration, and perhaps the envy, of the German naval officers by his abilities as a horseman when, with the Emperor, he accompanied the operations of the 9th Amy Corps between Flensburg and Düppel. The visit resulted in the cementing of a cordial personal friendship between the Emperor and Sir Geoffrey Hornby. In 1891, after recovering from a serious carriage accident which for several weeks seemed likely to be fatal, the Admiral again came forward officially to assist in welcoming the French Squadron under Admiral Gervais at Portsmouth.

Sir Geoffrey Hornby was the author of a tactical work of great value on "Squadrons of Exercise in the British Navy." He also wrote other works on steam-tactics, of which he was an acknowledged master, and contributed numerous shorter papers, all on naval subjects, to the reviews and magazines, besides addressing many letters on kindred topics to The Times. The last letter which he addressed to The Times, dealing with the discussion carried on under the title "Our Warning from the Naval Manoeuvres," appeared on October 19, 1894. The dates of his various advancements were - lieutenant, June 16, 1844; commander, January 12, 1850; captain, December 18, 1852; rear-admiral, January 1, 1869; vice-admiral, January 1, 1875; admiral, June 15, 1879; and admiral of the fleet, May 1, 1888. He wore the Syrian Medal, and possessed also the Portuguese Order of St. Bento d’Aviz, hut never obtained permission to wear it.

To many it may appear a strange thing that an officer who never, save when quite a boy, was in action, should, throughout such a service as the British Navy, have inspired so remarkable a degree of confidence as Sir Geoffrey Hornby commanded, from the time when first he hoisted his broad pennant; yet it may be said without any exaggeration that during the last 20 years of his life he stood in this respect head and shoulders above all his compeers. The secret lay in his professional knowledge, his untiring energy, his independence, and his marvellous ability as an organizer. His stern sense of justice may not have been always pleasant to those who had to suffer under it, but it was never impugned, nor was it ever exercised in such a manner as to turn any good and honourable officer or seaman into a private enemy. His service nick-name, "Uncle," or "Uncle Geoff," sufficiently indicates the affectionate feelings with which he was generally regarded. In social life the Admiral was kindness and geniality itself. He will be deeply regretted everywhere, and not less by the Navy than by those who in civil affairs enjoyed the great privilege of his friendship.

Sir Geoffrey Hornby married in 1853 Emily Frances, daughter of the late Rev. John Coles, of Ditcham Park, Hants. Lady Hornby died in 1892.

Valid HTML 5.0