AN AUTHENTIC AND IMPARTIAL COPY OF THE TRIAL OF THE HON. AUGUSTUS KEPPEL, ADMIRAL OF THE BLUE, HELD AT PORTSMOUTH ON THE 7TH OF JANUARY, 1779

Anonymous.


£400.00



1st ed., “Portsmouth printed and sold in London by …” 1779. 415 pp. Contemporary half-calf ; red calf title-piece to spine ; gilt with double gilt lines ; marbled boards ; speckled edges. 22 x 14cm. Boards rubbed ; slight foxing ; o/w V.G.+. Armorial bookplate of Owen Williams (1764-1832) of Temple House, Berks (and Craig-y-Don, Anglesey) ; heir to the ‘Copper King’ earning him a substantial inheritance ; supporter of Fox & Grenville ; Whig M.P. for Marlow (1796-1832) ; Receiver-general on Anglesey (1796) ; Captain South Bucks Volunteers (1803) ; principal of the Chester & North Wales Bank. Died 23rd February 1832. In 1778 Augustus Keppel, first Viscount Keppel (1725-1786) was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet. Keppel had entered the Royal Navy in 1735 and had accompanied Anson on his epic voyage of circumnavigation during the years 1740-1744. In 1757 he was a member of the court-martial that sat in judgement on Byng. Following an action with the French in 1778, Keppel was to find himself in a similar predicament as the unfortunate Byng. On the 23rd July 1778, Keppel sighted the French off Brest and for the next few days struggled with contrary winds to bring the enemy to action. On the 27th July an engagement took place, but the outcome was indecisive and there were claims that Count D’Orvilliers had out-manoeuvred Keppel and as a consequence had escaped English broadsides and retreated back into Brest. The manoeuvres were certainly complex and became the subject of study and debate in naval circles for many years to come. After further encounters, a controversial trial took place with Keppel being court-martialled for his conduct in the operations off Brest, and a bitter row blew up between him and his second-in-command, Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser. The impact of the ‘Keppel-Palliser affair’ had a huge effect on the up-coming naval officers of Nelson’s generation and reverberated for several decades afterwards. Ruddock Mackay in his ODNB entry on Keppel sums the affair up nicely : “In August, Keppel wrote to Sandwich praising the efforts of all his admirals in getting the fleet ready to sail again from Portsmouth. Keppel, hoping for a more conclusive encounter with the French, sailed again with the fleet on 23 August. He cruised off Ushant without achieving contact with the enemy. Meanwhile, by 28 October when he returned to Spithead, the fuse for the Keppel–Palliser affair had been lit. An account of Keppel's frustration at the time of Palliser's failure or inability to respond to his signals during the afternoon of the battle had appeared in a newspaper. The sensitive Palliser prepared a laudatory and exculpatory letter for Keppel to sign for publication. This Keppel refused to do. More papers took up the story, which received mention in the House of Commons. On 9 December Palliser presented to the Board of Admiralty, of which he was still a member, a demand for Keppel's court martial—a demand disastrous for his own career and damaging to the cohesion of the navy. With Sandwich and the government coming under attack, the Admiralty was perhaps over-prompt in immediately issuing orders for Keppel to be tried. The opposition was much incensed, as indeed were most of the officers in the navy. The five rather absurd but capital charges held that Keppel had improperly and half-heartedly marshalled his fleet, approached the fight in a manner unbecoming an officer, shown undue haste in quitting the conflict, run away from the scene, and failed to pursue the enemy. On 9 January 1779 the court martial began at Portsmouth and continued for five weeks. Thirty captains, some lieutenants, and several masters testified. Together with the admirals Harland and Campbell, nearly all the witnesses (with Captain John Jervis particularly effective) refuted the charges to the noisy satisfaction of Keppel's relatives, friends, and political allies who attended each day in his support. Among them were the Marquess of Rockingham, two royal dukes, Richmond and two other dukes, and Keppel's second cousin Charles James Fox, together with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Edmund Burke. During the trial Palliser's manner was ‘poor and passionate’, while Keppel's was ‘cool’, ‘temperate and modest’. … On 11 February the court pronounced the charges malicious and unfounded. That evening there were riotous celebrations in London and elsewhere. Popular resentment was vented on Palliser's London house and on the gates of the Admiralty. Keppel became a national hero. Palliser had soon to face his own court martial. Though exonerated, he lost all his appointments.” An important contemporary account of Keppel’s trial recorded by an eye-witness, originally owned by Owen Williams, a leading ‘Foxite’ politician.


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