Hedworth Meux

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Sir Hedworth Meux
Captain Hedworth Lambton.jpg
Captain Hedworth Lambton Vanity Fair caricature - 1900
Born 5 July 1856
Died 20 September 1929 (aged 73)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Rank Admiral of the Fleet
Commands held Portsmouth Command
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order

Admiral of the Fleet The Hon Sir Hedworth Meux GCB KCVO (pronounced Mews[1]), formerly The Hon Hedworth Lambton (5 July 1856 – 20 September 1929) was an English naval officer famous for bringing help to the British forces in the Siege of Ladysmith.

The first forty years[edit]

Hedworth Lambton was born in London, son of the Earl of Durham. After going to Cheam School, he started naval life in 1870 as a cadet on the training ship Britannia. Over the next 20 years he was steadily promoted and gained experience in the East Indies and the Mediterranean, on the Egyptian coast at the time of the bombardment of Alexandria, and as commander of the royal yacht Osborne. He was a friend of the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.

After a spell in the Pacific, in 1894 he was appointed Private Naval Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, and continued in this post when Viscount Goschen took over as First Lord. Both Spencer and Goschen, who were politicians and not naval officers, gave Lambton's opinion considerable weight in making senior naval appointments, but his judgement did not always correspond with that of the admirals, the so-called naval lords. During this time he also antagonised senior naval officers through a "lack of consideration".[2]

Ladysmith[edit]

In 1897 he commanded one of the largest warships of the time, HMS Powerful, on a posting to China. On the return voyage in 1899 he was ordered to Durban, South Africa at an important point in the Second Boer War. He stopped at Mauritius, and on his own initiative picked up a battalion of soldiers stationed there. Knowing that the British forces at Ladysmith urgently needed more powerful guns, Captain Percy Scott from the Powerful's sister ship, the Terrible, devised carriages to transport naval cannon, and Lambton then led a Naval Brigade to the rescue with four twelve-pounders and two other guns.

The enthusiastic response in Britain to the "heroes of Ladysmith"[3] was enormous and made Captain Hedworth Lambton a well-known public figure. Queen Victoria sent a telegram saying, "Pray express to the Naval Brigade my deep appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered with their guns." [4] while a reception and celebratory march through London were among the first events ever recorded on film.[5]

A newspaper described the Powerful's return home: "As the great vessel steamed into Portsmouth Harbour at four o'clock this afternoon, she was greeted with thunders of applause .... vessels lying off here were dressed with flags, and their crews, swarming along the yards, swelled the roar of welcome......By three o'clock the jetty was thronged with men, women and children. ... A more eager, joyous gathering I never saw.....We cheered, we waved hats and handkerchiefs and we were half wild with delight." [6] Lambton was awarded the CB, and it was in this year that his caricature was published in Vanity Fair.

Valerie Lady Meux, about 20 years before she met Lambton

It was against this background that Lambton met Valerie Lady Meux (née Langdon, a.k.a. Val Reece), a beautiful socialite who reputedly was a former actress (some sources suggest that she had been a prostitute). After hearing the story of the naval guns at Ladysmith, she had ordered six 12-pounder cannon on travelling carriages to be made and sent out to South Africa. Lambton called on her to describe his experiences there, and praise the patriotic spirit of her gift. Lady Meux was "touched by this tribute"[7] and wrote a will making Lambton the heir to the large fortune left by her husband Sir Henry Brent Meux upon his death in 1900, including her house at Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. The only condition was that Lambton should change his name to Meux.

1901 onwards[edit]

In April 1901 Lambton was transferred to HMY Victoria and Albert II,[8] and the next two years saw him in charge of the king's yacht. He was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) in August 1901.[9] In June 1903 he joined Lord Charles Beresford and the Channel fleet, then commanded the cruiser division in the Mediterranean from 1904 to 1906. During this time he became an ally of Beresford's in an ongoing dispute between Beresford and Fisher about navy policies.[2] His next promotion was to Vice Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the China Station in 1908.

April 1910 started a period of significant change for Lambton. He married the widow of Henry Cadogan, Viscount Chelsea shortly after coming back to England from China, then a few months later inherited a substantial fortune when Lady Meux died. In March 1911 he was made a full Admiral, and later that year changed his surname by royal licence, as stipulated in Lady Meux's will. In the same year his friend George V supported moves to have Meux (as he now was) appointed First Sea Lord, but a "Fisherite" was chosen instead. The next year, Fisher was angered, and the king pleased, by Meux's appointment to be Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth.[2]

Meux as a Vice-Admiral

When war broke out, Meux's main responsibility was defending cross-Channel communications, including transport for the British expeditionary force crossing to France. He also initiated and organised a life-saving patrol service of small boats. In March 1915 he became Admiral of the Fleet and stayed in the Royal Navy until 1916, when he was persuaded to stand as the Conservative candidate in the Portsmouth by-election. He made some speeches in parliament on naval affairs but "he was not really interested in parliamentary work"[10] and retired at the general election of December 1918.

Meux was now free to pursue his long-standing interest in horses and racing. For a quarter of century he had bred bloodstock, first with a trainer in Yorkshire, then at the racing stables at Theobalds Park, part of the inheritance from Lady Meux. He died in 1929 at Danebury, an estate he had bought in Hampshire.

For this "aristocrat and court favourite",[2] his naval service had been "an interest rather than a profession".[11] One writer has called him "a very able sea-officer with no great administrative talent... but lazy and rather spoiled".[12] Another view is that he was "a man of strong and independent character, though by no means a typical naval officer . . . He carried out his duties with marked ability and won the confidence not only of King Edward VII but of all his associates in the service."[13]

References[edit]

The main source for this article is the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), which first included Meux in its 1937 edition, citing "official records" and "private information". A revised version in the 2004 edition also draws on historical works about the Royal Navy and the Boer war, a biography of Fisher, and some correspondence. If they vary, the footnotes make it clear which version is being quoted.

  1. ^ Roots.web
  2. ^ a b c d DNB 2004
  3. ^ Illustrated London News and elsewhere
  4. ^ Navy website
  5. ^ The Heroes of Ladysmith Marching Through London and The Queen's Reception to the Heroes of Ladysmith
  6. ^ Memorials & Monuments in Portsmouth City Centre quoting the Daily News
  7. ^ DNB
  8. ^ "Naval & Military intelligence" The Times (London). Wednesday, 3 April 1901. (36419), p. 6.
  9. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27346. p. 5409. 16 August 1901.
  10. ^ DNB
  11. ^ DNB
  12. ^ A. J. Marder, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow, vol I (1961), quoted in DNB (2004)
  13. ^ DNB 1937

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
New Post
Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty
1894–1897
Succeeded by
Wilmot Fawkes
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Moore
Commander-in-Chief, China Station
1908–1910
Succeeded by
Sir Alfred Winsloe
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Moore
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth
1912–1916
Succeeded by
Sir Stanley Colville
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Bertram Falle and
Lord Charles Beresford
Member of Parliament for Portsmouth
19161918
With: Bertram Falle
Constituency abolished