Astley Cooper Key

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Admiral THE RIGHT HONOURABLE SIR Astley Cooper Key, G.C.B., F.R.S., F.R.G.S., D.C.L., P.C. (18 January, 1821 – 3 March, 1888) was an officer of the Royal Navy.

Early Life & Career

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Key entered the navy in 1833, passed his examination in 1840, and on 22 Dec. 1842 was awarded the lieutenant's commission, at that time competed for in a special course of study, on board the gunnery training school Excellent and at the Royal Naval College, Portsmouth. In February 1843 he joined the Curaçoa going out to the east coast of South America, where, in February 1844, he was transferred to the Gorgon, with Captain Charles Hotham. On 10 May the Gorgon, then at anchor off Monte Video, parted her cables in a violent gale, and was driven on shore, far above high-water mark. When the sea returned to its usual level, the ship was dry to within a few feet of her stern-post, and imbedded in the sand to a depth of thirteen feet. Key was only the junior lieutenant, but his scientific training enabled him to take a prominent share in the work of getting her afloat, and at once marked him as a rising man.

Key was appointed to command the tender Fanny, and after the action at Obligado (20 Nov. 1845), in which he was slightly wounded, he was promoted to the rank of Commander, his commission being antedated to 18 Nov. From 1847 to 1850, he commanded the steamer Bulldog in the Mediterranean, and on 11 Oct. 1850 was advanced to post-rank.

During the Russian war of 1854–5, Key commanded the frigate Amphion in the Baltic, took part in the reduction of Bomarsund and in the bombardment of Sveaborg, and was repeatedly engaged with the enemy's batteries, especially in the gulf of Viborg. On 5 July 1855 he was nominated a C.B. In 1857 he went out to China in command of the screw line-of-battle ship Sanspareil, in which he was at once sent with a detachment of marines to Calcutta; and, bringing them back when the urgent need had passed, he commanded a battalion of the naval brigade at the capture of Canton (28–9 Dec. 1857), and a few days later with his own hands seized Yeh, the Chinese governor, as he was seeking to escape in the disguise of a coolie.[1]

From 1858 to 1860 Key was a member of the Royal Commission on National Defence; in 1860 he was appointed captain of the steam reserve at Devonport, and in 1863 captain of Excellent and superintendent of the Royal Naval College. On 20 Nov. 1866 he was promoted to be Rear-Admiral; he had already been consulted by the admiralty about the organisation of the new department of naval ordnance, and was now appointed to the office of director, which he held till the summer of 1869, when he accepted the post of superintendent of Portsmouth Royal Dockyard, from which he was shortly afterwards moved to Malta, at once as superintendent of the dockyard and second in command in the Mediterranean.

In 1872, when it was determined to establish the Royal Naval College at Greenwich on a much enlarged plan, Key was called home for the purpose of organising it. The whole scheme was drawn out by him, and the college, with Key as president, was opened in February 1873. On 30 April 1873 he was advanced to be vice-admiral, and on 24 May was nominated a K.C.B. He continued at Greenwich till the beginning of 1876, when he was appointed commander-in-chief on the North American and West Indian station. On attaining the rank of admiral, 21 March 1878, he returned to England, and for a couple of months in the summer had command of an evolutionary squadron in the Channel. In June 1879 he was appointed principal naval aide-de-camp to the queen, and in August first naval lord of the admiralty, in which post he remained till the change of ministry in the summer of 1885, when he was granted a special pension of 500l. a year, in addition to his half-pay. On 18 January, 1886, he was placed on the Retired List.[2] The G.C.B. was conferred on him on 24 Nov. 1882, and on 11 Aug. 1884 he was appointed a member of the privy council. He was also F.R.S., F.R.G.S., and D.C.L.; and was author of ‘A Narrative of the Recovery of H.M.S. Gorgon, stranded in the Bay of Monte Video, 10 May 1844,’ 8vo, 1847. After his retirement he resided at Maidenhead, and there he died on 3 March 1888. He was twice married, and left issue.

Just a month before his death, Cooper Key felt compelled to write to The Times vigorously defending his Board of Admiralty against former Junior Naval Lord Captain Lord Charles Beresford's claim that "there was no shred of system or plan for organization for war in 1885 so as to have enabled our fleets, small as they were, to be in a position to fight if called on."[3]

Bibliography

  • "Death of Sir Astley Cooper Key" (Obituaries). The Times. Monday, 5 March, 1888. Issue 32325, col F, pg. 9.
  • Colomb, Vice-Admiral P. H. (1898). Memoirs of Admiral the Right Honble. Sir Astley Cooper Key. London: Methuen & Co.

Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
Richard S. Hewlett
Captain of H.M.S. Excellent
30 Jun, 1863[4]
Succeeded by
Arthur W. A. Hood
Preceded by
New Appointment
Director-General of Naval Ordnance
3 Sep, 1866[5]
Succeeded by
Arthur W. A. Hood
as Director of Naval Ordnance
Preceded by
George G. Wellesley
Admiral Superintendent, Portsmouth Dockyard
1 Jul, 1869 – 25 May, 1870
Succeeded by
William H. Stewart
Preceded by
Edward G. Fanshawe
Admiral Superintendent, Malta Dockyard
1870 – 1872
Succeeded by
Edward A. Inglefield
Preceded by
New Appointment
President of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich
2 Jan, 1873[6]
Succeeded by
Edward G. Fanshawe
Preceded by
Sir George G. Wellesley
Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station
1875 – 1878
Succeeded by
Sir Edward F. Inglefield
Preceded by
George G. Wellesley
First Naval Lord
15 Aug, 1879[7]
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur W. A. Hood
Court Appointments
Preceded by
The Hon. Sir Henry Keppel
First and Principal Naval Aide-de-Camp
15 Jun, 1879[8]
Succeeded by
Sir Geoffrey T. Phipps Hornby

Footnotes

  1. OLIPHANT, Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China, i. 141.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 25551. p. 329. 22 January, 1886.
  3. "The Naval Intelligence Department" (Letters to the Editor). The Times. Friday, 3 February, 1888. Issue 32299, col B, p. 7.
  4. The Navy List. (December, 1864). p. 185.
  5. Key service record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 743.
  6. Key Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 743.
  7. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 118.
  8. Key Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/36. f. 743.