Beresford, Lord Charles William de la Poer, Baron Beresford 1846-1919, admiral, was born at Philipstown, King's county, 10 February 1846, the second son of the Rev. John de la Poer Beresford, fourth Marquess of Waterford, by his wife, Christiana, fourth daughter of Charles Powell Leslie, M.P., of Glaslough, county Monaghan. He was educated at Bayford School, Hertfordshire, and at Stubbington House, near Fareham. He entered the Britannia as a naval cadet in December 1859, and in March 1861 was appointed to the Marlborough, flagship in the Mediterranean and one of the finest of the old wooden line of battleships. He was rated midshipman in June 1862. He was transferred in July 1863 to the Defence, a new ironclad, and after less than a year was appointed as senior midshipman to the Clio, corvette, in which he made a voyage to the Falkland Islands and round Cape Horn to Honolulu and Vancouver. In December 1865 he was transferred to the Tribune at Vancouver, promoted sub-lieutenant 1866, and in the following February transferred to the Sutlej, flagship on the Pacific station. In the following June he returned home in her and joined the Excellent, gunnery school ship. After eight months in the royal yacht Victoria and Albert, which gave him his promotion to lieutenant in October 1868, he was appointed to the Galatea, frigate (captain, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh), in which he made a voyage of two and a half years, visiting the Cape, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, India, and the Falkland Islands. In November 1872 he was appointed flag lieutenant to Sir Henry Keppel, commander-in-chief at Plymouth, and remained there till August 1874, when he was sent for a few months to the Bellerophon, flagship of the North American station. At the general election of 1874 Lord Charles was returned to parliament for Waterford in the conservative interest, and retained the seat until 1880. In September 1875 he went as aide-de-camp to the Prince of Wales on his tour in India and was promoted commander in November of that year. In May 1877, after a short period in the Vernon for torpedo instruction, he was appointed commander to the Thunderer, Channel squadron, till June 1878. A year later he was appointed to the command of the royal yacht Osborne, a post which he retained till November 1881. During these years, 1874-1881, he was chiefly known as a dashing sportsman, a personal friend of the Prince of Wales, and a prominent popular figure in smart society.
At the beginning of 1882 Lord Charles took command of the Condor, gunboat, under Sir Beauchamp Seymour (afterwards Lord Alcester), commander-in-chief of the fleet that bombarded Alexandria (11 July) during the Egyptian crisis; he took the leading part in engaging and silencing Fort Marabout in that operation. After the bombardment he was sent ashore under Captain John (afterwards Lord) Fisher and appointed provost-marshal and chief of police, and restored order with admirable efficiency, nerve, and tact. He was promoted captain and mentioned in dispatches for gallantry for these services. He was offered an appointment on the staff of the khedive and also that of war correspondent of the New York Herald, but Sir Garnet (afterwards Viscount) Wolseley refused to release him. He then returned home and remained on half-pay till August 1884, when he was appointed to the Alexandra, to act on the staff of Lord Wolseley during the Nile expedition for the relief of Khartoum. He was afterwards placed in command of the naval brigade on the Nile, with which he took part in the battle of Abu Klea on 17 January 1885. He also commanded the expedition which went to the rescue of (Sir) Charles William Wilson [qv.] in the Safieh, when he kept his ship steadily engaged under heavy fire while his engineer, Mr. Benbow, repaired her disabled boiler (4 February). He was commended in the House of Commons, and described by Lord Wolseley in his dispatch as an officer whose readiness and resource and ability as a leader are only equalled by his daring. For these services he was made C.B.
Lord Charles came home in July 1885, and was returned to parliament for East Marylebone, and re-elected in 1886. The Prince of Wales, with whom he had become very intimate, urged Lord Salisbury, on the formation of the conservative government, to give him political office, but the prime minister preferred to appoint him fourth naval lord of the Admiralty under Lord George Hamilton. He proved a difficult colleague and early showed himself hostile to the policy of the Board. He found fault with the shipbuilding programme and with the organization and pay of the intelligence department, and objected to the supreme authority of the first lord in naval administration. At length he resigned in January 1888. For the next two years he was a constant and outspoken critic of naval affairs in the House of Commons, until, in December 1889, he was appointed to the command of the Undaunted, armoured cruiser, on the Mediterranean station, resigning his seat in parliament. He returned to England in June 1893, to take command of the Medway dockyard reserve till March 1896. In 1897 he was appointed aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria, and in September of that year was promoted to flag rank and won for his party, at a by-election at York, a seat which he retained till January 1900, when he was sent to the Mediterranean as second in command under Sir John Fisher. In the meantime, in 1898-1899, he had gone to China on a special mission on behalf of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, and had published his report in a spirited volume entitled The Break-up of China (1899). In the Mediterranean he worked in general harmony with his chief, whose reforming zeal he shared and at that time approved; but he earned a rebuke from the Admiralty for allowing the publication in the press of a letter highly critical of Admiralty policy. In February 1902, on returning to England, he was returned to parliament for Woolwich. He was promoted vice-admiral in October 1902, and early in 1903 he again left the House of Commons in order to take up the chief command of the Channel squadron, being promoted K.C.B. in the following June. In March 1905 he hauled down his flag, and two months later went to the Mediterranean as commander-in-chief, with the acting rank of admiral, to which he was promoted in November 1906.
After two years in the Mediterranean Lord Charles was made commander-in-chief of the Channel fleet, then the principal fleet of the navy, including as it did fourteen battleships. It was a time when, in order to meet the growing German danger, the naval forces in home waters were being gradually but radically reorganized by Sir John Fisher, then first sea lord. Beresford was out of sympathy with many of the changes, and relations between him and Whitehall became exceedingly strained: the gradual development of the home fleet, comprising some fully-manned vessels and some reserve ships with nucleus crews, as an independent command in peace time caused him great irritation; and at last, in March 1909, he was ordered to haul down his flag and come on shore, the Channel fleet being abolished as a separate command and absorbed into the greatly enlarged home fleet. Beresford at once challenged the whole policy of the Board of Admiralty and its organization of the fleets in a long polemical document addressed to the prime minister, Mr. Asquith. This was referred to a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence, composed of the prime minister and four secretaries of state. The report of this committee was published in August 1909, and on the whole vindicated the action and policy of the Admiralty, though in certain respects its wording seemed to justify some of Beresford's criticisms. Beresford published an account of his views in 1912 in a book called The Betrayal. He was again returned to parliament, as a member for Portsmouth, in 1910, and held the seat till January 1916, when he was raised to the peerage as Baron Beresford, of Metemmeh and of Curraghmore. He was placed on the retired list in February 1911, and received the G.C.B. He died of apoplexy while staying at Langwell, Caithness, 6 September 1919, and was honoured with a state funeral in St. Paul's Cathedral.
Beresford was one of the most remarkable personalities of his generation: brave, high-spirited, an enthusiastic sportsman, of noble birth, and possessed of ample private means, he touched life at many points, and to the general public was the best-known sailor of his day. He had some of the faults as well as many of the virtues of his Irish ancestry, and although he was passionately devoted to the navy and to his country, his love of publicity and impatience of control sometimes led him into conduct that was alien from the strict traditions of the service. In parliament and on the platform, while not strong in argument, he was an attractive and forceful speaker and was popular with all parties, confining himself as a rule to naval topics in which he was especially interested. Owing partly to his variety of interests and partly to his quarrels with authority, he had until late in life comparatively little actual sea experience; but from the day in January 1900 on which he hoisted his flag in the Mediterranean, when nearly fifty-four, he was for the greater part of nine years continuously afloat. He soon showed himself an able and active flag officer; and he commanded the most important of the fleets of the country during a period of great naval development, when the position of foreign affairs was often critical, with an energy and ability that won general recognition from the service. He maintained and enhanced the fighting efficiency of the squadrons and flotillas placed in his charge, and devoted immense personal care to the welfare of the great body of men under his orders. He fully understood and practised the art of delegating authority, and he won the devoted loyalty of all ranks by his frank recognition of merit and his readiness to overlook minor faults when the intention of the action was good and sound. He was ambitious to reach the highest position in his profession, and it was unfortunate that the last years of his command were clouded by what came to be a personal antagonism between himself and that other great sailor, Lord Fisher, with whom, until 1903, he had been on terms of amity and in full agreement on naval policy. But a man of his geniality and good humour could not long nurse resentment; and in his entertaining autobiography, Memories, published in 1914, all traces of this regrettable dispute have practically disappeared. An admirable host, in London and general society he enjoyed a well-deserved and universal popularity.
Beresford married in 1878 Mina, daughter of Richard Gardner, M.P. for Leicester, and left two daughters.
There is a portrait of Beresford by C. W. Furse in the National Portrait Gallery.
Lord Charles Beresford, Memories, 1914.
Contributor: V. W. B. [Vincent Wilberforce Baddeley]