Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The longevity of Admiral Sir Erasmus Ommanney

Admiral Sir Erasmus Ommanney
'Father of the British Navy'

Born in London on 22 May 1814, Erasmus Ommanney arguably became the most significant naval figure in the family’s history.

The twelve year-old Erasmus entered the Navy in August 1826 under his uncle, John Acworth Ommanney, then Captain of HMS Albion. On 20 October 1827, when only 13, he took part in the Battle of Navarino. Over the succeeding decades the captured flag of the Turkish Commander-in-Chief was handed down by seniority among the surviving officers until 1890, when Ommanney, the sole survivor of the action, presented it to King George I of Greece.

Longevity alone would perhaps not have been sufficient to earn him the title of 'Father of the British Navy' seventy years later; but an early start at an iconic engagement (and Navarino was the last major naval engagement fought entirely under sail) was certainly enough to secure it. To the Edwardians who scanned their morning papers for news of Admiral Ommanney's health in his declining years, Navarino must have seemed impossibly remote.

In response to a question on the identity of Britain’s oldest surviving military officer, the following appeared in Notes and Queries on 2 July 1904:

According to Hart's 'Army List' for 1904, there was still living on 31 December 1903, General Charles Algernon Lewis, of the North Staffordshire Regiment (64th Foot), whose first commission was dated 13 October, 1825, as well as General Henry Carr Tats, of the Royal Marine Artillery, whose dates from 30 June, 1829; but it is possible that even these are not the oldest surviving military officers. In regard to the senior service, the Royal Navy list for April, 1901, gives Admiral Sir Erasmus Ommanney as having entered the navy in August, 1826; Admiral Sir Edward Fanshawe in September, 1828; and Admiral Sir Arthur Farquhar on 13 March, 1829; and of these Admiral Ommanney is specially to be noted as having taken part in the battle of Navarino in 1827.

Erasmus Ommanney’s visiting card, 1900.
The reverse reads: Navarin – 1827. Arctic service – 1836. Discovered the 1850-57 first traces ever found of Franklin’s missing ships 23rd August 1850. Russian War commanded the Naval force in the White Sea 1854 1855. Served in the Baltic. Commanded the force in the Gulf of Riga – repulsed a flotilla of Russian Gun Boats under cover of the Batteries.

Ommanney died on 21 December 1904 at his son’s home, St Michael's vicarage, St Michael's Road, Southsea, Hampshire, and was buried in Old Mortlake Cemetery. He was 90. It had been a very public decline, with frequent press bulletins as to his health as far back as May 1903. The Aberdeen Journal of 22 December said that he “had been ill for some time... He had been lying almost unconscious at his son’s house for a considerable time, and a change for the worse set in on Sunday”.

Pre-prepared obituaries flew off the editors' shelves, and competed to find the most effective way of expressing the Admiral's links with the distant past:

[text of article left]

Admiral Sir Erasmus Ommanney was born in the year before the battle of Waterloo, on May 22, 1814, and entered the Navy in August, 1826, eleven years before Queen Victoria came to the throne. He was the son of Sir Francis Molyneux Ommanney, M.P. for Barnstaple and Navy Agent. His first ship was the Albion, a famous seventy-four of the Napoleonic War, built while Nelson was alive, and in her, as a midshipman, he had his first experience of fighting – at the battle of Navarino. At Navarino the Albion was in the hottest of the fighting, and was run alongside of by a Turkish two-decker, whose men swarmed on board en masse in a desperate attempt to capture the vessel. [...text missing in original..]. task he fought a smart action with a flotilla of Russian gunboats, which he defeated and drove out from under the shelter of some heavy shore batteries. After the war, Sir Erasmus Ommanney served successively in the West Indies, in the Channel, and the Mediterranean, as captain of the Brunswick, of eighty guns. Our portrait is by Russell and Sons, Southsea.

West Gippsland Gazette, June 30th 1903
Sir Erasumus Ommanney, who was lying ill on May 18th, is one of the oldest sailors who have sailed under the British flag. He is an astonishing link with the historic past. He was in the King's Navy when Lord Liverpool was Prime Minister of England, and was fighting for his country before the grass had grown over Canning's grave. George the Fourth was on the Throne when he received his baptism of fire at Navarino, and it is amazing to remember that that battle was fought all but eighty years ago. Sir Erasmus Ommanney was there, under the command of Admiral Codrington, and he is perhaps, the only man now living who would give us a first hand description of what the Duke of Wellington called "that untoward event." Admiral Ommanney, in those far-off days, assisted at the landing of the British Army in Lisbon, helped to destroy the Turkish Fleet at Navarino, was on the yacht which conveyed Queen Adelaide to Holland and back, and explored the Arctics in search of the missing whalers under Sir James Ross. Few men can look back so far and say, "I was alive then"; but how many can look back, one wonders, and say, "I was present at that event?" Admiral Ommanney, seventy years ago and more, was helping to shape the history of the world. He is perhaps the only officer who has fought for England side by side with Russia and against her. He had around him at Navarino French and Russian troops, concentrating their strength upon the destruction of the Turkish and Egyptian fleet, and in later years, in the Crimea, he found himself commanding vessels whose guns were turned against his old comrades. He was closely associated with the fortunes of Greece in the early years of last century, and was at Athens during the revolution of 1844 and the establishment of the Constitution which followed. It would be almost as easy to say what Admiral Ommanney has not done as to say what he has done. It was he who found the first traces ever discovered of Sir John Franklin's lost ships. He spent the winter of 1850 as near the North Pole as he could get, and was sixty days in travelling 500 miles over the ice. His exploration of the coast added something to our knowledge of the Arctics. He has been at the other side of the world, too. Before Queen Victoria came to the throne Sir Erasmus Omrnanney was searching the Antarctic world for lost whaling crews. He was under the son of Sir John Ross, and has vivid memories of the winter he spent in Baffin's Bay and along the coasts of Greenland and Labrador. He has medals for these services to peace as well as distinctions for heroism in war, and it is not surprising that such a man has more letters after his name than there are in the alphabet. If he were well enough to follow it, Admiral Ommanney would be interested in the dawn of a new era in Ireland. There is hardly a place between the Poles which he has not known in the course of his wonderful life, and he has been in Ireland too. More than half a century ago he was there during a famine, helping to alleviate the sufferings of the people...

For all that, his funeral was a remarkably restrained affair:

Portmouth Evening News, 28 December 1904
A fog hung over Mortlake on Tuesday afternoon when the remains of the late Admiral Ommanney were laid to rest. The coffin was brought to Wimbledon station, and thence by road to Mortlake Cemetery. In the same train travelled the Rev EA Ommanney (the eldest son), Mr E W Hansell (son- in-law), Commander E D Ommanney (a nephew), and a bearer party from the Royal Naval Barracks, Ports. At the graveside, awaiting the arrival of the coffin were Colonel Albert Ommanney, Captain Ommanney, Mr Charles Ommanney CMG, and Sir Montagu Ommanney (nephews), Colonel Monagu Ommanney and Colonel Edward Ommannel (cousins), Mr Edmund F T Bennett (a nephew by marriage) and Admiral Sir Digby Morant... The coffin, still covered with a Union flag, and having on it the late Admiral’s cocked hat, sword, and scimitar – a Navarino trophy, which he highly prized – was borne from the hearse to the grave by six bluejackets. The seventh man of the party walked behind the coffin, and carried a cushion on which rested the late Admiral’s orders and medals.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Curse of Manaton

Admiral Cornthwaite Ommanney married Martha Manaton in 1773. Every English Ommanney I have found can be traced back to Cornthwaite and Martha, and it seems that they remembered her because 'Manaton' reappears frequently as a given name in the succeeding generations.

For such a successful family, though, it is remarkable how much bad luck seems to have fallen into the path of those Ommanneys with the Manaton name. With the notable exception of Admiral Henry Manaton Ommanney (1778-1857), who somehow managed to live a full and successful life*, other Manatons met an unfortunate fate:

Manaton Collingwood Ommanney (1813-1857) died at the siege of Lucknow. According to A Personal Narrative of the Siege of Lucknow by L.E. Ruutz Rees (1858), 'he was quietly sitting in his chair when a cannon ball hit him on the head and scattered a portion of his brains...', which seems unlucky, even in a siege. He died shortly after. His wife and daughters made it out alive, and will be the subjects of another post.

Ernest Manaton Ommanney, son of Francis Ommanney and Julia Metcalfe, died in Brighton at the age of ten in 1862.

Manaton Francis Ommanney, son of Manaton Collingwood Ommanney, was not present at the Siege of Lucknow, but died in England just a few weeks after appearing in the 1861 census, at age 13.       
Octavia Manaton Ommanney (1856-1928) lived a long life, but as the only spinster among her sisters was left with the task of nursing the irascible Octavius Ommanney (of whom much more is said in another post) through his long declining years as an invalid. When he died in 1901, poor Octavia was handed the task of nursemaiding her great-nephews and nieces.

Arthur Manaton Ommanney (born 21 November 1842) was randomly murdered in Bengal in October 1865:

Waterford Chronicle, 1 December 1865
Another victim has fallen by the hand of a fanatic assassin on the frontier (says the Lahore Chronicle of October 7). Arthur Manaton Ommanney Lieut. in the Cavalry of the Guide Corps stationed at Murdan, was riding on the evening of the 3r inst. past the house in which the band practices, when a Musselman approached him saying he had a petition to make; at the same time, seizing the horse’s rein he stabbed poor Ommonney with a knife under the right armpit. The murderer was immediately apprehended by the bandsmen, and is now in safe custody. He states that he is a native of Bela, near Jelallahad, a follower of Synd Moharuk Shah of Mulkah and had come to Murdan with the express determination of taking the life of a “Feringhee” in revenge for the burding of Mulkah, during the Umbeylah campaign. After the above was in type we received information that the murderer, having been convicted on the clearest evidence, was hanged on the 5th inst.

Henry Manaton Ommanney (1871-1910) died in his 30s.

Harold Manaton Ommanney (1884-1965) was imprisoned for, and ruined by, fraud.

Yorkshire Evening Post, 28 June 1939
Harold Manaton Ommanney (55), partner in a firm of London solicitors, flushed and bowed his head in the dock at the Old Bailey to-day when Mr Justice Hilbery told him: “For years and years you have been cruelly plundering your clients”. ...Detective-Inspector Journing said that Ommanney was married with a son and a daughter. From 1914 to 1919 he served as an able seaman in the RNVR...
Mr G D Roberts, for the defence, said Ommanney did not wish to try to shift the responsibility for what he admitted onto other shoulders. It was clear from the tragic history of the case that the overdrawings started in 1917, before Ommanney was an active member of the firm.
Ommanney was away on active service until he was demobilised in February, 1919. The overdrawings started in a comparatively small way, and when Ommanney came back he ought to have stopped them, but he was too weak. Each year the position became worse and each year he became less capable of taking that strong action.
From small beginnings the fraud grew and grew. Ommanney was now utterly and completely ruined.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Hilbery said the prisoner... began with an education which put him into surroundings where the influences brought to bear on him could be nothing but the best. From those bright beginnings he stood now disgraced, ruined and in the shadow of gaol...

Harold Manaton Ommanney was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on 28 June 1939. He was struck off in November 1939.

*Mostly. He did have to watch his son being court-martialled and demoted, permanently as it turned out, according to one source because of a disagreement with Admiral Ommanney himself.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Francis Downes Ommanney

Francis Downes Ommanney by Bassano Ltd.
half-plate film negative, 25 May 1939
Given to the National Portrait Gallery by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974

Francis Downes Ommanney was born in 1903 to a prosperous branch of the family that was just passing the zenith of its fortunes. He became a writer, and was later to portray himself as a sensitive child driven by circumstances into a scientific career. It was this career however that later took him around the world and gave the impulse to his travel writing. His books, taken in order, constitute a detailed biography. 

Francis was forever alone. Even in the furthest reaches of a declining Empire he seems neither to have sought out the company of his countrymen nor to have resisted them sufficiently vigorously to have avoided those uncomfortable social occasions  which he records with an unflattering pen.

Ommanney's mother was the granddaughter of the distinguished Victorian naturalist, Sir Richard Owen. He has plenty to say of his father, makes a brief mention of his distinguished grandfather Sir Montagu, but it is not clear how much he knew of earlier generations or of other branches of the family.

On the death of Ommanney’s grandmother the family was obliged to quit the house it had been granted by Queen Victoria in Richmond Park (it is no longer standing) and to fall back on its own means, which were by this period dwindling rapidly. This alarming downward slide accelerated when Ommanney’s father resigned his partnership of a successful firm of solicitors at the outbreak of the First World War, and attempted to obtain a commission, in the face of a surprising reluctance on the part of the authorities that was perhaps not entirely due to his age. The episode is entertainingly recalled in The House in the Park. After some months his efforts were finally met with success and he departed, jubilantly, for France, leaving his family more ill-served than ever.

The young Ommanney’s outdated notions of the British class structure were by now crumbling. As he was later to write in The House in the Park:

At one time, I think I might have been called a snob with some truth. I seem to remember getting a kick out of knowing the right people in the suburb where we lived and by that, of course, I meant the rich people those who lived aloofly in the big houses behind high walls overtopped by cedar-trees as opposed to those who lived in small houses surrounded by low railings overtopped by privet hedges or by nothing at all, unashamedly open to the street. I also had intellectual pretensions, I think – especially at college where, failing to shine in the athletic sphere, I cast about for some less exhausting, more easily attainable sphere to shine in. But nowadays I realize that I am an average moderately but certainly not exceptionally, well-educated middle-brow, I think I must be that elusive individual "the man in the street." My tastes and opinions – I hardly know them. As with most people, I suspect, they are mainly a collection of attractions and repulsions, At any rate at nearly forty I have no pretensions. The balloon of my youthful self-conceit has long ago lost all its gas, as indeed It should have done by now and floated gently down to earth. I have no particular social position, no wish to fill my address-book with high-sounding names or to frequent fine houses that do not belong to me. No mantelpiece of mine has ever been a gallery of invitation cards. I have a fair number of friends with all sorts of tastes and inclinations who earn their living-or did before the war-in all sorts of ways. I have a little money, but only a little, and have earned it all.

 So there I am. I can say with truth that I do not pretend to be anything that I am not. On the other hand I do not affect to despise all these things that I do not possess, like the fox gazing at the grapes, for inverted snobbishness is the silliest variety of this harmless laughable vice. I should like to be better read and better educated than I am but from now on I expect I shall gain experience but not culture. And it must be fun to be rich, to move about in expensive and gilded circles, to be surrounded by beautiful things and decorative gay people. I enjoy lunching at the Ritz. I love the delights and graces of this world and sometimes sigh, as we all do, for a fuller, richer life than has been granted to me. But I know that, having got thus far with much but without a good deal, I am not now likely to add very much to myself. I might find a nugget lying in the street or someone might suddenly leave me a million pounds, but I am afraid I should find these benefits less useful now than I should have, say, twenty years ago. So I must make do with what I have been given, as we all must in the long run, and not pretend to have gone further or climbed higher than in fact I have lest I be one day compelled, publicly and with shame, to take a lower place.

After the Great War, from which Ommanney's father returned enthused and relatively unscathed, the family settled on a terraced house in Kent - a turn of fortune which mortified the young Ommanney and his sister Mary.

In his second autobiographical volume, The River Bank, Ommanney recounts how he moved on from a series of undistinguished boarding schools to begin his scientific career at Imperial College in London. It comes as something of a surprise that the sensitive boy with artistic pretentions is now to follow the path of his great-grandfather, but the family’s expectations of what might be done with ‘this wretched boy’ would permit nothing less. He stumbles on, despite a weakness in mathematics, and in 1926 obtains an appointment as Assistant Lecturer in Zoology at East London (now Queen Mary) College. Other episodes described in The River Bank include his bewilderment at the ravings of an anti-semitic colleague whom he couldn’t quite bring himself to dislike, his unlikely role as a blackleg worker in the London dockyards during the General Strike of 1926, and his struggles with his inconvenient sexuality. His self-portrait is somewhere between feckless and cowardly, but there is something almost heroic about his blank refusal to paper over his own lack of heroism, and he possesses at least a sense of self-awareness that his fellows lack. As he wrote of his actions in the General Strike:

We all felt a bit self-conscious about this episode when we got back to the college Union. The boasting of those who had volunteered soon became boring and was thought to be rather bad form. I think we most of us felt we had panicked like a flock of sheep and I do not believe I would have acted in a similar way had such an emergency arisen again.

Such frankness lies at the heart of much of the attraction of his writing.

From The River Bank. Back L to R: Francis Downes Ommanney, Francis Frederick Ommanney, Rupert John Ommanney, Theoroda Ommanney. Front L to R:  Olive Ommanney (nee Owen), Olive Mary Ommanney and Lorne Currie. The wedding was that of Olive and Lorne (2 September 1904 – 29 May 1941) on 29 August 1929. FDO had just heard of the success of his application to join the Discovery II. ‘I went down to Mary's wedding with excitement and adventure before me and new a joy and hope almost as great as, though different from, hers.’
Ommanney was to do his growing up late – and rapidly – at the turn of the decade. In 1929 he joined the staff of the ‘Discovery’ Committee, setting sail from Cardiff in September on the Norwegian whaling vessel Antarctic. In October he arrived at the Committee's biological laboratory at South Georgia, where he spent a season examining carcasses at the whaling station. This grisly period is covered in his most successful book, South Latitude, and is revisited several decades later from a more technical point of view in Lost Leviathan – Whales and Whaling. There is much to disturb the sensitive modern reader, though his account of the butchering of whales (‘torn limb from limb’, as Ommanney wryly remarks), remains dispassionate for the most part.

Indeed he appears to have been remarkably content (‘I was happier, though a great deal smellier, doing this than I have ever been before in my life and probably than I have ever been since.’) Although he is still prone to overturn small boats or to cause uproar by slipping over on the severed tongues of whales, and although he seems to linger helplessly in the background through every crisis, he is now a far more resilient figure than we might have expected from his earlier history.

In April 1930 Ommanney travelled to South Africa and worked at a whaling station at Durban, Natal, from June to September. He returned to South Georgia for the summer whaling season of 1930-31, before sailing for England in May 1931.

He was to make two further trips to the Antarctic with Discovery II. The first (1932) was an oceanographic survey involving a circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent, during which the ship came perilously close to becoming trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea. During his second trip (1936) he was present (we can hardly say he assisted) in the rescue of the American polar explorer, Lincoln Ellsworth, and was himself cast away on an island in the South Shetlands. His account of this period is impressively vivid, and is probably the prime cause of the book’s success.

In September 1938 he signed on at Grimsby to go to Iceland in a deep sea trawler, the Lincoln Star. His next book, North Cape, is an account of this experience.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Ommanney went south again as whaling inspector in a factory ship, returning in May 1940, ‘just as things were hotting up’. His partial colour-blindness at first prevented him from going to sea, but he finally joined the RNVR Naval Weather Service, and thereby saw active service in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. There is a pungent flavour of his experiences on the Atlantic convoys supplying armaments to the Eastern Front in his short book Flat Top – the Story of an Escort Carrier, but it takes an impressionistic rather than autobiographical tone, almost as if he is embarrassed to intrude himself into an account of great deeds.

According to a brief comment in Fragrant Harbour, Ommanney found himself in Hong Kong as part of the British naval force on the surrender of Japan in 1945, although it is not clear what he was doing there. In 1947 he joined the Colonial Service and took part in fishery research under the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund. The remaining fifteen years of his career were spent in a series of former colonies. Out of each location a book emerged. These were intended as travelogue but as always, with Ommanney, recounted with a distinct voice and informed by an inevitable autobiographical element.

His first task during this period was to undertake a survey of the banks of the Indian Ocean between Mauritius and the Seychelles, as recounted in The Shoals of Capricorn (published 1952).

In the autumn of 1950 he made a three-week trip in the Bay of Biscay aboard a fishing vessel, with the intention of learning something of a fishing method that he thought might be adopted for use off the East coast of Africa. In 1951 he travelled to Zanzibar to see what could be done; the full account can be found in Isle of Cloves, published in 1955.

In June 1952 he transferred to Singapore, where he was Director of a Fishery Research unit funded by a number of governments in the region. An account is given in Eastern Windows (1961). Following the withdrawal of funding he was appointed Reader in Marine Biology at the University of Hong Kong, a post he took up in September 1957.  Fragrant Harbour (1962) is Ommanney’s account of his Hong Kong period.

He went on to be adviser to the Korean Government on fishery research, although there is no autobiography after his departure from Hong Kong.  On his retirement, Ommanney settled in Somerset, publishing The River Bank in 1966. There are a few scientific books for a general audience from this period, including The Fishes, a copy of which can briefly been seen in the hands of Brody in the film Jaws. His last book, published in 1971, was Lost Leviathan: Whales and Whaling. It was a technical account intended for those interested in the subject, but as usual Ommanney did not quite manage to keep himself out of the picture, revisiting some of the experiences recounted in South Latitude. He died in 1980.

His books can be purchased cheaply online. The House in the Park and The River Bank are highly recommended for anyone with an interest in his biography or in the first decades of the twentieth century generally; South Latitude and North Cape contain the best of his travel writing, with Flat Top an interesting if brief outlier. His later travel writing was not as successful.

A Titanic mystery: the fate of Frederick Watson Ommanney (1864-1912)

The biography of George Campbell Ommanney, Ommanney of Sheffield, has the following to say about the descendants of Francis Molyneux Ommanney, once the MP for Barnstaple:

The grandfather of George Campbell Ommanney was Sir Francis Molyneux Ommanney. He had nine sons and three daughters. They all married and thus a large family connection was formed. It is interesting to observe that the only direct descendant of Sir Francis Ommanney’s eldest son was a victim of the Titanic disaster.

This information was supplied by George's brother, Admiral Sir Robert Nelson Ommanney. It is clearly incorrect in part, because Francis Molyneux’s eldest son Frederick Woods Ommanney had several grandchildren who lived on beyond 1912, including (if the gallant Admiral was discounting girls) a grandson, William, carrying the Ommanney name. But it is hardly likely that Admiral Ommanney got it entirely wrong – the book was after all published only two decades after the Titanic went down, when many of those who would have known would still have been alive. 

William had a brother, though – Frederick Watson Ommanney – and the probate report surely shows that Admiral Ommanney had been thinking of Frederick when he spoke to George Campbell Ommanney's biographer:

Anyone with an interest in the Titanic will immediately spot the significance of 'died 14 April 1912 at sea.'

I turn to the lists of Titanic passengers and crew, but unusually for a ship, no Ommanney is to be found. So what is going on?

The answer, perhaps, lies in the earlier history of Frederick Watson Ommanney.
A Ship’s Master, he was found to have been partly responsible for the wreck of the Dahomey in 1908:

Dundee Evening Telegraph, 31 December 1908
And has to be Beached in Order to Prevent Her Sinking.
New York, Thursday.
A cablegram received from Nassau, Providence Island, in the Bahamas, states that the Elder-Dempster liner Dahomey, a vessel of 2000 tons, is ashore on the small island of Elbow Gay.
She is reported to be badly damaged, and has to be beached in order to prevent her sinking.
The crew are all safe.

Board of Trade Wreck Report for 'Dahomey', 1908
"DAHOMEY" (S.S.). 
The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. 
In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at Liverpool, on the 6th, 7th, and 8th days of April, the 30th day of June, and the 1st day of July 1909... into the circumstances attending the stranding of the British steamship "DAHOMEY," between Whale Cay and Grand Guana Cay, Bahamas, on or about the 28th December last, and of her subsequent loss off Nassau. 
The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds for the reasons stated in the annex hereto, that the stranding and subsequent loss of the steamship "Dahomey" were caused by the negligent act and default of the master, Frederick Watson Ommanney, in navigating the ship, and the Court suspends his certificate, No. 013970, for a period of three months. 
Dated this 1st day of July, 1909. 

As an experienced Master, was Ommanney perhaps among the crew, rather than the passengers, of the Titanic? And if it were so, had he changed his identity to avoid having to reveal his history, and in order to secure such a desirable post?

I cannot leave the matter, though, without noting the following, which suggests however that Frederick's responsibility in the case of the Dahomey might not after all have been so great:

Lancashire Evening Post, 14 April 1909
The captain of the Elder Dempster liner Sokoto states that on the morning of the 26th March, while voyaging from Vera Cruz for Progreso, he saw breakers dead ahead at a spot at which, according to the chart, there should have been many fathoms of water. The course of the vessel was altered and observations taken. It is believed, says the “Yorkshire Post,” that other portions of the Gulf of Mexico, and also the neighbourhood of the Bahama Channel, have suffered considerable alterations. No fewer than three large vessels, the Elder Dempster liner Dahomey, the Newcastle steamer Hesleyside, and the Newcastle steamer Alnmere, have been totally list in the West Indies during the last six months, without any reason being ascribed. Allegations as to faulty navigation were at first made, but there now appears to be little doubt that the accidents have occurred solely through the new subterranean configurations.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

‘More vexatious than the tormentor of Sinbad’ – the unpopularity of Sir John Acworth Ommanney

Admiral Sir John Acworth Ommanney KCB was, on the face of it, a bit of a hero. Having entered the navy as a thirteen-year-old in 1786, he accompanied Lord Macartney to China in 1792, served in suppressing the munity at the Nore in 1796 when the country was trembling at the prospect of the revolution across the water spreading to English shores; and as Captain of the Albion was in the thick of the fighting at the Battle of Navarino, 20 October 1827. The battle saved the fledgling Greek state; Ommanney was made a CB and received the crosses of St Louis, the third class of St Vladimir, and the Redeemer of Greece, from the allies. He was knighted in 1835.

And yet – newspaper reports in the latter part of his career paint a picture of a curmugeonly, ineffective and even despised figure. Here are three examples.

‘There is as much difference between Admiral Ommanney and Admiral Mason in conducting the service as there is between a Hottentot boor and a courtier of the reign of Louis XIV’

From September 1840 to October 1841 John Ommanney was in command at Malta, which is to say that he ran the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean operations during the prolonged absence of the commander-in-chief, Sir Robert Stopford. The following pen-portrait from the Hampshire Advertiser of 18 December 1841 holds no punches:

(from the United Service Gazette)
The last Malta newspapers received are filled with expressions of exultation at the departure of Rear Admiral Ommanney, whose popularity at Malta appears to have been not much greater than his popularity wherever else he may happen to have been stationed. The Mediterranean fleet appears as though relieved of an incubus—an old man more teasing and vexatious than the tormentor of Sinbad. Few commanding officers have ever been so completely disliked, both by his own officers and the inhabitants of the stations on which they have served, as this morose old gentleman. His insulting reception of the deputation that waited upon him in behalf of the starving poor of Malta—his churlish refusal to allow the steamers under his command to convey the mails—and his coarse and unconciliating demeanour towards his officers—have all conduced to secure for him a most unenviable notoriety. Even the ladies of the Mediterranean fleet would not let him depart without communicating to him their opinion of him.

The Advertiser goes on to cite its evidence, which is sufficiently colourful to be worth quoting at length:

The following articles from the Malta Times and Portafoglio will show in what sort of estimation the gallant admiral is held in Malta as compared with his successor : —
“We have had of late occasion repeatedly to complain, on behalf especially of the commercial communiy, of the little regard and courtesy shown to it, and consequently to the interests of his country, by Rear Admiral Sir John Ackworth Ommanney, in as far as concerns the giving notice of the intended departure of ships of war, and particularly steamers, to places and ports with which there is no regular direct communication, and we took the opportunity of remarking, that the commanders were losers thereby of freight of bullion and specie. Our contemporary, the Portafoglio Maltese, in its number of the 15th inst. avails itself of the resignation of the command by, and departure for England of, Sir John Ommanney, to touch upon the same subject, and his views of it being pretty much in accordance with our own, we lay before our readers the following translation of his article: —
“Admiral Ommanney (says the Portafoglio) took his departure on Thursday last on board the Powerful; he returns decidedly to England, and will no longer hold any command. Is it, perhaps, as it is tried to be made out, to his political opinions that he owes his downfall? Is it, perhaps, from the circumstance of his being a Whig that his recall has been decided upon? Can it be that he is accused of not having manifested
sufficient ability in the command of a larger fleet than it has ever fallen to the lot of a rear admiral to have under his orders? Is it, peradventure, that he has made himself a source of annoyance to his officers? Most assuredly, it is difficult to arrive at the real truth. As for ourselves we cannot deny to have witnessed his departure without feeling any regret, since he has never shown himself obliging or benevolent to this island. We do not for a moment pretend that the admiral of the station should make known to the commercial classes the intended departure and object of the mission of every one of the ships of war under his order—nay, we even go the length of admitting that the interests of the public service may require that the captain himself should not know the place of his destination until he gets out to sea. But surely where was the necessity, as practised by Sir John Ommanney, of adopting this system, and at a moment when no inquietude prevailed, by sending mysteriously to sea three of her Majesty’s ships of the line for Syracuse to water! What we principally reproved Admiral Ommanney for was the not having ever permitted the commanders of steam vessels, whose sole mission was that of conveying to the crews of vessels away from Malta their letters from England, to carry the correspondence of the Malta merchants. Thus, for example, when he despatched a steam frigate to Genoa, to convey thither his family, and even, perhaps, had there been some important despatch to the British Minister at Turin, where would have been the harm had he given an opportunity to commercial interest to profit of the conveyance? When he despatched steam vessels to the coast of Syria, where the English and French packets do not yet touch, what harm would there have been in receiving the letters of merchangs? Every officer should consider himself fortunate, more especially in the time of peace, in having an opportunity of serving the commercial interests of his country and the subjects of his nation. We hope and trust, therefore, that the new admiral, whom we shall never call upon to render an accoun of his secrets, will facilitate, at least, the means of extending and developing our commercial relations. We hope to see him following the example of Admiral Stopford, who, on quitting his command, created strong sensations of regret, which we cannot profess to have felt on the occasion of the departure of Rear Admiral Ommanney. We have much pleasure in bearing witness to the considerate and accommodating conduct of Rear Admiral Sir Francis Mason, the successor of Sir John A. Ommanney, who in direct contrast to the system adopted by this latter, has given timely notice of the intended departure, and permitted post-office mails to be made up for the Phoenix for Candia… In short, there is as much difference between Admiral Ommanney and Admiral Mason in conducting the service as there is between a Hottentot boor and a courtier of the reign of Louis XIV. A rumour prevails that the ladies of several naval commanders on this station who, considering themselves not less than the mercantile classes aggrieved by the suddenly ordering away of their husbands on the eve of their admission to practique after a long absence, without any public or private service requiring such a measure, did, on the departure of Sir John Ommanney, very spiritedly address him rather a sharp but at the same time good-natured reproof, which, after sealing, they facetiously addressed in official style, putting in the left corner ‘Sealed orders for Sir J. A. Ommanney, from the ladies of the fleet, to be opened on his reaching Cape Matafus.’ How far this rumour may be true we cannot say, but ‘Se non e vero e ben trovato’.”
We are enabled to state that the politics of Sir John Ommanney had nothing whatever to do with his recall; and we are further assured that he will never be employed in any command again under the present Board of Admiralty. We trust, however, that their lordships will, before they have done with him, cause him to refund some portion of the great expense to which he has put the public service by enjoying her Majesty’s steam vessels as private packets for the use of his family….

There is reference here to Sir John’s politics, and indeed he was a thoroughgoing Whig, and was therefore liable to draw the criticism of the Tory press, deserved or not. 

‘There never was a more abominable falsehood’


Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 11 November 1839
A rule for a criminal information was on Saturday granted by the Court of Queen’s Bench, at the instance of the Attorney-General, against Alaric Watts, the printer and publisher of the “United Services Gazette,” for having published in that paper a libel reflecting on the character of Admiral Sir John Ommanney, falsely charging him with having deliberately and from the most sordid motives insulted the Queen Dowager on her arrival in the Tagus on her way from Malta to England. The affadavits of  Sir John Ommanney and Earl Howe stated, that in the month of April last, her Majesty was expected to come to the Tagus on her way from Malta to England. Sir John Ommanney, whose squadron was stationed there, sent a ship of war to conduct the Hastings, in which her Majesty sailed, into the Tagus, and Sir John Ommanney immediately sent an officer on board the Hastings, wishing to know when he should have the honour of waiting upon her Majesty to pay his respects and receive her commands. Her Majesty replied that she would receive Sir John as soon as the Hastings came to anchor. The Hastings having subsequently anchored, Sir John Ommanney, with all the officers of the squadron, went on board, and the usual etiquette observed on such occasions was strictly attended to. The party was introduced to her Majesty by Earl Howe, and Sir John Ommanney’s further attendance was then dispensed with. Sir John caused a frigate and a sloop of war to be stationed close to the Hastings, and her Majesty afterwards expressed a desire that Sir John Ommanney should be relieved from daily attendance, and directed that the Hastings should communicate by signal her Majesty’s further commands. In the course of a few days, Sir John Ommanney and the officers of the squadron had the honour of dining with her Majesty, and they went in their full uniform. When the Hastings was leaving the Tagus, her Majesty requested that the usual salute might be ommitted. Every thing, however, had been done for her Majesty’s comfort; and to show her respect a Royal salute was fired, and the ships-of-war convoyed the Hastings some distance beyond the limits of the station. Her Majesty was graciously pleased to express her entire satisfaction with the behaviour of Sir John Ommanney and the officers under his command. In spite of this, however, there appeared in a Tory Southampton newspaper a statement that Admiral Ommanney had intended to treat her Majesty with disrespect, had received her with plain clothes, and had omitted firing the usual Royal salutes. Although this was untrue, yet it had been stated in a manner that would not have called for Sir John Ommanney’s interference; but upon the 6th of July there appeared in the United Service Gazette a paragraph which had led to the present application. It first purported to give an extract from the Hampshire Advertiser, under the head of “Sir John Ommanney,” and it then stated that the ommission of the gallant Admiral to fire a Royal salute, as well as his appearing in plain clothes, had been denied, and that, upon making inquiry it was discovered that the denial was confirmed, except that Sir John Ommanney was in an undress instead of being in plain clothes. To this statement was appended a note with the letters “Ed. U.S.G.,” meaning “Editor of the United Services Gazette,” and this note stated that it was part of the duty, if not the only duty of the ancient driveller to insult the Queen Dowager. He knew that his insolence to that distinguished lady would gratify the “Minto gang” at home. He (the attorney-General) hardly need remind their Lordships that Lord Minto was First Lord of the Admiralty, and this charged Sir John Ommanney with having deliberately insulted the Queen Dowager, upon the bare supposition that hereby he would please the Government at home, and further his own promotion. Sir J. Ommanney in his affidavit positively denied ever having done any thing which did not show his anxiety to pay respect to her Majesty. In addition to this, he had the affidavit of Earl Howe, confirming him, and setting out a letter which that Nobleman wronte to Lady Ommanney by her Majesty’s command, which he would read:“Madam,I cannot allow a post to leave this place without obeying the command of Queen Adelaide, and hastening to express the annoyance her Majesty has felt at reading in the newspapers the shameful attack made on Sir John Ommanney. There never was a more abominable falsehood than the whole story. The Queen commanded me to say to you, that nothing could be more kind and attentive than Sir John’s demeanour during her Majesty’s temporary stay in the Tagus. That he was particularly anxioius to mark such attention, by directing a part of the squadron to drop down to Belem from their usual anchorage, and afterwards attend her Majesty a considerable way to sea, and that Sir John and all his officers, both in their costume and in firing their usual salutes, did every thing in their power to pay honour to their visitor. Queen Adelaide is most anxious that you should receive the most speedy refutation on the part of her Majesty of these abominable slanders, and anxiously hopes the statement I have made will prove quite satisfactory to your feelings, and those of the Admiral.
“I have the honour to be your Ladyship’s very faithful servant, HOWE.”
The Attorney-General continued.—Here was an attack against an English officer, charging him with having been guilty;
Lord Deman.—Take a rule.

[Queen Adelaide was the widow of George IV. She was known to be strongly Tory, and was suspected by many to have attempted to influence the King politically, particularly in respect of resisting the passage of the 1832 reform act. As a result she became unpopular with Whigs – who included Ommanney as well as Lord Minto, First Lord of the Admiralty.]

Queen Adelaide (1837, engraving after John Lucas)

On its own, this would amount to nothing, but in the context of other evidence, it is notable that Ommanney seemed to have so many enemies. 

'This peevish old seaman' 

The third example is from 1852, when there was some criticism of the now elderly Ommanney over his apparent lack of action following the sinking of the steamer Amazon:

Westmorland Gazette, 31 January 1852
Why did not Admiral Ommanney issue orders that a steamer should be dispatched to the scene of the Amazon’s disaster the instant the intelligence reached Plymouth?
Here is the Admiral’s explanation: — “Mr. Vincent acknowledges to have landed at one o’clock a.m. from the Marsden, and probably left by the express train at ten. During the nine hours, neither did himself, nor any other person, agent or otherwise, come near me to furnish me with any information; therefore I was in total ignorance of what had occurred, except what I had heard from the general rumour.” So during  the portion of the nine hours young Vincent and other persons who had been saved by the Marden remained in Plymouth, Admiral Ommanney was aware from public rumour of what had occurred. Why did he not act? Because no one had made an application to him for assistance. Admiral Ommanney is in some respects like the Spanish king who suffered himself to be suffocated in his chair of state rather than any but the proper officer should meddle with the fire. The royal patient, however, devoted himself, not others, at the shrine of etiquette—Admiral Ommanney contented himself with a vicarious sacrifice. During these nine hours, even if the susceptibilities of the great chieftain of the naval hierarchy at Plymouth had been in some degree irritated, surely, where human life was in question, something might have been done. We won’t talk about Mahomet and the mountain, but surely, if Mr. Vincent did not come to Admiral Ommanney, Admiral Ommanney might have sent for Mr. Vincent. He might have rebuked or mastheaded the young gentleman, and have done precisely what his own humour dictated and his dignity required, if he had extracted from him the particulars of the disaster and despatched a steamer to the scene of the action. Was it a time to play the Sir Anthony Absolute when the boats of the ill-starred Amazon were, or might be, floating about helplessly on the great waves of the Atlantic? The transaction, forsooth, must be reported to the admiralty in due form before he could act. To such keeping are the western waters of this island intrusted! Were a French fleet to heave in sight, would Admiral Ommanney consent to take formal notice of the fact before the officer in command had reported himself at the admiralty-house as “safely landed from Cherbourg with guns and military stores?” We cannot admit the Admiral’s plea as any palliation of his neglect. The Amazon was lost; he knew it by general rumour; he did not send aid because no formal application had been made to him by the survivors.
Now what was Admiral Ommanney about all this time? Why, he was grumbling and gossiping with Captain Kennedy, of the Coast Guard, “who brought some vague account.” No attempt was made by the peevish old seaman to arrive at the very truth of the facts. He waited and waited—he and his friend Captain Kennedy—“until some person would have come who would have afforded information, and have solicited assistance had it been required.” Think only of the certain benefit that would have resulted from the application! Admiral Ommanney would, under such circumstances, and upon such contingencies, when the niceties of etiquette had been satisfied, and the applicant had been trotted into his awful presence, have hemmed three times, dilated his cheeks as often, and formally commenced proceedings, “Young man,” he would have said—from this point we copy the Admiral’s letter—“some questions naturally occur to me as a sailor. Tell me as to the place where the accident took place, the state of the wind and the weather at the time, how the wind blew after the people were put into the boat and after the explosion of the vessel.” And what then? What then? Shades of Exmouth and Collingwood—what then? “The answers to these questions may be the groundwork for taking into consideration the necessity of sending out a vessel.” Why not call a court martial to sit upon the question that day week? Why not advertise the resolution “of taking the point into consideration” in three consecutive county papers before proceeding to act upon it? Did Sir John Ommanney and his friend Captain Kennedy make up their minds to sleep upon it for fear of action too precipitate? And all this while the poor creatures who had made good their escape from the Amazon were tossing about in the wild waves in open boats without helm or rudder, drink or food! But, then, Mr Vincent hadn’t called and left a card on Sir John Ommanney—not even a “P.P.C.”—when he was about to leave town.
…Sir John Ommanney—the greater shame to him—left it to our French neighbours to send out a steamer to see if aught could be done to help the survivors. Our own tardy expedition has proved fruitless.

Either the criticism was well-deserved, or Ommanney had an awful lot of enemies. More likely, both. The overall picture is of a boorish man, puffed up with his own importance, and inflexibly wedded to the rules, whatever the cost to others.

Sir John died on 18 July 1855. The Derby Telegraph reported simply that ‘We regret to announce the death of that very old and intelligent officer, Sir John Acworth Ommanney.’ “Old and intelligent” is the best I can find anyone to have said about him in a long public career. It is not much.

Octavius Ommanney

A pillar of the Victorian community, Octavius Ommanney’s occasionally detailed cameos in the local press suggest a Pickwickian figure, by turns genial and ludicrous.

Baptised on 19 January 1816 and educated at Winchester, Octavius went on to run the family naval agency, Ommanney and Son. 
photo courtesy of Leander Club

As a young man he rowed for the Leander Club (then based in Lambeth on what is now the site of St Thomas' Hospital) in the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley in 1840 (commemorative plaque, left).

He married Helen Gream on 2 September 1841 at Uckfield, Sussex, and they had eight children between 1843 and 1856, several of whom had notable careers.
In the introduction to the biography of his son George, Ommanney of Sheffield, Octavius' third son Sir Robert Nelson Ommanney recalls him as follows:

My father was a man who always took a great interest in local affairs; he was Churchwarden of the Parish Church of Mortlake, before Christ Church was built at East Sheen, and later he was also Churchwarden of that church. He was a keen sportsman, and a splendid shot; he was also a good oarsman, and rowed in the first race for the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. He also took a great interest in the Volunteer Movement. This movement started when I was very young, but I well remember both my father and my eldest brother, Frederick, used to go to drill on Sheen Common after returning home from their business in London. My father eventually became Colonel of one of the Surrey Regiments, and he was granted the Volunteer medal. About the year 1870 my father gave up his house at East Sheen, and went to live at Bloxham. He remained there until his death in 1901, and took the same interest in local affairs as he had done at East Sheen and Mortlake.

When the precursor to the Territorial Army, the Volunteer Movement, was founded in 1859, Octavius quickly became involved:

The London Gazette, 28 February 1860
9th Surrey Rifle Volunteers
Lieutenant Octavius Ommaney to be Captain. Dated 25th February 1860.

From contemporary advertisements for recruits it appears that the Surrey Rifle Volunteers drilled at 8pm four days a week during the 1860s; it was no idle hobby.

In 1862 the family business amalgamated with a firm of bankers and naval agents to become Hallett, Ommanney and Co. Octavius was also a Director of the National Bank of Ireland and Deputy Chairman of the Contract Corporation, which undertook the construction of railways and other public works at home and abroad. He was also, possibly, capable of being a bit of a bore:

Surrey Comet, 2 November 1867
The second of the series of Penny Readings for the present session was given on Monday evening to a highly respectable and crowded audience. The chair was occupied by Mr. H. Hunt. Several good recitations and readings were given, but the one by Major Ommanney appeared too long for some of the audience…. 

This is all highly respectable Victorian stuff, and rather dull. Dull, that is, until you search for Octavius in the contemporary press. Then a more interesting picture begins to emerge:

Western Daily Press, 20 September 1869
A summons was issued on Friday from the Wandsworth police court, against Major Ommanney, of the volunteer service, for interfering with the comfort of the passengers at the Clapham Junction Station. The gallant major would appear to be of the order of General Boom. He went to the station with a party of volunteers, and his ticket was demanded. He refused to produce it, ordered his men to do the same, then drew his sword, and made a great disturbance.

On 2 October 1869 the following exchange was published in the Surrey Comet:

Sir,--In your paper of the 25th, you state that a summons against me was adjourned on account of my absence in Belgium; as those who know that I have not been from home may think that I used a false pretext to have it adjourned, I request you will contradict that statement, which is as false as the accusation of an assault, or of drawing my sword, and to disprove which I shall produce 100 witnesses.
Yours most obediently,
East Sheen, Sept. 27.
[Our reporter informs us that he merely reported the application for the adjournment as made by Mr. Haynes, jun., who appeared for Major Ommanney, and that he is confirmed in the correctness of his report of Mr. Haynes’s remarks by the accounts published in some of the evening and morning papers. The gallant defendant may not have been in Belgium, but at all events his representative said he had to be there.- ED. S.C]

Later on the very same page, Octavius appears again, this time as a magistrate. A gypsy boy has been brought up, seemingly for being in possession of a suspiciously expensive coat. Octavius’ voice is heard: “Go away, and get your hair cut, and don’t show your nose here again. (Laughter). – Prisoner vanished.”

Following the hearing on the Clapham Junction incident later that month, the true picture begins to emerge:

South London Chronicle, 16 October 1869
Major Ommanney, one of the Surrey magistrates, appeared to answer three summonses, one with interfering with the comfort of passengers on the South-Western Railway, at Clapham Junction Station, and the others for assaulting two of the company's servants.
The summonses had several times been adjourned and now came on for hearing. On the night of the 30th of August last, a special train arrived at the Clapham Junction station from Portsmouth with a number of volunteers. The defendant, who was in uniform, refused to show his ticket, and tried to pass down the steps. Thomas Armstrong, the ticket collector, prevented him, and while Joseph Channings a porter, was assisting, he was kicked by the major on the leg. Defendant called out “Don't show your tickets, I am responsible.” There was a general rush, a number of volunteers, with other persons, passed down the steps without showing their tickets. It also appeared that persons were prevented from going up the steps, and that a Richmond train which was waiting for passengers from the other, was delayed ten minutes in consequence of the uproar and confusion.
Mr. Haynes, who defended, gave an emphatic denial to any assault being committed, and complained of rough treatment to the major. He said the defendant engaged a special train, and purchased tickets, which he handed to volunteers and their friends for the purpose of an excursion to the Isle of Wight. On a former occasion they were not called upon when they returned to produce their tickets, and the major believing on the night in question that the Richmond train was starting and that some of the party would be left behind, rather precipitately took upon himself to say it was not necessary to draw their tickets. He (Mr. Haynes) then read a correspondence which had taken place between the major and Mr. Scott, the manager of the South-Western Railway, from which it appeared that the latter had required an apology, that one was sent after the summonses were issued, but it was not accepted. The apology was in effect that the defendant regretted having been the instrument for the misconduct at the station by telling persons that they need not produce their tickets.
Mr Dayman said if the apology had been read before, an hour of his time might have been saved, for the really important summons which he had to consider was the one for interfering with the comfort of passengers. He wished to know why he was troubled to go on with the case when an apology had been given.
After some conversation, Mr. Potter, the company's superintendent of police, said he would leave the case in the hands of the magistrate.
Mr. Dayman said the summons for the interference would be withdrawn, and the others dismissed, he considering that the servants of the company may have made a mistake in the confusion which prevailed, as to the major kicking the porter.
On the decision being known, there was a loud cheer from a number of volunteers who were outside the court.

A verbatim record of the trial appeared in the Surrey Comet on 16 October 1869 for those in search of more detail. A month later, and it has all become material for a joke:

Surrey Comet, 20 November 1869
...Major Ommanney on rising to respond was received with much applause. He said he had been received in such a flattering manner that he felt great difficulty in expressing his feelings. After alluding to some of the difficulties which he had had to encounter during the past year, and which he said had rendered his position anything but a bed of roses, the gallant major referred to the Clapham Junction affair. He had been excessively amused on being told by a friend who came from abroad that he had read in the Independence Belge an account of a disturbance at Clapham Junction, in which the volunteers were said to have charged the porters, transfixed three with their bayonets, (laughter), collared and locked up the station master (laughter), and all under the orders of Major-General Ommanney. (Roars of laughter).

In 1870 Octavius and his family moved from Surrey to Bloxham in Oxfordshire. The local press published the following report of a farewell event arranged by the community:

The Surrey Comet, 29 October 1870


On Thursday evening a meeting was held at the National Schools, Mortlake, for the purpose of presenting a testimonial to Mr. Octavius Ommanney on the occasion of his leaving the parish. [A long list of attendees follows].
The Chairman said they had met for a very gratifying purpose—to offer a testimonial to Mr. O. Ommanney on his leaving Mortlake, as a token of their appreciation of the valuable services he had rendered to the parish during a residence of many years. Those who took an active interest in parish matters found that they were in no sinecure or bed of roses, and that they could better consult their own personal comfort by staying at home by their fireside. Mr. Ommanney, however, had taken a very full share of parish matters, as the list of them would show. The Chairman having read from the address, a copy of which we give below, a list of the offices which had been filled by Mr. Ommanney, concluded as follows: —Mr. Ommanney, we very much regret that you are going to leave us; but we trust that the testimonial which we are about to present will be an additional link between you and ourselves, and that it will prove that we have not forgotten the very valuable services rendered by you during many years’ residence among us. I have great pleasure, on behalf of the parishioners, in presenting to you this testimonial, and in expressing the hope that in your new home you and yours will enjoy every happiness. (Cheers).
Mr Penrhyn, as one of the oldest inhabitants, bore testimony to the valuable services rendered to the parish by Mr. Ommanney. It was gratifying to notice how deeply all classes felt Mr. Ommanney’s departure. Having alluded to the useful work done by Mr. Edward Ommanney, Mr. Penrhyn said that some little time after Mr. Edward Ommanney was withdrawn from amongst them, Mr. Octavius Ommanney came to reside there. His brother’s services had set a high standard for him, and he would put it them whether he had conformed to that standard. (Cheers). He would say, if they sought a monument of Mr. Ommanney—look around. Al his services spoke with far more eloquence than words could express. A most eloquent testimonial was seen in the silent tribute of respect and affection paid to him by the poor, whom he was always ready to visit, and to whom he and his were ever ready to administer comfort and relief. He believed that they and all the parishioners heartily wished Mr. Ommanney and the members of family God-speed in the new sphere to which they were going. (Applause).
Mr. Ommanney said he was sure they would all appreciate the difficulties under which he laboured at that moment. He could hardly give utterance to his feelings. When it pleased God such should be the course of events that it became necessary for him to withdraw from the parish, they could hardly conceive the pain it gave him to part from so may kind friends—to part from the parish of his birth, the parish of his baptism, the parish of his first communion, a parish that he had really loved and earnestly endeavored to serve. It was very gratifying to hear two such friends as Mr. Shutte and Mr. Penrhyn speak so favourably of his services; and he could truly say that what he had done he had done with a single mind for the good of the parish. They had recorded the numerous offices he had filled, and he could assure them that he had filled them with great pleasure. He had endeavored to be “all things to all men,” so far as was consistent with his position: he had taken pleasure both in associating with tradesmen and in entering the houses of the poor. (Cheers). He feared, however, that there was one whom the poor would miss more than himself—he alluded to Mrs. Ommanney (hear, hear, and applause) —because he knew the expressions they had made use of when she informed them of her intended departure from among them. The testimonial was entirely unexpected on his part, especially as some time since he received a handsome testimonial in acknowledgement of his services as churchwarden. He thanked them exceedingly for their valuable testimonial. He should often look at it, and always think of Mortlake. (Applause). He should still retain the office of treasurer of the parish stock, so that they would probably see him once a year—on Easter Tuesday. (Cheers). In leaving Mortlake he felt as if he were severing one half of himself from the other half. He wished them and all in the parish every blessing, and trusted they would be saved from some of the difficulties which during the last few years had fallen on himself. (Cheers).
The testimonial consisted of a handsome massive silver tea tray, two silver waiters, and a gold chronometer watch, all bearing suitable inscriptions; also the following address, beautifully illuminated:—
“The undermentioned friends and fellow parishioners of Octavius Ommanney, Esq., gratefully remembering this many and valluable services rendered to their parish at Mortlake, Surrey, during a period of thirty years in the several offices following – viz, as treasurer of the parish stock, treasurer and trustee of the national schools, vicar’s churchwarden of St. Mary’s Church, parish churchwarden, overseer of the poor, captain of the fire brigade, Major Commandant of the 9th Surrey Volunteer Rifles, hon. Secretary of Christ Church building committee, and as the zealous promoter in his private capacity of allthat could tend to the welfare of his neighbours—offer to him on the occasion of his ceasing to reside at Mortlake, a Testimonial consisting of a silver tea tray and two waiters, and a gold chronometer watch, accompanied by their sincerest wishes for the future happiness of himself and his family. —October, 1870.” (Then follow the names of 236 subscribers to the testimonial.)
The address is bound in morrocco extra, with bevelled edges; on the cover is Mr. Ommanney’s crest in relief and inside in addition to the address and the names, are two photographs of St. Mary’s Church and Christ Church.

On arrival in Bloxham, though, it was not long before Octavius was making an impression:

Oxford Times, 17 December 1870
On Monday evening the employees of Messrs. Barratt and Bartlett, builders having completed some alterations at the new residence of O. Ommaney, Esq., that gentleman kindly entertained the whole of those employed on the works, to the number of 40, to a most substantial dinner at the White Lion Inn. Mr Ommaney presided. There were also present, Messrs. Barratt and Bartlett and a few friends. After dinner the health of Mr. Ommaney was proposed by Mr. Barratt, coupled with a few words of thanks on behalf of the men for his hospitality that evening, and accompanied thoroughly with musical honours. The employers likewise came in for their share of greeting. Some characteristic songs were sung, and the meeting separated after singing the National Anthem.

In 1873 it appears that Octavius indulged in visions of becoming an MP. He embarked on a campaign in faraway Barnstaple on the seemingly tenuous basis that his father had been the Barnstaple MP half a century earlier; – it was a campaign which seems peculiarly amateurish even by Victorian standards:

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, September 26, 1873
Another candidate for the representation of this borough issued his address to the electors yesterday. The new aspirant to Parliamentary honours is Mr Octavius Ommanney, a Lieutenant-Colonel of the 2nd Surrey A.B.R.V. He states that in politics he is a Liberal-Conservative, that his father (the late Sir Francis Ommanney) had the honour of representing the borough for a period of six years, and that, therefore, he may claim some connection with the constituency. He adds that he will issue a longer address in a few days, and will then take the opportunity of commenting upon the various topics of the day.

The Birmingham Daily Post of the same date added wryly that ‘This gentleman… comes forward without being requested to do so by the leaders of either party…’. It is not clear whether he ever got round to giving his more extensive comment upon the ‘topics of the day’, but he certainly never reached Westminster. I have not traced a record of his performance in the election, if indeed he was still in the race at that stage.

There is plenty of evidence of Octavius’ comfortable position in Victorian society during his long retirement. As a typical example, here he is presiding at at dinner for the Banbury cricket club at the Joiners’ Arms Inn on Tuesday 30th October 1883, together with the ‘principal farmers and tradesmen of the parish’. 

Oxford Journal, 17 November 1883
‘Forty sat down to dinner, after which the usual loyal and patriotic toasts were given and duly honoured…
Mr. Finch, timekeeper on the Banbury and Cheltenham railway, next indulged the company with a parody on the itinerant quack and philosopher, the droll, witty recital of which fairly convulsed all with laughter.—The Chairman [Ommanney], before proposing the next toast, said he had come a good many miles to be present that evening with them. He thought the last meeting was one of the most cordial and happy meetings he had seen in Bloxham…
Mr John Barrett thanked the President and gentlemen present for the gracious manner in which his health had been proposed and drank… In return he wished to propose “The health of Mr. and Mrs. Ommanney.” He did not know any gentleman who had been more maligned and less understood than Mr. Ommanney had been, especially by the poor of the place, for whose interest and welfare both he and Mrs Ommanney had incessantly worked. He relied upon the time that would bring its own conviction that no better busy workers for their good existed in the parish. —The toast was drunk with musical honours, and with cheers for Mrs. and Miss Ommanney and family.

There is a surely a story in this ‘maligned and misunderstood’, though I have yet to trace it. 
In 1892 he appears in Sheffield with his equally maligned and misunderstood son, the Rev. George Campbell Ommanney, confirming the picture of a man who was not afraid to speak his mind, or his prejudices:

Sheffield Independent, 23 September 1892
After the service the customary annual luncheon was held at the Cambridge Hall, Cambridge Street. Viscount Halifax has been expected to preside, but the recent death of a relative... prevented his attendance. In his absence Colonel Ommanney, J.P., father of the vicar, presided....
The CHAIRMAN proposed “Church and Queen.” observing that her Majesty was highly honoured by her health being drunk in connection with the Church. He also referred to the Lincoln judgment as an occasion for great rejoicing. In every point of ritual and doctrine, the holdings of the Primate were sustained, which showed great progress in the Church over which they were entitled to rejoice, leaving other people—since the Church of England was composed of people of different opinions—to do as they liked about it. The Church Association at any rate was beaten, and had been taught a lesson not to pry into country churches to see what persons were doing. They had better not send down to St. Matthew's—(laughter)—or, if they did, they had better do so on a day like that, when they would see so fine a service as that of that morning.
...The Rev. J. WYLDE proposed “The Chairman,” and
The CHAIRMAN, in responding, observed that last year he got foul of the Independent newspaper because he said that General Booth had collared money which the clergy could have done better with, and more to turn people to right ways. He still stuck to that. (Laughter). He had got that newspaper extract in his shaving drawer, and occasionally looked at it and laughed. (Renewed laughter). They had friends there from East London. Had the Salvationists done any good whatever in East London? From all he had heard from clergy they had absolutely done nothing at all. How had they spent that £100,000? He should like to have it to charter a steamer and go all round the world with. (Laughter). He did not say that some people might not do good. Everybody—clergy and laity—could do good in a way, but when a man collected £100,000 to do good—he would not say to his own pocket—(laughter) —the public had a right to an account for it. General Booth was now appealing for another £50,000. All he wanted to know was if those members of the Church of England who subscribed before were going to be such fools as to give it now.
The Rev. G. S. HALL and the Rev. A. G. S. MELVILLE also spoke briefly, and the proceedings ended.

In April 1892 he retired as churchwarden in Bloxham. It appears his age was beginning to tell.

Oxford Journal, 21 October 1893
Mr Goodwin then sang a song of his own composing, entitled “The Bloxham Fire Brigade”, the rendering of which in the chorus embodying, as it did, a lot of humour of local interest.
Mr Denchfield, in responding, expressed the pleasure he felt in Colonel Ommanney’s flattering remarks…
Mr O. V. Aplin proposed “The health of Col. Ommanney.” He was sure that all were very much indebted to him for his influence and assistance in the parish, for all purposes connected with its progress in every way. We had all heard more than enough about the G.O.M., but he was glad to think that we had a real G.O.M. for Bloxham, whose political feelings were in unison with our own, and hoped he would be long spared to live amongst us. The health of Col. and Mrs. Ommanney were drunk with musical honours, amidst much enthusiasm.

Helen Ommanney died in 1894. Octavius lived on until 1901, the note of his death in that year in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph stating that ‘he had been an invalid for several years’ (1 August 1901). The census of that year records him as ‘feeble minded’, nursed by his daughter Octavia, herself 45 years old by that time. Octavius died on 30 July.

Font by Henry Ingle Potter (1868-1957) in memory of Octavius and Helen Ommanney, 1903. St Matthew, Carver Street, Sheffield. For information on the link with this church see the blog entries for George Campbell Ommanney. As at 2014 the font was still in regular use at St Matthew’s.