Jellicoe:Background and Early Life

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The Life of Admiral of the Fleet
John Rushworth Jellicoe,
First Earl Jellicoe

5 December, 1869 – 20 November, 1935
Jellicoe, 1920.JPG
Background and Early LifeService as LieutenantCommanderCommand and ChinaDirector of Naval OrdnanceFlag Rank and ControllerSea Service and Second Sea LordCommand of the Grand FleetThe War at Sea, 1914-1916The Battle of JutlandAfter JutlandFirst Sea Lord and the Submarine MenaceControversy and DismissalEmpire TourGovernor-General of New ZealandThe Jutland ControversyRetirementDeath and Legacy

John Rushworth Jellicoe was born at 1 Cranbury Place,[1] Southampton, England on 5 December, 1859. He was the second son and child of a family of four boys and two girls[2] and from an early age was known as "Jack."

John Henry Jellicoe (b. 1825—d. 1914), his father, was a captain in the Royal Mail Line shipping company and would later become Commodore of its fleet and a director of the line. Otherwise the male Jellicoe ancestry was undistinguished, except on Jack's paternal grandmother's side with the Gardiner baronets. On his mother's side however was a long tradition of service in the Royal Navy. His great-great-grandfather Captain Philip Patton fought at La Hogue in 1692. Jellicoe's great-grandfather, who was also named Philip Patton, fought in nine actions under Admirals Boscawen, Hawke, Pocock, Rodney, Digby and Parker during the latter half of the 18th century. Patton was Second Sea Lord at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar and rose to become an Admiral of the Red.

Two of Jellicoe's maternal grandfather's brothers joined the navy; Charles Keele rose to be an admiral and Edward Keele was a midshipman aboard H.M.S. Java during the War of 1812. He was killed during his ship's fight with the United States Navy frigate U.S.S. Constitution on 29 December, 1812.[3] Henry Lambert, the captain of H.M.S. Java, was also killed in the battle with Constitution. One of Lambert's descendants, Admiral Sir Cecil Foley Lambert, served on the Board of Admiralty as Fourth Sea Lord during Jellicoe's tenure as Second Sea Lord.[4]

Later in life, Jellicoe noted:

In my early days, until I was 13 years old, my family lived at Southampton on account of my father's association with the Royal Mail Steam packet Company. For many years he acted as Superintendent of the Line at that Port. I spent a good deal of my spare time, as did my two brothers respectively two years older and two years younger than myself, in the docks or on the water front, and we had some experience of yachting both in small craft & large yachts, amongst the latter being the racing yacht belonging to Count Bathgany [Gusztáv Batthyány].
It is not therefore surprising that from my earliest days I never thought of any other career than that of the sea. My father himself went to sea at 12 years of age, and commanded a ship at the age of 21. My ambition was to join the Navy, and a nomination was given me in 1872 by Admiral Breck Hall, a friend of my father's, at that time Private Secretary to the First lord of the Admiralty. I recollect in those early days of ambition writing in a corner of one of my books "This is the property of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe.["] From the age of 6½ to 10 I was at a school in Southampton kept by The Misses Shapcott, and then for a year at a larger school, and, when 11 years old went to a preparatory school at Field House, Rottingdean, kept by the Messrs. Hewett, which [I] passed into the Britannia in the Summer of 1872 at the age of 12½, taking second place in the entry examination.[5]

Jellicoe was educated first from the age of six at a "dame-school" run by the Misses Shapcott in Southampton, at which he remained until he was ten years old. After a year at a larger school he then attended Field House school at Rottingdean, where he was given a grounding in classics and mathematics. From an early age Jellicoe, influenced by the surroundings of maritime Southampton and his family heritage, wanted to join the Royal Navy. His father had doubts as to whether they could afford it,[6] as parents had to pay fees to the amount of £40 per annum while their children were naval cadets.[7] However, Jellicoe's mother insisted that he should attend if he wanted to,[6] and in 1872 a nomination to join the navy was given to him by Captain Robert Hall, a friend of the family who was then serving as Naval Secretary to the Admiralty. At the age of twelve and a half he came second in the entrance examination and passed into the training ship Britannia as a naval cadet on 15 July, 1872.[8][9]

Training to be a British naval officer was an extremely long process. When Jellicoe joined only boys between the ages of twelve and thirteen and a half were allowed to take the entrance examination, which at the time was described to be "easy" (in 1873 it became much more competitive)[10] His time in Britannia was divided into two years split into four terms.[11] While in Britannia he was given only one punishment, four days No. 7 consisting of an hour's drill with a Brown Bess rifle and an hour standing facing the ship's side after the rest of the cadets had gone to bed. His crime was to join in a "raid" on a local apple orchard.[11] He later recalled spending much of his spare time aloft and boating, and considered that the system of fagging, whereby junior naval cadets essentially acted as servants to senior cadets, was "perhaps overdone."[12]

While at Dartmouth the Captain of Britannia, Captain the Honourable Fitzgerald Algernon Charles Foley, happened to meet Jellicoe's mother in Ryde. After she left he remarked to another lady whose company he was in, "I wonder if Mrs. Jellicoe realises that her son John is one of the cleverest cadets we have ever had?"[13] On 16 July, 1874 Jellicoe passed out first of his term of thirty-nine boys[11] with first-class certificates in each subject for which he gained nine months' time of service, and gained another three months' time for "very good conduct" and was promoted to Midshipman.[9] He was awarded prizes for being first in theoretical study, seamanship and two other subjects. He was immediately appointed to the Duke of Wellington, flagship at Portsmouth for service in H.M.S. Newcastle, a sailing frigate with an auxiliary steam engine[14] which was part of the Flying Squadron.[15]

On 22 September, 1874 Jellicoe joined Newcastle, which left Sheerness on 18 October, and after calling at Plymouth and Portsmouth went cruising in foreign waters. During its three year commission the Newcastle and Jellicoe visited China, Port Stanley, Rio de Janeiro, South Africa and St. Helena, where Jellicoe visited Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb. While in Newcastle Jellicoe undertook sail training and was put in charge of one of the ship's port-side boats. His studies also continued under the tutelage of a Naval Instructor. He and the other midshipmen were divided into four watches, of which one watch was supposed to be on deck at all times, be it at sea or in harbour.[16] During the course of the cruise twenty-four men went overboard, of whom not more than half were saved.[17] Among the Lieutenants in Newcastle were Edmund Poë (later Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet) and Henry John May (founder of the War Course College). Fellow midshipmen were Doveton Sturdee (victor of the Falklands and Admiral of the Fleet) and Herbert Cust (later Hydrographer of the Navy).[18]

After a short period of leave, on 10 July, 1877 Jellicoe joined the ironclad Agincourt, Sir John Commerell's flagship in the Channel Squadron at Devonport.[19] The only two other midshipmen aboard were Charles Rushworth and Cecil Burney. The former was his cousin, who had also been a term-mate in Britannia, and the latter became a lifelong friend.[20] Shortly afterwards the squadron was despatched to reinforce the Mediterranean Squadron concentrated in the Eastern Mediterranean as a result of the Russo-Turkish War. The fleet had been ordered to stop the Russians in the event they should reach Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). Agincourt joined the fleet in August, and Jellicoe was kept busy with watchkeeping and boat-running duties. The fleet, and Agincourt, was based at the open roadstead of Besika Bay, on the Turkish coast ten miles south of the western entrance to the Dardanelles.[21] While there Rushworth jumped into the sea to help a man overboard, but unfortunately both men drowned.[22] In January, 1878 the Government ordered the fleet up the Dardanelles to Constantinople but were recalled at the last minute. The following morning the order was given again and the fleet anchored in the Sea of Marmora. The Disraeli ministry had ordered the Commander-in-Chief, Commerell to prevent the Russians from taking the Turkish positions at Bulair. At this time there were still only two midshipmen in the Agincourt (the other being Burney), and was in charge of two steamboats and four cutters. He was then made Aide-de-Camp ( to Commerell and was tasked with carrying letters from the Admiral across the Dardanelles peninsula to the Turkish commander at Bulair and to the British ships anchored in the Gulf of Xeros. He recounted in a letter to his mother:

The Admiral sent for me and asked if I would like to ride over to the Gulf of Xeros with despatches. I said 'yes' promptly. He then offered me his horse. The horse was fresh, but I am acquiring skill in horsemanship and managed him all right.[23]

He also acted as third signal officer for a period. Eventually he was relieved of some of his duties when the ship received four more midshipmen. Amongst all this activity he was able to pass his seamanship examination. From 23 March to 21 August, 1878,[24] Jellicoe served in the sailing instruction sloop Cruiser, where for the first time he became a watch officer (responsible for the running of a ship during a pre-designated period of time, called a "watch"), and gained the positive attention of Admiral Sir Geoffrey Phipps Hornby.[25] The Admiral made an inspection of Cruiser and ordered the Captain, John Hext, to tell off a midshipman to (in John Winton's words) "take charge of unmooring ship, make plain sail, sail around the fleet, return, remoor, furl sails, coil down ropes and report." Jellicoe was given the task. Cruiser closed the fleet flagship but when he opened his mouth to give the order to go about, Hornby told him not to. Jellicoe waited as his ship continued on its course, until Hornby gave a nod and the orders to turn about were given. Cruiser came around without incident, and Hornby reportedly told Jellicoe, "You have handled the ship under sail in a most skilful manner. I would be pleased to have you on the bridge of my flagship as any one of my lieutenants."[26] He recounted to his mother:

The Admiral complimented me afterwards on the way I did it, which was rather an honour. He also told me that Captain Hext had given a very good report of me and told him that I was a very good officer of the watch. He finished up wishing me a first class in Seamanship. I thought you would like to know this, though it seems rather conceited to talk about it.[27]

With the Russo-Turkish war ended, the British fleet anchored at Prinkipo (now Büyükada) in the Sea of Marmora so that officers could visit Constantinople. Jellicoe was kept busy boat-running. One day he ran Admiral Commerell up to the city and back, and again the following day. The next day, however:

On Thursday I made two trips up, going for the Swedish Ambassador to bring him down to lunch with the Admiral. I brought his two daughters down with him and nearly fell in love with one of them. They were very nice girls about 17 years old and spoke English perfectly. I took them up again in the evening and by the time we parted we had become quite friends. They asked me to come up and see them, but as we sailed on Saturday there was no time.[28]

In the mathematical examination for 1878 Jellicoe did well. "The results have come out and I am third in the Channel and Mediterranean fleets out of 106 midshipmen. Admiral Hornby was very pleased about it … " he related in a letter to his mother on 29 September.[28] On his birthday, 5 December, 1878, Jellicoe took the seamanship examination at Malta and obtained a first-class certificate. While Jellicoe was well-versed in the subject, he suspected that the board of captains examining him were pre-occupied to give him a first: "The mail came in during the exam and the Captains were more interested with their letters."[29] On the same day that he sat the exam, he had to hand in observations of the sun, moon and stars. An instructor apparently faked a moon sight for him by writing it out backwards from the solution.[30] He left the Agincourt on 27 December and returned to Britain in the Peninsular & Oriental line passenger ship Simoom.[9]



  1. Winton. Jellicoe. p. 8.
  2. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. Plate facing p. 534.
  3. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 1.
  4. "Admiral Sir C. F. Lambert" (Obituaries). The Times. Thursday, 1 March, 1928. Issue 44830, col C, p. 16.
  5. British Library. Jellicoe Papers. Add. MSS. 49038. ff. 99-100.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 5.
  7. Soley. Report on Foreign Systems of Naval Education. p. 37.
  8. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. pp. 8-9.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 The National Archives. ADM 196/20. p. 136
  10. Soley. Report on Foreign Systems of Naval Education. pp. 26-27.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 14.
  12. Temple Patterson. p. 17.
  13. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 13.
  14. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 15.
  15. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 17.
  16. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. pp. 17–34.
  17. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 24.
  18. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 18.
  19. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 34.
  20. Temple Patterson. Jellicoe. p. 18.
  21. Winton. Jellicoe. p. 18.
  22. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 35.
  23. Quoted in Winton. Jellicoe. p. 20.
  24. ADM 196/20. f. 136.
  25. Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. pp. 37-38.
  26. Winton. Jellicoe. pp. 20-21.
  27. Quoted in Winton. Jellicoe. p. 21.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Quoted in Bacon. Earl Jellicoe. p. 39.
  29. Quoted in Winton. Jellicoe. p. 22.
  30. Winton. Jellicoe. p. 21.


  • Bacon, Admiral Sir R. H. (1936). The Life of John Rushworth Earl Jellicoe. London: Cassell and Company, Ltd. (on and
  • Soley, Professor James Russell (1880). Report on Foreign Systems of Naval Education. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
  • Temple Patterson, Alfred (1969). Jellicoe: A Biography. London: Macmillan and Co Ltd.
  • Winton, John (1981). Jellicoe. London: Michael Joseph. ISBN 0-7181-1813-8. (on

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