Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Hornby, Geoffrey Thomas Phipps
HORNBY, Sir GEOFFREY THOMAS PHIPPS (1825–1895), admiral of the fleet, second son of Admiral Sir Phipps Hornby [q. v.], was born at Winwick in Lancashire on 20 Feb. 1825. He entered the navy in March 1837 on board the Princess Charlotte, then fitting out as the flagship of Sir Robert Stopford [q.v.] in the Mediterranean. He remained in her till she was paid off in August 1841, and was thus present at all the operations in the Archipelago and on the coast of Syria in 1839 and 1840. (Sir) Phipps Hornby was at this time superintendent of Woolwich dockyard, and the boy remained with him till the spring of 1842, when he was appointed to the Winchester, going out to the Cape of Good Hope as flagship of Rear-admiral Josceline Percy [q. v.] From her, on 15 June 1844, he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Cleopatra, with Captain Christopher Wyvill (1792–1863) [q. v.], for two years' slaver-hunting on the east coast of Africa. In the summer of 1846 he was sent to the Cape in command of a prize, and in the following spring returned to England in the Wolverene. In August his father was appointed commander-in-chief in the Pacific; Hornby went with him as flag-lieutenant, and on 12 Jan. 1850 was promoted to be commander of the flagship Asia of 84 guns. In the summer of 1851 the Asia returned to England, and the admiral settled down at Littlegreen, near Emsworth, a place which he had inherited some fourteen years before, though family arrangements had hitherto prevented his occupying it. Hornby meantime went with his kinsman, Lord Stanley, for a tour in India; but in Ceylon his health broke down, and he was obliged to get home as soon as possible. In the following year his father was a lord of the admiralty in Lord Derby's administration; and on its downfall Hornby was promoted to be captain, 18 Dec. 1852.
Partly, it may be, from political or party reasons, partly because he married in 1853, and in great measure, probably being, by the death of his elder brother, the eldest son to manage his father's property in Sussex, Hornby remained on half-pay till August 1858, when, under Lord Derby's ministry, he was appointed to the Tribune, then in Chinese waters. He joined her at Hongkong in the end of October, and was almost, immediately sent off with a detachment of marines to Vancouver's Island, in consequence of the dispute with the United States relative to San Juan, one of a group of islands between Vancouver's and the mainland. The ownership of the island remained an open question till 1872, when it was settled in favour of the States ; but in 1859 feeling on both sides ran high, and at one time war appeared to be imminent. That the difficulty was tided over was considered mainly due to the temper and tact shown by Hornby, whom the governor of Victoria wished to take forcible measures and the responsibility of them. When the dispute was temporarily compromised, the Tribune was ordered to England, arriving at the end of July 1860. In March 1861 Hornby was sent out to the Mediterranean to take command of the Neptune, an old three-decker converted into a screw two-decker, and manned by 'bounty' men, whom Hornby characterised as 'shameful riffraff.' Here he came under the command of Sir William Fanshawe Martin [q. v. Suppl.], and had some experience in that admiral's attempts at the devolution of steam manoeuvres. At the time he thought them needlessly complicated and likely to be dangerous ; but in later life he seems to have better recognised the difficulties which Martin had to contend with, and to have acknowledged the merit of Martin's work. His comments on this are particularly interesting, as there can be little doubt that it was this practice which first led to his own profound studies of the subject and to his future excellence in the management of fleets.
In November 1862 the Neptune returned to England, and in the following March Hornby was appointed to the Edgar as flag-captain of Rear-admiral Sidney Colpoys Dacres [q. v.], commanding the Channel squadron. This post he held till September 1865, when he was appointed to the Bristol as a first-class commodore for the west coast of Africa. Here Hornby continued till the end of 1867, when the state of his health, as well as his private affairs after the death of his father, forced him to apply to be relieved, and he reached England early in 1868. On 1 Jan. 1869 he was promoted to be rear-admiral, and was almost immediately appointed to the command of the flying squadron, which he held for two years. From 1871 to 1874 he commanded the Channel squadron, and from 1875 to 1877 he was one of the lords of the admiralty, an appointment which, to a man of very active habits, proved excessively irksome, the more so as he found himself out of agreement with the methods of conducting the business of the navy. His time, he complained, was so taken up with a hundred little details, that he was unable to give proper consideration to the really important affairs that came before him. On 13 Jan. 1877 he wrote : 'I left the admiralty with less regret and more pleasure than any work with which I have hitherto been so long connected.' It was thus that, when offered the choice of being first sea lord or commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, he unhesitatingly chose the latter, and he was accordingly appointed early in January 1877. He had been promoted to the rank of vice-admiral two years before, 1 Jan. 1875.
With his flag in the Alexandra, Hornby arrived at Malta on 18 March, and took up the command, which he held during two years of great political excitement. It was the time of the Russo-Turkish Avar, and in February 1878, the Russian army having advanced within what seemed striking distance of Constantinople, Hornby was ordered to take the fleet through the Dardanelles. The Turkish governor and government protested, probably as a matter of form and to avoid irritating the Russians ; but they made no attempt to oppose the passage, though Hornby went through quite prepared to use force if necessary. A good deal was said at the time about the 'illegality' of the proceeding, but to Hornby, as to Lord Beacons- field, the objection was a thing of naught, and the 'Times,' commenting on the movement, said, 'The admiral was directed to proceed to Constantinople, and he has proceeded.' He anchored the fleet, in the first instance, at Prince's Island, about two miles from the city, but afterwards moved to a greater distance, remaining in the Sea of Marmora. In acknowledgment of his services at this time, and of the tact with which he had conducted them, he was nominated a K.C.B. on 12 Aug. 1878. On 15 June 1879 he was promoted to the rank of admiral, and in February 1880 he returned to England. In 1881 he was appointed president of the Royal Naval College, from which he was removed in November 1882, to be commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, which office he held for the customary three years. In the summer of 1885, leaving Portsmouth for a few weeks, he commanded an evolutionary squadron, the direct precursor of the 'manœœuvres' which have been pretty regularly carried out ever since. One interesting feature of the exercises was the defence of the fleet at anchor in Berehaven against an attack by torpedo-boats. On 19 Dec 1885 he was nominated a G.C.B., with especial reference to his summer 'work in command of the evolutionary squadron;' and on 18 Jan. 1886 was appointed first and principal naval aide-de-camp to the queen.
He now proposed to settle down on his estate at Lordington, near Emsworth, and to be known thenceforward as 'Yeoman Hornby.' Fate and the service were too strong for him; and though he did continue to 'farm his own land,' and to take a great deal of interest in the affairs of the county, the welfare of the service had always prior claims. On 1 May 1888 he was promoted to be admiral of the fleet, and in 1889, and again in 1890, was appointed aide-de-camp to the German emperor during his visits to this country. In 1891 he was officially sent, on the direct invitation of the emperor, to witness the German manoeuvres in Schleswig-Holstein, where his long hunting experience enabled him to astonish the young German princes. Hornby was, in fact, a horseman from his childhood, and as a cross-country rider was among the best. Although he completely recovered from a serious illness in 1888, and from a severe accident in the early spring of 1891, he was then sensibly aged. The death of his wife in January 1892 was a further shock. On 19 Feb. 1895 he attended a levee, the last time in his official capacity, for the next day, his seventieth birthday, he was put on the retired list. On 3 March he died of influenza. The body was cremated at Woking, and the ashes buried at Compton on 9 March.
Hornby married in 1853 Emily Frances, daughter of the Rev. John Coles of Ditcham Park, Hampshire, by whom he had issue. One of his sons, Robert Stewart Phipps Hornby, is now a commander in the navy; an elder son, Edmund John Phipps Hornby, a major in the artillery, has recently (1900) received the Victoria Cross for service in South Africa. While president of the Royal Naval College, Hornby delivered there, in the spring of 1882, a short course of lectures on 'Exercising Squadrons,' the notes of which were printed for the use of naval officers. During his later years he wrote occasionally in the 'Times' and the monthly magazines, always on professional subjects. For many years before his death he was universally recognised in the navy as the highest authority on naval tactics and naval strategy, although, except as a boy at Acre in 1840, he had never seen a shot tired in actual war. But almost the whole of his service was in flagships, and he had thus not only a very exceptional familiarity with fleets, but had also been the recipient of the traditions and the reflections of past generations. A lithographed portrait, after a photograph, was published by Messrs. Griffin of Portsmouth.
[Hornby's Life has been fully written by his daughter, Mrs. Frederick Egerton( 1896), and enriched with many portraits; to this may be added the notices in the Times of 4 March 1895, in the Army and Navy Gazette of 9 March, and the present writer's personal knowledge.]