Ommanney, Erasmus (DNB12)

OMMANNEY, Sir ERASMUS (1814–1904), admiral, born in London on 22 May 1814, was seventh son, in a family of eight sons and three daughters, of Sir Francis Molyneux Ommanney, well known as a navy agent and for many years M.P. for Barnstaple, by his wife Georgiana Frances, daughter of Joshua Hawkes. The Ommanneys had long distinguished themselves in the navy. Erasmus' grandfather was Rear-Admiral Comthwaite Ommanney (d. 1801); Admiral Sir John Ac worth Ommanney [q. v.] and Admiral Henry Manaton Ommanney were his uncles, and Major-general Edward Lacon Ommanney, R.E., was his eldest brother, while Prebendary George Druce Wynne Ommanney [q. v. Suppl. II] was a yoimger brother. Ommanney entered the navy in August 1826 under his uncle John, then captain of the Albion, of seventy-four guns, which in December convoyed to Lisbon the troops sent to protect Portugal against the Spanish invasion. The ship then went to the Mediterranean, and on 20 Oct. 1827 took part in the battle of Navarino [see Codrington, Sir Edward], for which Ommanney received the medal. The captured flag of the Turkish commander-in-chief was handed down by seniority among the surviving officers, and came eventually into the possession of Ommanney, who in 1890, being then the sole survivor, presented it to the King of Greece, from whom he received in return the grand cross of the order of the Saviour. In 1833 he passed his examination, after which he served for a short time as mate in the Symondite brig Pantaloon [see Symonds, Sir William], employed on packet service. On 10 Dec. 1835 he was promoted to lieutenant, and in the same month was appointed to the Cove, frigate, Captain (afterwards Sir James) Clark Ross [q. v.], which was ordered to Baffin's Bay to release a number of whalers caught in the ice. He received the special commendation of the Admiralty for his conduct during this dangerous service. In October 1836 he joined the Pique, frigate. Captain Henry John Rous [q. v.], an excellent school of seamanship; and a year later was appointed to the Donegal, of seventy-eight guns, as flag lieutenant to his uncle, Sir John, commander-in-chief on the Lisbon and Mediterranean stations. He was promoted to commander on 9 Oct. 1840, and from August 1841 to the end of 1844 served on board the Vesuvius, steam sloop, in the Mediterranean, being employed on the coast of Morocco for the protection of British subjects during the period of French hostilities, which included the bombardment of Tangier by the squadron under the Prince de Joinville. He was advanced to the rank of captain on 9 Nov. 1846, and in 1847-8 was employed under the government commission during the famine in Ireland, carrying into effect relief measures and the new poor law.

When Captain Horatio Austin was appointed to the Resolute for the command of the Franklin search expedition in February 1850 he chose Ommanney, whom he had known intimately in the Mediterranean, to be his second-in-command. The Resolute and Ommanney's ship, the Assistance, each had a steam tender, this being the first occasion on which steam was used for Arctic navigation. This expedition was also the first to organise an extensive system of sledge journeys, by means of which the coast of Prince of Wales Land was laid down. On 25 Aug. 1850 Ommanney discovered the first traces of the fate of Sir John Franklin; these on investigation proved that his ships had wintered at Beechey Island. On the return of the expedition to England in October 1851 Ommanney received the Arctic medal, and several years later, in 1868, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his scientific work in the Arctic. In 1877 he was knighted for the same service. In December 1851 he was appointed deputy controller-general of the coast-guard, and held this post until 1854, when, on the outbreak of the Russian war, he commissioned the Eurydice as senior officer of a small squadron for the White Sea, where he blockaded Archangel, stopped the coasting traed, and destroyed government property at several points. In 1855 he was appointed to the Hawke, block ship, for the Baltic, and was employed chiefly as senior officer in the gulf of Riga, where the service was one of rigid blockade, varied by occasional skirmishes with the Russian gunboats and batteries. In October 1857 he was appointed to the Brunswick, of eighty guns, going out to the West Indies, and was senior officer at Colon when the filibuster William Walker attempted to invade Nicaragua. The Brunswick afterwards joined the Channel fleet, and in 1859 was sent as a reinforcement to the Mediterranean during the Franco-Italian war. Ommanney was not again afloat after paying off in 1860, but was senior officer at Gibraltar from 1862 until promoted to flag rank on 12 Nov. 1864. In March 1867 he was awarded the C.B.; on 14 July 1871 he was promoted to vice-admiral, and accepted the retirement on 1 Jan. 1875. He was advanced to admiral on the retired list on 1 Aug. 1877. To the end of his life Ommanney continued to take a great interest in geographical work and service subjects, being a constant attendant at the meetings of the Royal Geographical Society, of the Royal United Service Institution, of both of which bodies he was for many years a councillor, and of the British Association. He was also a J.P. for Hampshire and a member of the Thames conservancy. In June 1902 he was made K.C.B.

Ommanney died on 21 Dec. 1904 at his son's residence, St. Michael's vicarage, Portsmouth, and was buried in Mortlake cemetery. He was twice married: (1) on 27 Feb. 1844 to Emily Mary, daughter of Samuel Smith of H.M. dockyard, Malta; she died in 1857; and (2) in 1862 to Mary, daughter of Thomas A. Stone of Curzon Street, W.; she died on 1 Sept. 1906, aged eighty-one. His son, Erasmus Austin, entered the navy in 1863, retired with the rank of commander in 1879, took orders in 1883, and was vicar of St. Michael's, Portsmouth, from 1892 to 1911. A portrait by Stephen Pearce is in the National Portrait Gallery.

[The Times, 22, 28, and 29 Dec. 1904; Geog. Journal, Feb. 1905; xxv. 221; Proc. Roy. Soc. lxxxv. 335; O'Byrne's Naval Biography; R. N. List.]

L. G. C. L.