The Bath Chronicle of Thursday 18th March 1779 reported on Admiral Keppel's arrival in Bath the previous Friday. Keppel was almost certainly coming to Bath to seek treatment for his chronic ill health following from a fever he had contracted during his service in the West Indies.
A member of a leading Whig aristocratic family (which had come to England with William of Orange), Augustus Keppel was the second son of Willem van Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle and Anne van Keppel, a daughter of the 1st Duke of Richmond (himself an illegitimate son of King Charles II).
The most prominent period of his life belonged to the opening years of the American Revolutionary War. Keppel had been promoted to full admiral on 29 January 1778 and appointed to command the Channel Fleet, the main fleet prepared against France, he at the time of his appointment expressed the view that the First Lord would be glad for him to be defeated.
Prior to 1778 Keppel had failed to persuade the Lords of the Admiralty to copper sheath any of their ships. He had remarked that coppering "gave additional strength to the navy". The lack of coppering the Navy was is often considered one of the reasons for Britain losing the 13 colonies.
One of Keppel's subordinate admirals was Sir Hugh Palliser, a member of the Admiralty Board, a member of parliament, and in Keppel's opinion responsible with his colleagues for the bad state of the Royal Navy. The First Battle of Ushant which Keppel fought with the French on 27 July 1778 ended badly. Reasons included Keppel's own management, but also the failure of Palliser to obey orders. Keppel had become convinced that he had been deliberately betrayed.
Though Keppel had praised Palliser in his public despatch, he had attacked him in private. The Whig press, with Keppel's friends, had begun a campaign of calumny. The ministerial papers answered in the same style, and each side had accused the other of deliberate treason. The result was a scandalous series of scenes in parliament and of courts-martial. On the 11th February Keppel's court-martial had pronounced the charges against him to be malicious and unfounded. Following this verdict, there had been a wave of riotous popular celebrations across the country.
|Keppel painted by Lawrence 1779|
These celebrations were to greet Keppel on his arrival on 12th March with window displays, parades, cheering crowds, popular demonstrations including the burning of effigies outside the Crescent being ‘only slightly constrained by the modest protests of their hero’.
On Wednesday the 17th twenty-five 'Ladies of the first distinction in this city' held 'an elegant and sumptuous breakfast' 'in compliment to Admiral Keppel'. These 'Ladies of first distinction' 'selected out of the company here at present here upwards of two hundred Ladies and Gentlemen to partake of it'. This event was put on at the Upper Rooms and the Admiral was accompanied by 'several distinguished Naval Officers' in uniform.
The breakfast was held in the Tea Room and was accompanied by music provided by a band stationed in the gallery.
After the Breakfast, the party moved into the ballroom where they were treated to an "elegant collation of fruits, sweetmeats, ices of various sorts, jellies etc etc’. At this point the younger invitees continued the celebrations with dancing both cotillions and country dances until 3pm. The company ended by dancing a long minuet composed and presented by a lady described as “a young Lady of distinguished worth and musical abilities”.
The crowds of the uninvited admirers of the Admiral had gathered outside the door and made it difficult for the party to leave.
The newspaper further tell us of Bath and Bristol’s intentions to make the Admiral a freeman of their respective cities and that the Admiral intended to honour the Theatre with is company the following evening. There he would have been treated to a performance of Sheridan’s ‘The Rival’ and a farce entitle ‘The Liverpool Prize’.