Sir Archibald Lucius Douglas


Maiden cartoon Postcard  1904 news cutting 
Sir Archibald Lucius Douglas (8 February 1842, Quebec, Canada - 12 March 1913, Newnham, Hampshire, England) was a Royal Navy officer of the 19th century. He is the son of Dr. George Mellis Douglas and his wife Charlotte Saxton Campbell, (1820-1852), and brother of Campbell Mellis Douglas, VC.

Douglas was born in Quebec City in pre-Confederation Canada in 1842. Educated at the Quebec High School, he joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1856.

He was selected to head the second British naval mission to Japan in 1873, and served as a foreign advisor to the fledgling Imperial Japanese Navy until 1875.

Douglas was based at the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy, then located at Tsukiji in Tokyo, where he trained a class of 30 officers. During his tenure, his advice was called upon for the Taiwan Expedition of 1874, the first major overseas deployment for the Japanese navy.
During his stay in Japan, he is also credited with having introduced the sport of soccer to Japanese naval cadets.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, Douglas commanded HMS Egeria on an intelligence gathering mission to Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka, which he found to have been abandoned by its Russian garrison.

Douglas was promoted to Commander-in-Chief, East Indies Station in 1898 and Second Naval Lord in 1899. Promoted to Vice Admiral in June 1901, he was appointed Commander-in-chief of the North American Station in 1902. He went on to be Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth in 1904 and retired from the service in 1907.

In 1910 he was made an honorary LL.D. of McGill University; in 1902 he was created a KCB, in 1905 a GCVO, and in 1911 a GCB.

Douglas died in Hampshire, England in 1913 

He married in 1871 Constance, a daughter of the Rev. William Hawks, formerly rector of Gateshead Fell, Durham, and had three sons and three daughters.  Mrs. Douglas (as she was known then) was godmother to HMS Lancaster in March 1902

He had six children:-
  • Archibald Douglas, Commander R.N. Killed in action 1915. Biographer of his father (See below).
  • John Charles Edward Douglas, Major 10th Yorkshire Regiment. Killed in action 1915.
  • David William Shafto Douglas, b.1883, married 1914 the daughter of Charles Stevenson of Edinburgh. He was Lieut Commander of the "Black Prince" and was killed in action in 1915.
  • Gertrude Isabel, d1956, m 1919 Thomas Arthur Champernowne.
  • Lilian
  • Mary, wife of Major Sloman


The following is a review of his biography.  Out of print, copies are now changing hands at around £115.  His grand daughter, Elizabeth Kellock(1), also wrote about the Admiral.



By his son ARCHIBALD C. DOUGLAS. (Mortimer Bros., Totnes. 8s. 6d.)

THE life record of Admiral Douglas was one which deserved to be written, though the claim that he was the founder of the Japanese Navy and one of Canada's greatest men can hardly be substantiated. Still, 'no man attains to the status of Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, without having shown great ability of a kind and having had a career which must be worth the telling if properly told. This book, however, is almost an example of the way in whilch a naval biography should not be written. It tells us things which should not have been told, such as petty and rather spi(tefu1 gossip about royal tie^, and of narrow-minded and foolish prejudices on the part of the subject of the biography :
it leaves untold much that one would like to know. It is moreover full of errors both of fact and phrasing, errors which might have been easily eliminated, though the author tells us " that a #distinguished admiral has read and criticized the book "-one can only presume that the distinguished admiral has let Mr. Douglas down very badly, or else that the author has disregarded his criticisms. A few of these errors may be quoted to show that this is not a captious criticism.

H.M.S. Egeria, a composite sloop which Commander Douglas commanded in 1879, had the misfortune to g~ound on a rock in China. He uses the " steam " hemp cable to heave her off. She is docked and he sees that her " false bottom " is greatly damaged and some of the copper sheets displacfad : it is quite obvious from the context that the damage was to her false keel. At the end of this commission he must have been promot'ed to captain, since he then remaineld two years on half-pay : we are not told lof the promotion, yet in the next chapter we find him still described as a commander, though in command of the Serapis, on'e of the Indian Troopers, a post always held by a junior captain. Errors of this kind might be adlded to almost indefinitely. This is not to say that the story with all its faults is without interest.

Admiral Douglas was born in 1842, son of a Canadian doctor. He entered th'a Navy at the age of 14 through a nomination obtained from the Governor of Canada. We are told that he was " post'ed " to H.M.S. Boscawen, the flagship of the West Indian Station. His entry examination, conducted by the naval instructor, consisted of the proof that he was able to write English from dictation and was acquainted with the first four rules of arithmetic, reduction and the rule of three.

He was confirmed as midshipman I 5th of May, 1858. We are told that he remained in this rank for one year only, and that in September, 1859, he was appointed sub-lieutenant in H.M.S. Arrogant being then only 17+ years of age. It may possibly have been an acting vacancy, but even so it was a surprisingly rapid advancement. Young Douglas seems to have taken part in the suppression of the slave trade 'during the next year or two, but no details are extant. A story is however quoted on the authority of the late Admiral Sir Walter Hunt-Grubbe of the capture of a Spanish slaver in which Douglas, now described as an acting lieutenant, took part-this must have been within some two or three years of his being rated midshipman.

We do not hear that he had the advantage of any course at the Naval College, nor of his rank as lieutenant being confirmed. VCTe jump from the last slaving incident to the American lakes, where he was employed during the Fenian disturbances in 1866. He was then a lieutenant an'd in command of the gunboat Hercules, a tender to H.M.S. Aurora. It was some 40 years later that he was awarded a medal for this service. One presumes that Douglas must in the meantime have acquired an education somehow, but the details are left to the imagination. We are about this time given extracts from a so-called " log book " ; presumably a journal. One of these is of topical interest as it refers to the Jamaica Riots and the supersession of Governor E. J. Eyre. He mentions that every officer upon the station contributed a day's pay towards the defence fund of Governor Eyr'e, who was ultimately acquitted.

We do not hear when Douglas terminated his services in the Aurora nor of his appointment to the Egeria, but later we are told that his commission in the latter ship ended tin 1867, when he was " post'ed " to H.M.S. Excellent for gunnery duties, shortly after being transferred to 1I.M.S. Cambridge at Devonport where he was senior staff officer.

One of his duties was to study the Harvey torpedo, a newly invented weapon from which much was expected. Much space is devoted to th'e way in which poor Harvey the inventor was treated by the Admiralty, a maLter which, t'hough it does not bear very directly upon the career of Admiral Douglas, is of interest as relating to the early history of the torpedo. It may perhaps be well to mention that the Harvey was a contraption somenhat after the style of the mod'ern paravane, with a contrivance whereby the torpedo could be detonated against the hull of an enemy which might be attempting to ram. It was an impracticable affair and one can hardly wonder that the Admiralty were not over
enthusiastic as to its merits.

Captain Foley (of the Britannia) wrote to Douiglas at this time :
" I congratulate you on your promotion . . . myself I am not much in love with your Harvey's torpedo ". The author believes that his father had faith in the future of the invention.

Presumably the promotion referred to by Captain Foley was to the rank of commander, for we h'ear rhat Douglas's marriage took place in 1871 at the end of his term in the Cambridge. In those days it was not considered the right thing for an officer to marry before mounting the three stripes. We get no indication as to why Douglas was selected as a gunnery officer nor on what grounds hIe obtained the position of senior staff officer. Gunnery was of course in a very elementary stage, but he must have shown some aptitude ; of this we hear nothing.

The reason for his selection for what was " one of the most important and successful achievements of his life ", the appointment to Japan, is more easily diagnosed; he was the most promising, capable and up-to-date gunnery man of his day. It is with this section of the book which deals with his work in Japan that the reader will be most disappointed.

Chapter IV gives us an excellent and concise summary of the history of Japan from the first contact with Europe until the long embargo on the ruling of foreigners was broken by forced treaties with Britain and the U.S.A.

Chapter V opens with the statement that Commander Archibald Douglas was appointed Director and Commander of the Naval Mission to Japan which was to be dispatched to Tokio at the request of the Japanese Government. The personnel of the Commission consisted of one lcomrnander, one gunnery lieutenant, one chief engineer, two assistant engineers (warrant officers), two boatswains, two gunners, one carpenter; also 20 petty officers and seamen. They were to proceed to the Imperial Naval College, which would seem to indicate that an instructional organization already existed. There is given (p. 37) a photographic reproduction of a fine building designated " Cadets Quarters, Naval College " which was presumably in being when the commission arrived.

The Commander's appointment was for a tern1 of three years at a salary of £950 a year, which as he was also drawing half-pay may be considered fairly liberal. Commander Douglas threw up the appointment after two years, as he felt, probably with reason, that such a long absence from the naval service might prejudice his chances of promotion. Though his a,ction is understandable, it hardly suggests
whole-hearted enthusiasm for his task.

We are not given any details as to the naval organization which existed in Japan at the time when the Commission arrived, or in what manner the linguistic difficulties were overcome. None of the Commission appear to have been acquainted with the Japanese language; on the other hand th,e officials with whom they had to deal appear to have had a surprisingly good acquaintance with English. The orders which are here quoted might well shame some examples of official English in our own country. The staff brought out by Commander Douglas appear to have been ~vell chosen, and they gave no trouble whatever. We hear very little about the manner of instruction. In Chapter VIII we are given an amusing account of the opposition which Douglas encountered in attempting to introduce athletic sports on English lines. The three-legged race was particularly offensive, to the conservative mind.

" Again what outrageous style of thing is this item marked No. 9 in the programme? This two-headed, three-legged affair? Is this a prospective punishment for lads who may behave in a dissipated or wicked way hereafter, or is it perhaps a wav of patching up two oripples from the war into one soldier? But the Navy and the Amy are two different places, surely such an individual would be rather in the way on board ship."

Commander Douglas particularly prided himself in that Admirals Ito and Togo, the two great naval heroes of the young navy, had passed under his tuition. They do not seem to have been very young ' at the t~ime, for Ito was then commanding the Tsukuba, the vessel in which the cadets were taken for cruises. Douglas took part in at least one of thmese cruises, but had no executive authority. His orders are given in extewso and we read :
" Your duty will be to organize the vessel as much like an English man
of war as possible. ' '
" You are on no account to give any orders yourself or even to speak
to the crews. "
Every order had to pass through a Japanese intermediary.

On p. 72, in a letter to the Admiralty, we find the following :
" It is almost impossible to establish and carry out a complete system with a people like the Japanese to whom anything like order or discipline is foreign."

This statement is however neutralized by anoth'er, a page or two later- " The Japanese appear to possess the requisite elements for making good seamen. They are hardy, fearless, active and easily controlled. Up to the present time for lack of efficient officers they are but half trained and disciplined. ' ' There is no doubt that on the whole the Government was pleased with the services rendered by Commander Douglas, but they made no difficulty about accepting his resignation. As the rest of the Commission remained behind it seems possible that they were rather pleased to muddle along in their own way without his assistance. The extracts given as from Douglas's journals are phrased in a most peculiar style.

I quote one of them written at this period as typical of all- " I go down to Yokdhaina and visit Clark and Captain Church, pay my bill and home by the 2.30 train. At five o'clock we are to start, but are not ready then. Carriages don't come till late and we miss the train. Japanese sailors are drawn up to see me off, and I come out the other end. Put up at the Grand Hotel. Mr. K. dines with me, am so tired and done up."

Douglas and his family went home via the U.S.A. and experienced many tribulations en route; we are given some observations upon the Mormons and Salt Lake City. During this voyage the author, as throughout the book, is rather inclined to insist too much upon his own personal memories, allowable perhaps were it his own autobiography, but which have no appropriate place in his father's life and take up space to the exclusion of more important details. Soon after his return to England, Commander Douglas was appointed to I-I.M.S. Egeria. In her he served a nearly four years commission in China; then came promotion, half-pay and the troopship service already referred to.

Whilst in the Serapis he was present as an onlooker at the battles of El Teb and Tamai, his only war service if the Canadian Lakes be excluded. He receivled the Klhedive's Bronze Star and, we are told, a bronze war medal; but this last is one of the many small errors, the medal as usual being a silver one. Next came three years' service on the Ordnance Committee and then a commission in H.M.S. Edinburgh in the Mediterranean at the time when Sir George Tryon, for whom he had a great admiration, was doing such notable work with the fleet.

On p. 145 we are to1,d an absurd and impossible story of which it is difficult to make anything, even supposing the distance given to be a numerical error. It is intended to #demonstrate Sir Greorge's insistence on absolute obedience, no matter how strange the signal might seem. " The Edznburglz and U~zdaunted, these being the two leading ships of the line, they came together, and in obedience to an order by signal from the flagship to anchor at zoo cables apart, they proceeded to do so. No sooner had they anchored than a mast-head semaphore message was taken from the flagship saying ' I ordered the Edznburgh and Undaunted to anchor at zoo cables '.

" Though they were in fact anchored at that exact distance, my father knew Tryon too well to argue with him and he at once gave the order to ' anchor up ' intendilng as he said to open out and come in again, and anchor as before. From the bridge of the Edinburgh he could see the Admiral come out on the stern walk of the flagship and have a look : and a signal immediately went up the Edinburgh and Undaunted are in station. "

It is difficult to imagine how such events could have been visible to a ship distant twenty miles from the flagship. We are further given what purports to be Captain Douglas's views as to the actual cause of the disastrous collision between the Victoria and the Camperdown. He believed that the signal was made as a test of initiative; but surely if there was need of any such display it was in the flagship herself, which might have led the way for her line outside the other column. In the author's own words " Commander " Douglas had left the station at the time of the disaster.

The next sphere of usefulness was an appointment to the command of the Cambridge gunnery school, from which he passed on to the Excellent, which was I fancy not a usual arrangement. Then followed another spell at the Ordnance Committee, a most useful penetration into the Admiralty Ring at a critical period in his career, for very shortly came his promotion to rear-admiral and an offer of the command of the East Indian station. We read (p. 154) " At the time my father was offered the command in the East Indies he was suffering from a nervous breakdown . . . but the doctor advised him to accept the appointment which he did ".

One hopes that the statement as to his father's health is over emphasized, or it seems that such acceptance was taking quite an unwarranted risk with the welfare of the Service. No ill results followed, however, and his conduct of the station must have been excellent, since he does not appear to have completed his full time when early in 1900 he was appointed Second Sea Lord. In this connection we read- " He was very popular with the civilian element and the political people who govern that mysterious My known to the Navy as the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. "

He served with two First Lords, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Goschen and later with Lord Selborne, then a very young Minister.

From the Admiralty Sir Archibald Douglas (for he had been knighted about this time) was appointed Commander-in-Chief ,in North America and the West Indian station.

" I think ", writes his son, " the appointment to this squadron pleased him more than any other in his long career. He was as we have seen a Canadian by birth, and the Canadians regarded it as a great compliment to have a Canadian succeed Lard Fisher in command of the Station."l During his period in command Sir Archibald Douglas had to deal with a most difficult and thorny bit of diplomacy in connection with 1 Actually he succeeded Sir Frederick Bedford, Sir John Fisher's successor. What was known as the Venezuela Incident (1903). Already difficult on account of the Monroe policy, the affair was complicated by somewhat rash and indiscreet action on the part of the Commodore.

There is no doubt that Douglas added greatly to his reputation by his handling of this affair, and paved th~ way for his last appointment to the Blue Ribbon of the Naval Service, the Portsmouth Command, in which he again succeeded Lord Fisher. In the interval he presided over a most vitally important committee which was to discuss the future of Naval Education, the result being embodied in the well known Douglas Report. From the opinions here quoted by his son one gathers that there was a good deal of the die-hard about the Chairman, but with such men as Slade, Bacon and Oliver to provide more modern ideas he could hardly go wrong. Incidentally we hear of an Admiral Sir R . H. Morri~,~ K.C.B., K.C.M .G., giving evidence, a name which somehow does not sound familiar.

It was during Sir A. Douglas's tenure of the Portsmouth Command that the celebrated " On the Knee " mutiny at the Naval Barracks took place. One would have been glad to know something of the Commander-in-Chief's views on the handling of the case by the Commodore instead 'of such inanities as that Winston Churchill was " a cocksure little chap ".

Sir Archibald hauled down his flag for the last time in 1907. He died on the 13th March, 1913.

Though the author fails to convey to the reader any suggestion of " greatness ", he does give the impression of a forceful personality full of common sense and honesty. It is a pity that his life should not have been more adequately dealt with. The illustrations are weird in the extreme; they seem to be reproductions from the typical lower deck artist's ideas of a ship in a storm, etc. A critic however suggests to me that they are quite as good as much futuristic work loudly acclaimed by the experts of the day. There is a good index and the volume is very well bound.
B. M. C.



1. Elizabeth Kellock is the granddaughter of Admiral Douglas. She has had wide experience in broadcasting work with the Overseas Service of the BBC, and in the Middle East and South Africa, on educational and commercial subjects. Her published work includes a history of equitation and articles in the Sunday Telegraph, Punch and other newspapers and journals.



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