George Astley Callaghan



Admiral Sir George Astley Callaghan, G.C.V.O., K.C.B., was an Irishman, the son of Frederick M. Callaghan, JP, County Cork. He was born on December 21st 1852 (during the time of British rule); joined the Navy as a Cadet, December 10th 1865; Sub-Lieutenant, April 15th 1872; Lieutenant, April 15th 1875; Commander, December 31st 1887; Captain, January 1st 1894; Rear-Admiral, July 1st 1905; Vice-Admiral, April 27th 1910; Admiral, May 7th 1913. While a Lieutenant he qualified as Interpreter in Hindustani, and also specialised in gunnery. His independent commands as Captain comprise the "Hermione", "Endymion" and "Edgar" cruisers, and the "Caesar" and "Prince of Wales" battleships. In 1894 we find him holding the important position of Naval Advisor to Inspector-General of Fortifications, which he held till 1897. The above appointment marked him out as a man of ability in the eyes of "My Lords".


His first war service came when he was Captain of the "Endymion" in China, to which ship he was appointed in July, 1899. During the operations in North China in 1900 he commanded the Naval Brigade during the advance with the Allied Forces for the relief of the Legations at Peking. He was mentioned in despatches, and, for his services on that occasion, received the C.B.


Like a good many more prominent men in the Navy he is of a retiring disposition and dislikes publicity, and so it came about that until war broke out and he was succeeded by Jellicoe, the public had never heard of him, yet for the past ten years he had held active command of one or another of our fleets or squadrons. On November 16th, 1906, he became a Rear- Admiral in the Channel Fleet, which position he relinquished in 1907, to be immediately appointed to the command of the Fifth Cruiser Squadron, flying his flag in H.M.S. "Shannon". A quiet, consistent worker, he brought his squadron to a high point of efficiency, the squadron standing fourth in the "Order of Merit" for Fleets and Squadrons in the gunlayers' test for 1908. In November, 1908, he relinquished the command of the Fifth Cruiser Squadron to be immediately appointed to the higher position of Second in Command of the Mediterranean Fleet, flying his flag in H.M.S. "Duncan". It was during this period that King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra paid a visit to Malta in the" Victoria and Albert," and, on the occasion of that visit, April 24th, 1909, he received the K.C.V.O. at the hands of his late Majesty.


During this period-November 1908, to August 1910 a great deal of activity prevailed in the Mediterranean and, although nothing was disclosed publicly of the work of the Second-in-Command, the Admiralty marked their appreciation of his services, for, relinquishing that position in August, 1910, he was appointed the same month to the command of the Second Division of the Home Fleet with rank of Vice-Admiral, hoisting his flag in the "King Edward VII". On this occasion his Flag Commander was the Captain Loxley who went down in H.M.S. "Formidable", which was torpedoed in the Channel at the commencement of the year. This command lasted from August 9th 1910, to December 4th 1911, and on December 5th he became Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, flying his flag in H.M.S. "Neptune". Thus he had, without a single break in appointment to appointment, attained the first and most important command in the British Navy, with the rank of Acting Admiral. His Second in Command was Rear-Admiral Charles E. Madden, the then Chief-of-Staff and brother-in-law of Admiral Jellicoe. This was a record of which any man might well be proud, as his uninterrupted employment showed the faith the Admiralty had in his ability.


So rapid had been the development of the Home Fleet that King George decided to inspect it in person. For this purpose the Fleet assembled in Weymouth Bay on May 6th to 11th I912, and during that period His Majesty was able to judge to the full the standard of efficiency attained by our first war fleet. Gunnery, submarines and aerial craft all took part. Commander Samson, who has distinguished himself by his aerial exploits during the present war, being in charge of the aerial section of the display. It was not a review in which ships are lined up and viewed from a distance from the reviewing ship steaming through the lines; it was an exhaustive test of our efficiency lasting through a whole week, and at its conclusion, before his departure, the King made the following signal to the Commander-in-Chief; "Before leaving I wish to express to you my satisfaction at finding the fleet under your command in such a high state of efficiency. I am glad to have had the opportunity of inspecting vessels of the latest type and of witnessing squadron firing, an attack by submarines, and flights by aeroplanes. Will you express to the officers and men the pleasure it has given me to be again with them". This was indeed high praise from our Sailor King, wise of what he had seen.


On May 13th 1913, he was confirmed as Admiral. On June 23rd of the same year he was in command of the Fleet at Spithead which saluted President Poincare on his arrival in England on a State Visit to King George, when he received from the President the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour. Although he hauled down his flag at the commencement of hostilities, it was felt that his experience was too valuable to lose. Accordingly he was at once appointed for special service on the Admiralty War Staff, and also became First and Principal Aide-de-Camp to His Majesty.



Photo: His Majesty the King leaving the "Neptune," the flagship of Admiral Callaghan when commander-in-chief of the home fleet at Portland, after being to sea.  This photograph shows the Admiral's flag transferred from fore top to aft and the King's flag being lowered.



Acknowledgement: Reproduced in part from the 'Navy and Army' article, 1st May 1915, p41-43 (see PDF of original article)


Link to his grandsons web page: Chris Callaghan (Author of 'Book of The Callaghan: Ceallachain Caisil, King Of Munster 934-954'

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Last updated: 14th July 2021