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Biography: John "Jacky" Fisher

JOHN FISHER

Born 25th January 1841 in Ceylon. Fisher entered the navy as a Cadet on 13th July 1854, through a nomination from Admiral Sir William Parker. He joined HMS Calcutta, and served in the Baltic fleet during the Crimean War. In 1856 he joined HMS Highflyer as Midshipman, and served in China during the war of 1859-16. He was promoted to Acting Lieutenant in 1860 on board HMS Furious, and confirmed as Lieutenant in November 1860. In 1863, after qualifying in the Portsmouth Gunnery School HMS Excellent, he joined HMS Warrior. A year later he was appointed to the staff of HMS Excellent, where he remained until November 1869. He was promoted to Commander in August 1869 and spent three years on the China Station until 1872. He returned to HMS Excellent where he remained for four years devoting himself to the development of the torpedo. He was responsible for the establishment of the torpedo school at nearby HMS Vernon.

Fisher was promoted Captain in 1874 and in 1876 served on the Admiralty’s Torpedo Committee to study experiments on the Whitehead Torpedo, which was the first self propelled underwater torpedo. Fisher then went to sea for six years, firstly in command of HMS Pallas, serving in the Mediterranean and then as Flag Captain in HMSs Bellerophon and Hercules, both serving in North America. He re-joined HMS Pallas in command and served in the Mediterranean. From September 1879 to January 1881, he was Flag Captain of HMS Northampton, stationed at the North America and West Indies station. He returned to England in 1881 to command HMS Inflexible, the greatest battleship of its time, and played a prominent role in the bombardment of the Alexandria forts in July 1882. He was awarded the Companion of the Bath for fitting out and commanding an armoured train against Arabi Pasha during this action. He returned from Egypt with a fever which lasted for nine months.

Fisher now began a period of fourteen years ashore, only broken by a brief command of HMS Minotaur in the summer of 1885. From 1883 to 1885, he was appointed Captain of the HMS Excellent, during which time he was awarded the Knight Commander of the Bath. From 1886 to 1891, he was made Director of Ordnance and Torpedoes at the Admiralty. After being promoted Rear-Admiral in 1890, he was appointed Superintendent of Portsmouth Dockyard in 1891, and became Third Sea Lord and Controller of the Navy in 1892 until 1897. During this period Fisher was greatly involved in warship design, the warship construction programme, and developments in gunnery and engineering He was promoted to Vice-Admiral in May 1896, and in 1897 was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the North America and West Indies station. In 1899 he was recalled from there to serve as the British Naval delegate at the first Hague Peace Conference. Even then, Fisher was well aware that it was inevitable that there would be a future confrontation with Germany. However, his understanding and vision of modern warfare greatly assisted the proceedings of the conference. After the conference, Fisher served as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, being promoted Admiral in November 1901, and Knight Grand Cross of the Bath (GCB) in August 1902.

During his time as Second Sea Lord (1902-3) Fisher began putting into practice his reforms for the navy; his major achievement at this time was the Selbourne Scheme of entry and training for officers in 1902, which was a common entry and training for all naval officers, and to ensure that in the age of mechanisation all officers would have a familiarity with engines. In 1903-4 Fisher was Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, from which position he could superintend the establishment of the Royal Naval College at Osborne, where new Cadets received their initial naval training. He also served on the Esher Committee, whose recommendations, accepted by the Cabinet, called for a reorganisation of the War Office, and Committee of Imperial Defence.

On the 21st October 1904, at the age of 63, Fisher became First Sea Lord. His main preoccupation was to prepare for the coming of the war with Germany, and developing a more powerful fleet He was responsible for the launch of the first ‘all big gun’ fast battleship, using the new turbine engines. HMS Dreadnought was launched in Portsmouth in 1906, combining great speed with immensely increased gun power. It rendered most of the fleet obsolete at one stroke. Fisher also oversaw the developments of the submarine with its torpedo weapons. The rapidly changing face of the navy brought hostile criticism from conservative parties both within the navy and without. His greatest rival, Lord Charles Beresford, appointed Commander in Chief of the Channel Fleet, became more and more estranged with Fisher and at odds with the Admiralty. The feud between them became very public in 1907 with an incident involving fleet paintwork and gunnery arose. Finally, when his command was terminated in 1909, he made public his criticisms of Fisher and his reforms. Fisher remained in office until January 1910 but was succeeded by Sir Arthur Wilson, who was sympathetic to his reforms. During his period in office, he was awarded with the Order of Merit in 1904, appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) in 1908 and in 1909, was raised to the peerage with the title of Baron Fisher of Kilverstone, a Norfolk estate.

In 1912 he became chairman of the Royal Commission on Oil Fuel. This had been another of his interests during his term in office and resulted in the adoption of using oil fuel in all new ships being constructed. In October 1914, he returned to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord, in which time he was involved in ship construction. He became at odds with the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill over the proposed Dardenelles campaign. Fisher believed that the persistence in attacking the Dardanelles would jeopardise the success of the major naval strategy of the war, but was forced to concede and allow the campaign to take place. As the campaign unfolded and became clear that it was a hopeless one, he became more and more discontented and resigned his office in 1915. The government fell and Churchill was replaced as First Lord. Fisher was invited to serve as chairman of the newly established advisory Board of Invention and Research, in July 1915 , which he did for four months. After this time, he tried to return to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord, or in any other capacity, but he was unsuccessful. This was the end of his naval career.

He was married to Frances Broughton, and they had one son and three daughters. Frances died 2 years before Fisher in July 1918. He died on the 10th July 1920, and was given a public naval funeral in Westminster Abbey, and was buried at his Kilverstone estate.

A reading list for further information is available. For more information on the Navy's People in the twentieth century, visit our Sea Your History website

© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2004
The information contained in this information sheet is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.

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