Osborn, Sherard (DNB00)

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OSBORN, SHERARD (1822–1875), rear-admiral and author, son of Colonel Edward Osborn of the Madras army, was born on 25 April 1822. In September 1837 he was entered by Commander William Warren as a first-class volunteer on board the Hyacinth sloop, fitting for the East Indies. The Hyacinth arrived at Singapore in May 1838, and in September was ordered to blockade Quedah, then in a state of revolt. For this purpose she fitted out three country vessels as tenders, and, much to his delight, Osborn was appointed to command one of these. From December 1838 to March 1839 he was ‘captain of his own ship,’ and there can be no doubt that the responsibility thus thrust on him at a very early age went far to strengthen and mature his character. Parts of his journal during the time were afterwards (1857) published under the title of ‘Quedah; or Stray Leaves from a Journal in Malayan Waters.’ In 1840 the Hyacinth went on to China, and took part in the operations in the Canton river. In 1842 Osborn was moved into the Clio with Commander Troubridge, and in her was present at the capture of Woosung on 16 June. He was afterwards transferred to the Volage, and came home in the Columbine in 1843. He passed his examination in December, and, after going through the gunnery course in the Excellent was appointed gunnery-mate of the Collingwood, fitting out for the Pacific as flagship of Sir George Seymour [q. v.] On 4 May 1846 Osborn was promoted to be lieutenant of the Collingwood, in which he returned to England in the summer of 1848. He then had command of the Dwarf, a small steamer, employed during the disturbances of the year on the coast of Ireland. In 1849, when public attention was turned to the fate of Sir John Franklin, Osborn entered into the question with enthusiasm and energy, and in 1850 was appointed to command the Pioneer steam-tender in the arctic expedition under Captain Austin in the Resolute. Considered as a surveying expedition, it was eminently successful, while, as to the main object, by discovering traces of Franklin's having wintered at Beechey Island in 1845–1846, it proved that there was no truth in the idea that his ships had been lost in Baffin's Bay. Much of the success of the voyage was due to the steam-tenders, which, during the summers of 1850 and 1851, held out new prospects for arctic navigation. The way in which the Pioneer or Intrepid cut through rotten ice, or steamed through the loose pack in a calm, was an object-lesson to the whalers, and led directly to the employment of powerful screw-steamers in the whaling fleet. On the return to England in 1851, Osborn urged the renewal of the search. Not till the fate of Franklin and his people was discovered and the records brought home would England have done her duty towards them. In February 1852 he published an account of the two previous years' work, under the title of ‘Stray Leaves from an Arctic Journal,’ which further stimulated public interest; and early in the year another expedition was decided on, under the command of Sir Edward Belcher [q. v.] in the Assistance, Osborn again going in command of the Pioneer, to which he was formally promoted on 30 Oct. By what Osborn considered a most serious error in judgment, the Pioneer, with the other ships of the expedition, was abandoned on 20 Aug. 1854, the officers and men being brought to England by the North Star, Phœnix, and Talbot on 28 Sept. (Discovery of a North-West Passage, pp. 266–7). The long and difficult service in the Arctic, including five summers and three winters, had severely tried Osborn's health, and for some little time he had charge of the coastguard in Norfolk. Early in 1855 he was sent out to take command of the Vesuvius in the Black Sea, where he took part in the capture of Kertch, and, after the death of Captain Lyons, remained as senior officer in the Sea of Azov, in command of a numerous squadron of gunboats, with which he destroyed many depôts of provisions and stores destined for Sebastopol. On 18 Aug. he was advanced to the rank of captain, but, by Sir Edmund Lyons's desire, was appointed to the Medusa, a small steamer, in which he remained as senior officer in the Sea of Azov till the conclusion of the war, for his conduct in which he received the C.B., the cross of the Legion of Honour, and the Medjidie of the fourth class. In the spring of 1857 Osborn was appointed to the Furious paddle-wheel frigate, and ordered to escort fifteen gunboats to China, a duty considered at the time one of serious difficulty. The gunboats, however, proved better sea-boats than had been expected, and they all arrived safely at Hongkong, where their presence gave a new and happy turn to the war in Canton [see {{sc|Seymour, Sir Michael, 1802–1887], in which Osborn was actively engaged. In December 1857 the Furious was appointed for the use of the plenipotentiary, Lord Elgin, and in the following year took him to Shanghai and the Gulf of Pechili. After the signing of the treaty of Tien-tsin, Lord Elgin, still in the Furious, went to Yedo, where he concluded a treaty which virtually opened Japan to western intercourse; and in September 1858 went up the Yang-tsze as far as Hankow, a piece of difficult and intricate navigation, which was considered to reflect very great credit both on Osborn and on Mr. Court, the master of the Furious. In 1859 Osborn returned to England in bad health, and, while resting from the active duties of his profession, laboured unremittingly with his pen, contributing many articles to ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ mostly on naval or Chinese topics. In 1861 he was appointed to the Donegal, which he commanded in the Gulf of Mexico during the Mexican war, and paid off in the beginning of 1862. In the following June he accepted the proposal made to him by Mr. Lay, as agent for the Chinese government, to take command of a squadron specially fitted out in England for the suppression of piracy on the coast of China. In 1863 he went out with six steamers, built for the purpose, accompanied by several officers of the navy or the mercantile marine. It had been expressly stipulated that Osborn was to receive his orders from the imperial government alone, independent of the local authorities; but on his arrival in China he found that the government had determined that in this respect the agreement should not be carried out, and that the officers of the squadron were to be under the command of the mandarins at the several ports. Osborn refused to accept the position indicated, which, he foresaw, might lead to many complications, contrary to his own sense of propriety and prejudicial to the interests of Great Britain; and, as the Chinese were equally resolute, he threw up the appointment and returned to England with the officers who had joined him [see Burgoyne, Hugh Talbot]. In 1864 he commanded the Royal Sovereign, a ship fitted with turrets on the plan proposed by Captain Cowper Phipps Coles [q. v.], and in 1865 accepted an appointment as agent to the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, the traffic organisation of which he remodelled and improved. Ill-health compelled him to resign in 1866, and in 1867 he became managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, an office which he held till 1873. In 1871 he commanded the Hercules in the Channel for a few months, and on 29 May 1873 attained the rank of rear-admiral. He had never ceased taking the greatest interest in all questions of arctic exploration, and in 1873 suggested to Commander Albert Markham to examine for himself the new conditions of the work under steam, which Markham did by a summer voyage in a whaler. The favourable report which Markham made strongly influenced public opinion. An expedition was determined on, and an advising committee of experts, of whom Osborn was one, was appointed. On Monday, 3 May 1875, when the ships were on the point of sailing, Osborn went down to Portsmouth to wish the officers farewell. He died suddenly in London on 6 May, and was buried in Highgate cemetery on the 10th. He married, in January 1852, Helen, daughter of John Hinksman of Queen Anne Street, London, who still survives him, and left issue two daughters.

His more important works, including ‘The Discovery of a North-West Passage by Captain M'Clure,’ ‘Arctic Journal,’ ‘Last Voyage and Fate of Sir John Franklin,’ were published in a collective edition (3 vols. cr. 8vo) in 1865. He also wrote a very large number of papers in ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ and in the ‘Journal’ or ‘Proceedings’ of the Royal Geographical Society.

[His own works, especially Quedah, the Arctic Journal, and the Discovery of a North-West Passage, are mainly autobiographical. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. xlv. p. cxxi; Letter from Mr. Lay in the Times, 28 Aug. 1890; Oliphant's Narrative of Lord Elgin's Mission to China and Japan; information from the family.]

J. K. L.