Lyons, Edmund (DNB00)

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LYONS, EDMUND, Lord Lyons (1790–1858), admiral, fourth son of John Lyons of Antigua and St. Austen's, Lymington in Hampshire, was born at Burton, near Christchurch, Hampshire, on 29 Nov. 1790. Vice-admiral John Lyons (d. 1872), for many years in the service of the Egyptian government, was his elder brother. His father's intimate friend, Admiral Sir Richard Hussey Bickerton [q. v.], who had married Miss Anne Athill of Antigua, was his godfather. It was with Bickerton that Edmund Lyons, then only eight years old, went to sea in the Terrible in 1798; he was afterwards sent to Hyde Abbey school, near Winchester, where he probably remained till 1803, when he joined the Active frigate, under the command of Captain Richard Hussey Moubray, Bickerton's first cousin. In the Active he continued for four years, was at least once sent away in command of a prize, and was present with the squadron under Sir John Duckworth [q. v.] at the passing of the Dardanelles in February 1807. Shortly afterwards Lyons returned to England in the Bergère sloop, and was sent out to the East Indies in the Monmouth. He was then moved into the Russell, flagship of Rear-admiral Drury. In June 1808 he was appointed acting-lieutenant of the Caroline; in August was moved to the Barracouta brig, and confirmed to her on 22 Nov. 1809. In her he had an honourable part in the storming of Kasteel Belgica and the reduction of Banda Neira, the chief of the Dutch Spice Islands, on 9 Aug. 1810 (James, v. 199). The Barracouta was afterwards sent to Madras with the news of the success, and Lyons was transferred to the Minden, as flag-lieutenant to Rear-admiral Drury.

Drury died in the following March, and Lyons, continuing in the Minden, was in her on the coast of Java in July. The harbour of Marrack, seventy-four miles west of Batavia, was at this time the only safe port for the French frigates. It was defended by a strong fort mounting fifty-four heavy guns, and just as preparations were made for attacking it in force by the boats of the squadron and four hundred men, intelligence was received of the arrival of an additional battalion of Dutch troops. On 25 July 1811 Lyons was sent away in command of two boats to land a score of prisoners at Batavia, and on his way back he conceived the idea of carrying Marrack by surprise. He had with him thirty-four men all told, and these he landed under the very embrasures of the fort about half an hour after midnight on the morning of 30 July. The alarm had been given, but before the batteries could be manned they were in the occupation of the English sailors, who then charged the garrison drawn up on the hill above. A panic seized the Dutch troops and they fled. They afterwards rallied and attempted to retake the fort, but were repulsed with great slaughter by the fire of two 32-pounders loaded up to the muzzle and placed to defend the gateway. At daybreak Lyons, having dismantled the fort, disabled the guns, and destroyed the magazine, withdrew his men, and in the course of the day rejoined his ship. Captain Hoare of the Minden called on him for an explanation of his conduct and an account of his proceedings, and sent it to Commodore Broughton, then commander-in-chief, with a very warm expression of his approval. Broughton, a puzzle-headed man [see Broughton, William Robert], in forwarding the letters, while approving Lyons's ‘gallantry and zeal,’ added that ‘the attack was made contrary to orders,’ meaning, apparently, ‘without orders.’ The admiralty were compelled to act on Broughton's letter, and to refuse promotion to Lyons on this occasion; ‘but,’ it was noted by Mr. Yorke, the first lord, ‘an early opportunity may be taken of sending him out a commission of commander’ (James, v. 297; Broughton to Croker, 10 Aug. 1811, enclosing letters from Hoare and Lyons; Lyons to Sir Richard Bickerton, 25 Aug.; in Admirals' Despatches, East Indies, vol. xxiv.)

During the further operations in Java, Lyons had for some time the command of a flotilla of captured gunboats, and was afterwards appointed to serve on shore under Captain Sayer, who specially applied for him. After the reduction of Fort Cornelis his health broke down, and he returned to England. His commander's commission was dated 21 March 1812. In 1813 he commanded the Rinaldo brig in the Channel, and was advanced to post-rank on 7 June 1814. He had no further employment afloat till 1828, when he commanded the Blonde frigate in the Mediterranean, and in October co-operated with the French troops in the reduction of Kastro Morea, for which service he received the French order of St. Louis, and was made a knight commander of the order of the Redeemer of Greece. In 1831 Lyons was moved to the Madagascar, still in the Mediterranean, and in 1833 escorted King Otho and the Bavarian regency from Trieste to Athens. It was probably this service that determined his future career. On paying off the Madagascar in January 1835, he was nominated a K.C.H. and appointed minister and plenipotentiary at the court of Athens, where he remained for nearly fifteen years. On 29 July 1840 he was created a baronet, and was nominated a civil G.C.B. on 10 July 1844. From 1849 to 1851 he was minister to the Swiss Confederation, and after that at Stockholm. He was still in Sweden when, in November 1853, on the imminence of war with Russia, he was appointed second in command of the fleet in the Mediterranean. He had been promoted to be rear-admiral on 14 Jan. 1850.

It would seem probable that, at the moment, the appointment was considered as much diplomatic as naval, and was suggested by his intimate knowledge of eastern affairs. It soon, however, came to be understood that Lyons's energy was the ruling factor in the conduct of the fleet [see Dundas, Sir James Whitley Deans]. Dundas, the commander-in-chief, had hoisted his flag before the war in the Britannia, a commodious three-decker, but a sailing ship. Lyons had the advantage of flying his flag on board the Agamemnon, the first of the screw 91-gun ships. Dundas spoke French very imperfectly, and was content to leave as much as possible of the French talking to his more accomplished junior. The ordering of the embarkation of the army and the landing it in the Crimea was naturally the duty of the second-in-command. Lyons also was in command of the inshore squadron off Sebastopol, and, the Agamemnon being a steamship, took a very prominent part in the attack on the sea defences on 17 Oct. 1854 (Kingslake, iii. 408). The whole fleet, both English and French, was loud in its commendation of Lyons's skill and boldness (ib. iii. 464). Dundas was of opinion that the attack altogether was ill-advised, and yielded only to the pressure which was put upon him by the French general, Canrobert, and by Lord Raglan (ib. iii. 321, 387, 459). Lyons had previously believed that some such attempt might be advantageous; but after 17 Oct. he seems to have entirely agreed with Dundas (ib. iii. 455–6).

After the battle of Balaclava on 25 Oct., Lord Raglan resolved to abandon the harbour as untenable. On landing on the morning of the 27th, Lyons learnt with dismay that orders to this effect had been given. On his own responsibility he suspended the orders affecting the naval brigade, and going at once to Lord Raglan laid before him his view ‘that the abandonment of Balaclava meant the evacuation of the Crimea in a week.’ The ‘Times’ (25 Nov. 1858) maintained that it was entirely due to Lyons's remonstrance that Lord Raglan rescinded the order; but Kinglake (iv. 27) attributes the effect rather to the declaration of the commissary-general that ‘without the port of Balaclava he could not undertake to supply the army.’ Raglan was doubtless convinced of his error by the independent agreement of the admiral and the commissary-general.

In January 1855 Dundas's time as commander-in-chief had expired, and he was relieved by Lyons, who held the post during the remainder of the war. On 5 July 1855 he was nominated a military G.C.B., and on 23 June 1856 was raised to the peerage as Baron Lyons of Christchurch. On 19 March 1857 he was promoted to be vice-admiral; and in December was given the temporary rank of admiral while in command in the Mediterranean. He received also the grand cross of the Legion of Honour and the Medjidie of the first class. He returned to England early in 1858, and in the summer commanded the squadron which escorted the queen to Cherbourg. After a short illness he died at Arundel Castle on 24 Nov. 1858.

Lyons married in 1814 Augusta Louisa, daughter of Captain Josias Rogers, R.N. [q. v.] She died at Stockholm while her husband was still minister there on 10 March 1852, leaving issue two sons and two daughters. Of the former, the elder, Richard Bickerton Pemell [q. v.], who succeeded to the title, is separately noticed; the younger, Edmund Mowbray, born on 27 June 1819, entered the Royal Naval College and obtained a commission in 1841. As captain in the navy, he commanded the Miranda in the Black Sea in 1855, was mortally wounded in the night attack on the sea defences of Sebastopol on 18 June, and died in the hospital at Therapia on 23 June. The elder daughter married Baron von Wurtzburg of Bavaria; the younger married Henry Granville Fitzalan Howard, fourteenth Duke of Norfolk [q. v.]

Lyons was considered to be strikingly like the great admiral, Lord Nelson. ‘He had,’ says the writer in the ‘Times,’ ‘the same complexion, the same profusion of grey, inclining to white hair, the same eager and half melancholy look.’ He himself was quite conscious of the likeness, and not averse— it used to be said—to hearing it spoken of. A good portrait was lent by his grandson, the present Duke of Norfolk, to the Naval Exhibition of 1891.

[Information from the Duke of Norfolk; O'Byrne's Nav. Biog. Dict.; Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. vii. (Supplt. pt. iii.) 381; James's Naval Hist. (edit. of 1860); Kinglake's Invasion of the Crimea (1st edit.); Times, 25 Nov. 1858; Foster's Peerage.]

J. K. L.