Admiral of the Fleet Sir Frederick William Richards GCB (30 November 1833 - 28 September 1912) was the British First Sea Lord from 1893 to 1899.
He was born at Ballyhally, County Wexford, on 30 November 1833, the second son of Captain Edwin Richards RN, of Solsboro, Wexford, and his wife, Mary Anne, daughter of the Revd Walter Blake Kirwan, dean of Killala. After the Royal Naval School, New Cross, he became a naval cadet in 1848. He served several years on the Australian station and was promoted acting mate, HM sloop Fantome, on the same station in January 1854. He was promoted Lieutenant in October 1855, and on returning home in 1856 went on half pay for a year, after which he was appointed to the Ganges, flagship on the Pacific station. The commander-in-chief, Rear-Admiral R. L. Baynes, appointed him flag-lieutenant in April 1859, and in February 1860 he was promoted commander in command of the paddle-sloop Vixen on the China station. He brought home and paid off this vessel in 1861. From March 1862 to January 1866 he commanded the Dart, a gunboat, on the west coast of Africa, and on his return was promoted Captain in February 1866. Later that year he married Lucy, daughter of Fitzherbert Brooke, of Horton Court, Gloucestershire. They had no children, and she died in 1880.
Posting in Africa
After four and a half years on half pay Richards commanded the Indian troopship Jumna until June 1873, and was then selected to command the Devastation, the first steam turret battleship designed without any sail power. In 1874 Richards took the Devastation to the Mediterranean and remained her captain until June 1877. The following January he became captain of the steam reserve, and in October 1878 he was appointed Commodore and senior officer on the west coast of Africa, HMS Boadicea. When he arrived at the Cape the disaster at Isandlwana in the Zulu War had just occurred (22 January 1879), and he promptly went up the east coast outside the limits of his station, and landed in March 1879 with a small naval brigade and commanded it at the Battle of Gingindlovu (2 April) and in the relief of Echowe (3 April). For these services he was gazetted and made a CB (1879). He remained as commodore in South Africa until June 1882, having taken part in the defeat at Laing's Nek (28 January 1881) in the Transvaal War, and having been promoted KCB that year.
China Station and the Admiralty
After promotion to flag rank in June 1882 Richards was appointed junior naval lord at the Admiralty under the second earl of Northbrook. In May 1885 he received the command of the East India station with his flag in HMS Bacchante. In the course of this three years' command he organized and equipped the naval brigade in the Burmese War. After his return to Britain in 1888 he was appointed, with admirals Sir William Montagu Dowell and Sir Richard Vesey Hamilton, to report on the lessons of the naval manoeuvres of that year. Their report, most of which was acknowledged to be by Richards, presented a most convincing discussion of the conditions of modern warfare and a clear statement of the vital importance of sea power to the existence of the British empire, and set forth what became known as the two-power standard as the principle on which the British naval construction programme should be based. It re-established the strategic principles of previous generations as the basis for naval planning. This able report, though challenged at first by official naval opinion, made a great impression, and was one of the causes of Lord George Hamilton's 1889 Naval Defence Act, which overhauled the Royal Navy. Richards was also the naval representative on the royal commission on naval and military administration (1890), in the proceedings of which and in the drafting of its conclusions he bore a leading part.
First Sea Lord
Richards was promoted Vice Admiral in 1888, and in 1890 went as commander-in-chief to the China station until June 1892, when he rejoined the Board of Admiralty under Lord George Hamilton as second naval lord. He was promoted Admiral in September 1893, and in November of that year was selected by the fifth Earl Spencer to succeed Sir Anthony Hiley Hoskins as First Sea Lord, a position which he retained for nearly six years. His career as first naval lord was of great importance in the history of naval administration. This period was marked by a great development of the shipbuilding programme begun under the Naval Defence Act of 1889, and, at Richards's particular instigation, by a series of large naval works carried out under the Naval Works Acts of 1895 and subsequent years. The result was that the naval ports and dockyards at home and abroad were renovated and brought up to date to meet the requirements of the modern navy. Under this scheme naval harbours were constructed at Portland, at Dover, and at Gibraltar, and great extensions of the dockyards at Portsmouth, at Devonport, at Malta, at Gibraltar, at Hong Kong, and at Simon's Bay. In carrying his naval programme against the opposition from Sir William Harcourt and Gladstone, Lord Spencer was supported by the foreign secretary, Lord Rosebery, and could rely on the unwavering determination of Richards and his colleagues on the board. The cabinet's acceptance of the naval ‘Spencer’ programme was in large measure responsible for Gladstone's final decision to resign from office in 1894.
Admiral of the Fleet and last years
In November 1898 Richards would have been retired for age, but a special order in council was obtained promoting him to be admiral of the fleet in order that he might remain on the active list until the age of seventy. He served as First Sea Lord until 1899 when he retired. He died at his residence, Horton Court, Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, on 28 September 1912.