See the sub page for access to his illustrated letters to his son Eddy
Alfred Phillipps Ryder was born on 27th June 1820. He was the seventh son of the Right Reverend Henry Dudley Ryder, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry. His first letters to his Mother show that he was already at sea in 1833 as a Cadet. He officially entered the Navy in May 1838, passed his examination in July 1839 in the special competitive course in the Royal Naval College, won his commission as Lieutenant 20th July 1841. He was then appointed to the 42 gun Frigate Belvedere, in which he served in the Mediterranean till the ship was paid off in 1845. On 15thJanuary 1846 he was promoted to the rank of Commander and in May 1847 was appointed to the steam ship HMS Vixen on the North American and West Indian Station. He was promoted Post-Captain on 2nd May 1848 for brilliant service at the capture of Port Serapiqui on the San Juan River in Nicaragua.
From 1853 to 1857 he commanded the frigate HMS Dauntless in the Channel and afterwards in the Black Sea during the Crimean War. He had married his cousin Louisa Dawson in 1852 and had one son Edward (born 20th April 1853). During the war with Russia his poor wife was dying of consumption and to have the best chance of seeing her husband before death, she went to Malta. There is correspondence showing how Alfred sought leave from the Crimea to attend her during her last illness, risking his career and arriving in Malta from the Black Sea to find only her grave. She had died on 10th October 1855 aged 22 leaving Eddy at just two and a half.
Following his bereavement Alfred wrote a series of illustrated letters when away from his young son. These begin in 1855 when Eddy was aged 3. The last letter is dated 1868 when Eddy would have been 15. The letters are informative about life and conditions in the Navy at a time of change with the development of steam ships and iron plating. They are also entertaining, describing the sort of life that was led aboard Her Majesty’s Ships when not at war. They are very touching too as a Victorian father to his only son, being looked after by his Aunts and Governess following the tragic death of his wife Louisa.
He was appointed to command HMS Hero in the Channel Squadron in 1862, also sailing her to North America and the West Indies. From 1863 to 1866 he held the post of Comptroller of the Coastguard and devoted his attention to questions affecting life-saving at sea. He was promoted to be Rear-Admiral on 2nd April 1868. He was Second-in-Command of the Channel Fleet in 1868-69, and then Naval Attaché in Paris. He gave much attention to promoting the religious, moral and physical welfare of the Navy and all connected with it. On 7th May 1872 he became Vice-Admiral and just before taking command of the China Station in 1874, Admiral Ryder with a small body of Chaplains and Officers founded the Naval Church Society. This led to the appointment of Chaplains to a few of the larger ships.
Meanwhile Eddy married Agnes Bickley (14th June 1877), a marriage of which we understand Alfred did not approve. Eddy himself died soon after at the young age of 24 so Alfred when he returned from China found he had lost his only son. There is a memorial to both Eddy and Louisa in the Chapel at Launde Abbey, now a Retreat House for the Diocese of Leicester.
Alfred went on to become an Admiral (15th August 1877) and from 1879 to 1882 was Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth. In May 1884 he was made KCB and was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet April 1885. It was during the time that he was C-in-C Portsmouth that his uncle Henry March-Phillipps died and left him the fine home of Wellswood House at Torquay, though he still retained Hambleden Cottage near Henley-on-Thames where his mother and sister had lived for nearly 40 years. He made Wellswood his home and added considerably to the house. In spite of possessions and honours and worldly success he had no real peace. He devoted himself to active work as a Churchman, being a significant member of the Church Purity Society. He had the company of his great-niece Ethel Newnham at Torquay and following her death his papers came to Captain Robert Ryder VC in the early 1960s.
The mysterious circumstances of Alfred’s drowning in the Thames at Vauxhall Pier were covered in the press. The Coroner’s verdict was accidental death, but he was known to suffer from depression and melancholy and so there remains the possibility that he took his own life - a sad end to a good life and a distinguished career. There is a stained glass window to his memory in St Ann's Church in Portsmouth.
This introduction is drawn from his obituary in The Vanguard and from notes written by one of the children of his older brother George Dudley Ryder. Apart from the letters to Eddy (in the possession of Lisle Ryder) his papers are deposited with the Harrowby archives at Sandon Hall in Staffordshire.
Documents relating to Alfred's life: Press cuttings, Commissions, Obituaries, Memorials, Artefacts etc. Click on an item below to download. Click here for his correspondence.