OMG! And the Fishers of Ramboda
In 1855, a scandal broke out involving the Francis John Robert Child
Villiers, the son of George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey and Sarah
Sophia Lady Jersey (neé Fane - heiress to the Child Bank fortune). Hon
Francis Villiers, a prominent Conservative Member of Parliament and
formerly aide-de-camp (ADC) to Sir Colin Campbell, General Officer
Commanding (GOC) Ceylon, had been caught forging cheques. The Villiers
owned two coffee estates in Sri Lanka, Galagedera and Middleton (the
latter named after their Oxfordshire seat, Middleton Park at Middleton
Stoney), which they expected to sell to settle Francis’ debts.
In deference to Lady Jersey, the Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin
Disraeli got involved in the affair. In his role as provider of good
offices, in regard to the Villiers’ plantations (which were to remain
unsold even after Francis Villiers’ death) he corresponded with the
Villiers’ attorney in Sri Lanka, Captain William Fisher.
The scion of a line of rectors in the Church of England, William
Fisher was born in 1811. His father Rev John Fisher was the Rector at
Wavendon, Buckinghamshire, in whose church of St Mary’s there is a wall
tablet in memory of his brother Captain William Fisher, killed at
Waterloo, along with a score of other soldiers of the 10th Foot, by a
single cannon ball.
It had been the wish of the deceased, who had been a veteran of the
Peninsular War, that his namesake nephew be given a commission in the
Army. His fellow veteran Lord FitzRoy Somerset (later Lord Raglan), then
military secretary to the Duke of Wellington, obliged. At 17 the younger
William Fisher was commissioned an Ensign in the 78th Highland Regiment
of Foot (the Ross-shire Buffs), the Colonel of which was Lt Gen Sir
Edward Barnes, and shipped to Sri Lanka where the unit was stationed.
Fisher rose in the ranks of the 78th Regiment to Captain. He became
ADC, first to Sir Robert John Wilmot-Horton, Governor of Ceylon and then
to General Sir Robert Arbuthnot, GOC Ceylon. In 1834, hunting elk along
with Lt Albert Watson of the 58th Regiment, he ‘discovered’ Horton
Plains, which he named for the Governor.
Fisher married Sophie Lambe, daughter of Alfred Lambe, a vintner of
New Bond St., London, and grand-daughter of Alderman Boydell, Lord Mayor
of London and a famous engraver. It was a love match, which was looked
on with opprobrium by the snobbish Fishers. A rumour went round that
Sophie was actually a ‘Cingalese woman’ with whom William had
‘contracted a left-handed alliance’.
In 1841, William sold his Captain’s commission in the 78th
Highlanders and retired to Ramboda, where he began planting coffee. The
name which he gave to the estate was Wavendon, after his father’s
Ramboda falls Benjamin Disraeli
Several years later, Fisher lost his coffee crop to disease and
joined the nascent Ceylon Police, becoming Chief Superintendant. He had
eleven offspring, of whom seven survived infancy. Of them two, John
Arbuthnot Fisher (1841 -1920) and Frederic William Fisher (1851-1943),
went on to join the Royal Navy and to rise to flag rank. A third,
Philip, also joined the Navy but was drowned when his ship HMS Atalanta
foundered in a storm in1880.
John (better known as ‘Jackie’) Fisher thought he had been born at ‘Rambodde’,
but later research by his descendants proved that his nativity had been
in Colombo; although he did spend his early childhood on Wavendon
His godfather, after whom he received his middle name, was Gen Sir
Robert Arbuthnot. His godmother was Anne Beatrix Lady Wilmot-Horton, the
Governor’s wife, for whom her husband’s cousin Lord Byron wrote his
lyric poem beginning ‘She walks in beauty like the night...’
At six years of age, his parents sent Jackie to England; he was never
to see them again. William Fisher died in 1866 at Nuwara Eliya, and
Jackie stayed away from his mother, although he sent her an allowance in
later years. She died in 1895.
Jackie stayed with his maternal grandfather Alfred Lambe, himself
rather down on his luck. Through her connections in the Royal Navy, Lady
Wilmot-Horton obtained for Jackie a cadet’s position when he was 13. The
entry examination consisted of writing out the Lord’s Prayer and jumping
naked over a chair.
From this inauspicious beginning, he went on to be Admiral of the
Fleet and First Sea Lord, the highest positions a naval officer could
hope for. He was knighted in 1894 and was created 1st Baron Fisher of
Kilverstone in 1909.
His chief claim to fame was that he had been the driving force behind
the new class of all-big-gun battleships, which came to be known as the
Dreadnoughts, and for the conversion of the Royal Navy from coal to
petroleum. He was also known for introducing submarines into service;
later commentators would compare the great Soviet Admiral Sergey
Georgiyevich Gorshkov, who expanded the USSR’s fleet to challenge the
West’s, to Jackie Fisher.
However, Jackie Fisher will probably be most famous in the future for
being the first recorded person to use the colloquialism ‘OMG’ as an
abbreviation for ‘Oh My God’. In 2011, the Oxford English Dictionary
discovered the earliest use of the phrase in a 1917 letter from Admiral
Fisher to Winston Churchill. It was published in Fisher’s
autobiographical ‘Memories’ in 1919, the year before his death by
The sentence from the letter, quoted in the OED reads: ‘I hear that a
new order of Knighthood is on the tapis - O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) - Shower
it on the Admiralty!!'