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Tuesday, 22 May 2012






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OMG! And the Fishers of Ramboda

Benjamin Disraeli

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.

Peninsular War

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’.

Royal Navy

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 Buckinghamshire parish.

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 estate.

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.

New class

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 cancer.

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!!'


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