Admiral Robert Fitzgerald Gambier was known in Gosport for his support for seafaring men. He was, together with Captain Hall and Sir Edward Parry, one of the founders of the Royal Sailor’s Home at Portsmouth in 1848. Born in Lisbon Portugal he was the son of Sir James Gambier (who served as Consul-General in Portugal) and Jemima Snell. In 1838 he was married to Hester, daughter of Mr Thomas Butler of Berry Lodge, Hambledon, Hampshire. Admiral Gambier entered the service as a cadet in 1816. He served as lieutenant of the Asia at the battle of Navarion and was promoted to the rank of commander for his services on that occasion, his commission being dated one day senior to all others given for that battle. He served as Commander in the Satellite, South America in 1842 and as Commander in the Sappho, in the Cape of Good Hope in 1845. He was promoted Captain in 1846 and he retired in 1864 with the rank of Rear Admiral. Again in 1871 he retired as Vice Admiral and then Admiral in 1877. He became a well know figure at Gosport by devoting himself entirely to the affairs of Alverstoke and Gosport. He was an active churchman and politician. He was chairman of the Army and Navy Institute at Gosport.
His memory lives on in Gosport with the Drinking Fountain that he caused to be erected in the Ferry Gardens. The fountain is a column of highly polished red and gray granite with two basins, one midway and the other at the nave. It was originally surmounted by a circular lamp and had four jets of water proceeding from open lion’s mouths. The cost was reported to have been approaching £100. It is inscribed around the column with a quotation from the Bible ‘Jesus saith whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him never thirst.”
An inscription below the basin states Erected by Admiral R.F. Gambier and E.M.S. September 1870.
E.M.S. was a lady from Gosport, a ‘dear friend’ of Admiral Gambier, who wished to remain anonymous. The purpose in erecting the fountain at the ferry gardens was to benefit all who frequented the hard but more especially for those who in their vocation constantly waited for hours every day. When presenting the fountain to the town Admiral Gambier expressed his trust that:
“….it will save many a man many a man from having to enter a public house or beer-house when he is thirsty after a row across the harbour, and that he will be satisfied with a drink of pure water which he could not get here before, and thus save many a penny and two-pence for the use of his family at home.”
He also hoped that: “…it will be kept from injury, especially by thoughtless boys, for whose benefit it is also placed here”.
It originally stood at the harbour end of the High Street. It was later relocated to stand inside the Ferry Gardens where it was used for many years. When the High Street was pedestrianised in 1991 the fountain was placed at the ferry end. It is no longer functioning as a fountain. The lion’s heads have been removed and the original lamp has been replaced with a non-working example.
Admiral Gambier died at his home at Anglesey Gosport on October 17th 1885 at the age of 82 years having suffered from total blindness for his last few years. A metal plaque was placed in remembrance of him in the north wall of the isle of the Royal Garrison Church , Portsmouth. It is inscribed “To the glory of God and as a mark of love and respect to the memory of Robert Fitzgerald Gambier, Admiral in the Royal Navy, of Anglesea (sic) Terrace, Alverstoke and for many years chairman of the Sailor’s Home Portsea. Born November 21st 1803; died October 17th 1885. ‘And so shall we ever be with the Lord’ Thesa 1st, iv and ivii’ “
I am grateful to Sylvia Wright who contacted me via this website to say that Admiral Gambier is her 4th great uncle. She adds more information:
His father Sir James Gambier, 1772-1844 had an illegitimate son, called James Fitzjames who lost his life in the Arctic in the Franklin Expedition. I know quite a lot about this family.
My great grandfather, Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, discovered the only documentary proof of this expedition, which is now housed in the NMM, Greenwich.
James’ aunt or possibly great aunt was Margaret Gambier, 1730-1792 whomarried Adm Sir Charles Middleton, later Lord Barham, who authorized the addition of copper to RN ships, thus enabling them to go faster & not get barnacles on their hulls. Margaret influenced William Wilberforce to get the slave trade abolished.. the National Portrait Gallery has a portrait of her and a good, but short biography. Her brother was Admiral James Gambier, Admiral of the Red, 1725-1789 who was a Bad Man! Oh it’s a fascinating family!