Sir Herbert Jekyll

The Times 30th September 1932

Civil Servant, Artist and Musician

Colonel Sir Herbert Jekyll, who died yesterday at his home, Munstead House, Godalming, at the age of 85, had had a distinguished and varied career in the public service.

The Jekyll family descends from William Jekyll, of Newington, Middlesex, who came from Lincolnshire and died in 1522. Sir Joseph Jekyll led the procecution, in 1710, of Dr. Sacheverell, and was later Master of the Rolls. His great-great-nephew, Sir Herbert’s grandfather, Joseph Jekyll, K.C., was Attorney-General to the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, in 1803, and later a Master in Chancery, and was well known as a wit and a favourite at Carlton House. Herbert Jekyll was the third son of Edward Joseph Hill Jekyll, formerly captain in the Grenadier Guards, and Julia, daughter of Charles Hammersley. He was born in London on November 22, 1846, was educated at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and was gazetted lieutenant, R.E., on April 17, 1866. After serving in the Ashantic War, he was seconded on becoming, in 1876, private secretary to Lord Carnarvon, when that statesman was Secretary of State for the Colonies, in the earlier period of Disraeli’s Administration. Jekyll formed a close friendship with his chief, which continued till the death of the latter in 1890, and he contributed some interesting recollections to Sir Arthur Hardinge’s biography of Lord Carnarvon, published in 1925.

After the crisis that led to Lord Carnavon’s resignation, Jekyll went from the Colonial Office to the War Office, where, in addition to his other duties, he became secretary of the Colonial Defence Committee. When, in 1879, Lord Carnavon accepted the chairmanship of the Royal Commission on the Defence of British Possessions and Commerce, he stipulated that Captain Jekyll should be the secretary, and this duty occupied him until 1882. When his old chief returned to office in 1885, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Jekyll accompanied him in his former post of private secretary. Lord Carnavon had only accepted the office provisionally until after the next General Election, and in the following year he resigned.

Major Jekyll’s next post was that of Secretary to the Royal Commission on the Melbourne Centenary Exhibition under the chairmanship of Lord Rosebery in 1887, for which his wide interest in the arts was a valuable qualification. In 1892 he returned to Ireland as private secretary to Lord Houghton (now Lord Crewe), and he remained with him in Dublin until 1895. Then, having reached the rank of colonel, he returned for a time to military duties, and took over the command of the Royal Engineers in the Cork District. Later Colonel Jekyll was appointed Secretary of the Royal Commission for the Paris Exhibition of 1900, and he spent over a year in Paris in charge of the British Section. Anglo-French relations had been unusually strained after the South African War and Fashoda, but the Jekylls, by their friendly intercourse in many circles of French society, did much to pave the way for the better mutual understanding that led to the period of the “entente cordiale”.

On his return to London at the close of the Exhibition Sir Herbert, who had been created K.C.M.G., received his first Civil Service post of Assistant Secretary to the Railway Department of the Board of Trade. In 1907 he was made chief of the London Traffic Branch of the Board of Trade, and held that post till his retirement under the age limit in December, 1911. During this period he was instrumental in preparing for the great road and by-pass developments which have since been carried out.

Though 1911 saw the end of his Government service, Jekyll continued an active life in business, holding several directorships, and he continued to give valuable service on the board of the London General Omnibus Company from 1912 onwards. He was a member of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem during many years, Secretary-General of the Order from 1901, and Chancellor from 1911 to 1918. He was a Knight of Grace and, later, a Knight of Justice. Throughout the War he worked on the Joint Finance Committee of the Order of St. John and the British Red Cross. He was a member of the Athenaeum and the Burlington Fine Arts Club.

True to his tradition of R.E. officer, he combined a somewhat shy and retiring disposition with the highest standards of efficiency and thoroughness. But his public work was only a part of his many and varied interests. Painting, architecture, wood-carving, music, gardening – all these had a share in his life, and had rival claims on the leisure that was always too short. He was an accomplished watercolour artist – indeed, his copies of Turner sketches were so faithful that he used to tell the story of how, coming by chance into the rooms of a well-known firm of auctioneers before a sale, he found one of his own drawings included as a genuine Turner.

Wood-carving was a lifelong delight and interest to him. An admirer of Grinling Gibbons, he made many drawings from the carvings in St. Paul’s and elsewhere, and adapted the designs to his own purposes; the dining-room in his home near Godalming is only one of his carving achievements. He was a keen musician of classical taste and an original member of the Bach Choir when it was formed for the first performance in England of the B minor Mass. He was a good organist, and played for many years, till he decided that his days were too crowded, and he presented his organ to the Royal College of Music, of which he was a member of the council. Mention must also be made of his deep interest in family history, and his family records, involving long and patient research, and copied in his neat and faithful hand, form a vivid picture of bygone times, full of wit and of human interest. His dry humour and his natural choice of language made him a delightful raconteur, and, though social engagements were little to his liking, in his own circle he was excellent company and a very good host. Gentleman, soldier, artist, he combined in an unusual degree the finest and most attractive qualities to be found in an Englishman.

Sir Herbert married in 1881, Agnes, daughter of the late William Graham, M.P., the owner of the famous collection of pictures. She, with a son and two daughters, survives him. She is a Dame of the Order of the British Empire and a Lady of Justice of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. One of his sisters is Miss Gertrude Jekyll, the famous gardener and artist. His elder daughter, Barbara, married first the Hon. Francis McLaren, M.P., who was killed in the War, and, secondly, Colonel B. C. Freyberg, V.C.; and the younger, Pamela, is the wife of the Right Hon. Reginald McKenna.