David Beatty 1st Earl Beatty of Brooksby and the North Sea
1871 – 1936 | Early Life
David Beatty came from an old Irish family. On the male side his ancestors were sportsmen and soldiers. His great-grandfather fought at Waterloo and others raised a troop of cavalry, the Heathfield Horse, which served with distinction under Wellington in the Peninsular War. The family seat was Borodale, a sizeable sporting estate outside Ennuscorthy, County Wexford.
David was born at Howbeck Lodge, Stapeley, Cheshire on 17th January 1871; he was the second of five children.His father was Captain David Longfield Beatty of the 4th Hussars and his mother was Katrine Sadlier. Katrine was married to a fellow officer when she and David Snr. embarked upon a relationship and they were not able to marry until David was six months old. David Snr. was 6ft 4in tall and a Vanity Fair article of 1898, in the series Men of the Day, described him as follows: “…he was born to sport; began hunting before he was ten and has not ceased doing so…….He is proud of his family, of his legs, and of his breeches; and is distinguished by his remarkable hat”. Katrine was very beautiful, with golden hair and had great charm and a dignified air. David resembled his father but was only 5ft 5in tall.
The Beatty family’s main interest was sport, particularly hunting, and they had Irish hunters sent over from Borodale. David Snr. established a business selling and training horses and in 1885 the family moved to The Moat, near Rugby which enabled him to expand the business and begin training racing horses.
David’s early education concentrated on horsemanship, hunting and learning to be a gentleman.
Whilst his brothers followed their father into the army David wanted to join the Navy. At the age of twelve he was sent to Burnley’s Naval Academy at Gosport, a crammer for boys wishing to take the entrance examinations for the Royal Navy. He joined the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in January 1884, aged thirteen, tenth in order of merit out of a total of ninety-nine candidates.
The “college” at that time consisted of two old wooden battleships, Britannia and Hindustan, tied up on the River Dart just below the site of the present Royal Naval College. In these spartan conditions the boys learnt to sail, navigate, command and take commands. David did not make his mark at Dartmouth; the rigid discipline and endless routine were not suited to his lively character. He was punished nineteen times, mostly for “skylarking” and a note of 1885 states that he “was troublesome under punishment”. Having done well at entry he slipped down the rankings and in 1886 he passed out half way down the list.
After such an undistinguished performance David was posted to the undesirable China station. However his mother took exception to this and using her Irish connections appealed to her friend Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, the Fourth Sea Lord. David was moved from the backwater China posting to the navy’s prize midshipman appointment on the flagship of the Mediterranean fleet, the Alexandra.
David’s fellow junior officers on the Alexandra were amongst the brightest and best connected in the navy. His personal charm, polished manners and good looks made him popular with his contemporaries and the numerous guests who passed through the flag ship; his exceptional horsemanship reinforced his social position and during this posting he acquired an enduring taste for high society.
The contacts David made on the Alexandra did much to make his career.