Burney, Sir Cecil, first baronet 1858-1929, admiral of the fleet, was born in Jersey, 15 May 1858, the second son of Captain Charles Burney, R.N., for many years superintendent of Greenwich Hospital School, by his wife, Catherine Elizabeth, daughter of Charles Jones, of La Ferrière, Jersey. He was educated at the Royal Naval Academy, Gosport, and entered the Britannia as a naval cadet in July 1871. He went to sea as a midshipman in October 1873, served for three years in the flagships of the Pacific and American stations, and was promoted sub-lieutenant in October 1877. The next three years were spent in educational courses and in short appointments in the trooping ship Serapis and in the royal yacht, from which he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. He then joined the Carysfort, corvette, one of the vessels of Lord Clanwilliam's detached squadron, which was afterwards merged into the Mediterranean fleet during the Egyptian campaign of 1882. This gave Burney an opportunity of war service ashore, and he was in charge of a Gatling gun at the actions of Mahatu and Kassassin in August 1882. In the same year he accompanied the mission led by (Sir) Charles Warren [qv.] across the desert in order to capture the Arabs who had seized and murdered Professor Edward Henry Palmer [qv.], Captain William John Gill [qv.], and Lieutenant Harold Charrington; he also took part in the operations against Osman Digna near Suakin in 1884.
On returning to England Burney spent two years in the gunnery schools at Portsmouth and Devonport. Then followed over five and a half years' service as gunnery lieutenant in the North American Reserve and Channel squadrons. On promotion to commander in January 1893 he was appointed to the Hawke and served in the Mediterranean for three years; and in 1896 he went to Portland in command of the boys' training establishment in the Boscawen and Minotaur for three and a half years until September 1899, being promoted captain in January 1898. After commanding the Hawke in the naval maneuvres of 1900, he commissioned the Sappho for service on the south-east coast of America, but was soon transferred to the Cape station during the South African War. His ship struck the Durban bar when in charge of a pilot on 3 May 1901, and Burney had to bring her home. In May 1902 he became flag-captain to Rear-Admiral Atkinson-Willes in the Home fleet, and remained with him and his successor, Rear-Admiral Poë, until June 1904. He then spent a year (1904-1905) in command of the ex-Chilean battleship Triumph in the Channel fleet. His successful work in training boys at Portland led to his appointment in July 1905 to the Impregnable as inspecting captain of all boys' training ships, a post which he held until his promotion to flag rank in 1909. He thus spent, in all, six years in supervising the training of boys.
Burney's first appointment to flag rank was in the Plymouth division of the Home fleet for one year. From February 1911, when he took command of the fifth cruiser squadron, he was continuously on full pay for nine years. At the end of 1911 he took command of the Atlantic fleet, with the acting rank of vice-admiral, transferring to the third battle squadron in 1912, shortly before reaching confirmed vice-admiral's rank. This squadron was on special service in the Mediterranean, and the disturbances which arose in Montenegro and Albania at the close of the second Balkan War led to the dispatch, arranged by the British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, of an international naval force to Antivari on the Montenegrin coast in April 1913. Burney's squadron was sent in order to secure that an Englishman should be senior officer of the combined fleet. Burney took command and handled the highly delicate and difficult situation, in which his firm manner and rugged mien stood him in good stead, with great ability, and he received a special commendation both from the Foreign Office and from the Admiralty. He had to secure unanimity of action between the naval forces of the five Powers represented, as well as resolve the differences between the turbulent Balkan States ashore. He established a pacific blockade of the coast during April and May of 1913, and then from May to November commanded the international force occupying Scutari, which the Montenegrins had captured, until the trouble was finally settled by the conclusion of peace. He was created K.C.B. in the summer of 1913, and on the termination of the Scutari affair he was gazetted K.C.M.G.
On his return to England at the end of 1913 Burney took over the command of the second and third fleets, then in partial reserve, and the early part of 1914 was occupied in preparing for the test mobilization of that summer. On the outbreak of the European War in August these fleets were organized as the Channel fleet, with the duty of protecting the Channel from enemy raids. In December 1914 Burney went to the first battle squadron of the grand fleet, being second in command under Lord Jellicoe. At the battle of Jutland (31 May 1916) his squadron was the rear of the line, and was more heavily engaged than the rest of the battleships of the main fleet. His flagship, the Marlborough, was torpedoed, and during the night he transferred his flag to the Revenge. He was promoted admiral a few days after the battle of Jutland, and was made G.C.M.G. for his services in the action.
In November 1916, when Jellicoe was appointed first sea lord, Burney joined the board of Admiralty as second sea lord. Sir Eric Geddes became first lord in July 1917, and on his reorganization of the board in the following September, Burney left the Admiralty and soon afterwards went to Rosyth as commander-in-chief, coast of Scotland; there he remained until appointed in March 1919 to be commander-in-chief at Portsmouth. A year later, owing to prolonged ill-health, he was relieved of the command at his own request. He was promoted admiral of the fleet in the following November, created a baronet for his war services in January 1921, and promoted to G.C.B. in 1922. He died at his home, Upham House, Hampshire, 5 June 1929.
Burney married in 1884 Lucinda Marion, second daughter of George Richards Burnett, of London, and had one son and two daughters. His son, Commander Charles Dennistoun Burney, R.N. (born 1888), who succeeded to the baronetcy, invented during the European War the paravane, a device for protecting ships against mines, which brought him a large fortune.
Burney was a fine seaman of the old school, with a deep sense of loyalty to his chiefs. In handling ships and fleets he had the natural ease and confidence of a born sailor. A man of powerful physique, in his early days he excelled in boxing and feats of strength. Although of somewhat austere demeanour, his patent sincerity won him the complete confidence and affection of those who served under him throughout his long sea service.
Contributor: V. W. Baddeley.