Sir Edward Pellew 1st Viscount Exmouth
1757-1833. He was born on 19 April 1757 at Dover, the second of four sons of Samuel Pellew, a commander of a local packet and a man of Cornish descent who had fallen on hard times, and of his wife Constantia Langford. He was the elder brother of Admiral Sir Israel Pellew, and of John, an Army officer killed at Saratoga, and the father of Captain Pownall Pellew and Admiral Hon. Sir Fleetwood Pellew.
Following Samuel Pellew’s death in 1764 the family returned to Penzance where it prospered under the patronage of Viscount Falmouth, elder brother of Admiral Rt. Hon. Edward Boscawen, and where Edward Pellew was educated at Truro Grammar School. Having run away from school to escape a beating he entered the Navy in December 1770 aboard the Juno 32, commanded by Admiral Boscawen’s old boatswain John Stott, and after a voyage to the Falkland Islands he followed Stott to the Alarm 32 in August 1772, serving in the Mediterranean for the next three years. His service was abruptly curtailed in 1776 when he was thrown off this ship at Marseilles for making a joke about his captain’s mistress.
Pellew was able to get passage to Lisbon through an old friend of his father’s, and the influence of Viscount Falmouth obtained a position for him aboard the Blonde 32 commanded by the brilliant Captain Philemon Pownall, who was to have a huge part in shaping his new young charge. Initially however Pellew was disrated and became an able seaman in order to learn his trade. At the Battle of Lake Champlain on 11 December 1776 he fought under the command of Lieutenant James Richard Dacres, and when injury befell his superior he found himself in command of the schooner Carleton 12, earning instant acclaim in the service for setting the jib of his vessel under a heavy fire, and in bringing the Carleton to safety. He received promises of promotion from both the commander-in-chief in North America, Vice-Admiral Lord Howe, and the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, but before these could be fulfilled he was taken prisoner whilst serving with Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne’s army in the same engagement at Saratoga that saw the death of his youngest brother John. The general appears to have had a great liking for the boisterous young naval officer and entrusted him with carrying home the first news of his defeat.
On his return to Portsmouth Lord Sandwich refused to let Pellew go to sea under the terms of his surrender at Saratoga, and thus on 9 January 1778 he was commissioned lieutenant of the inactive guardship Princess Amelia 80, Captain Digby Dent, flying the flag of Admiral Sir Thomas Pye. At the end of the year he joined the Licorne 36, Captains Henry Bellew, followed by Captain Hon Thomas Cadogan, going out to Newfoundland with the latter, and after returning that winter to Plymouth he was in April 1780 appointed senior lieutenant of the Apollo 32, once more serving under Captain Pownall. On 15 June 1780 he assumed command of the frigate when Pownall was killed by a musket shot during an engagement with the French privateer Stanislaus 26 off Ostend, an engagement Pellew won by driving the enemy ashore. For this act Sandwich promoted him commander of the thirty year-old sloop Hazard 8 on 1 July, and he commanded her in the preventative service on the coast of Scotland for six months before being paid off and enduring a period of unemployment.
After being appointed to the French-built prize Pelican 16 in March 1782, Pellew was posted captain on 25 May 1782 after driving three privateers ashore off the Isle of Bas, Brittany. He joined the Artois 40 as acting-captain for John Macbride, who had been a friend of his father’s, and quickly helped himself to another frigate-sized privateer, the Prince de Robecq 22 on 1 July, retaining the command of the Artois for a year.
He remained unemployed after the peace until the spring of 1786 when he joined the frigate Winchelsea 32, taking her out to Newfoundland for each of the succeeding summers before paying her off in February 1779. He was afterwards flag captain to Vice-Admiral Mark Milbanke in the Salisbury 50 on the same station from June 1790, but in December 1791 was put on the beach again, following which he endured an unsuccessful period farming, and refused a Russian command.
Pellew fitted out the frigate Nymphe 36 at the commencement of the French Revolutionary war in January 1793, the command having been offered by Lord Chatham, the first lord of the Admiralty, on the good offices of Viscount Falmouth. With a complement made up of eighty Cornish tin miners, a dozen men-of-war, and the remainder of pressed men including some taken out of merchant vessels, he left Spithead on a cruise towards the Channel Islands on 19 May, in the company of the Venus 32, Captain Jonathan Faulknor, with whom he had agreed to pool any prize money. The next evening they fell in with two French frigates and two brigs, but the Venus was particularly slow in attempting to force any action, much to Pellew’s fury, and the opportunity of an engagement was lost. The two captains later fell out over the sharing of the prize money pertaining to the Nymphe’s capture of the Sans-Culotte 16 on 24 May, and Pellew also poured scorn on his fellow captain’s effort to take the French frigate Sémillante on 27 May. In the event Faulknor’s failure was Pellew’s blessing, for to him fell the honour of taking the first French frigate of the war when he captured the Cléopâtre 36 on 19 June. Casualties on both sides were extremely high for such an engagement, with the Nymphe alone losing twenty-three men killed and twenty-seven wounded. After being presented by Lord Chatham to the King Pellew was knighted at St James’ Palace on 29 June.
In the following January he joined the eighteen-pounder frigate Arethusa 38 following the death of her captain, Hon Seymour Finch, serving in a very active frigate squadron off Ushant under the command of Rear-Admiral John Macbride. His ship, which operated out of Falmouth, was renowned for the number of tall, silent men aboard whom Pellew had brought with him from the Nymphe, and she was bizarrely painted in the fashion prescribed by her previous mad but clever commander. On 23 April 1794, whilst under the orders of Commodore Sir John Borlase John Warren, the Arethusa received the surrender of the massive and much coveted Pomone 44 off the Isle Bas, whilst her consorts also took another French frigate and the Arethusa played a significant part in the capture of the corvette Babet in the same action. Shortly afterwards, on 23 August, another smaller French squadron was intercepted, and Pellew earned the respect of his enemies when he refused to burn two corvettes, the Espion 18 and Alerte 12, which had been driven ashore in Audierne Bay, it being impossible to remove their crews. Soon he was given his own squadron, one of which, the Artois 38, commanded by Captain Edward Nagle took the French frigate Révolutionnaire 44 on 21 October 1794. After spending the winter on watch off Brest Pellew’s command formed part of Warren’s squadron which was sent to watch the French fleet after it came out of Brest in January 1795.
At the end of January Pellew was given command of the Indefatigable in the Channel, one of three ex-64’s, the others being the Anson and Magicienne, which had been razeed or cut down by a deck to create a 44. Taking his crew with him again, he spent the remainder of the year cruising to the confusion of the enemy off Ushant, on one occasion in March leading his squadron in the profitable capture of fifteen sail out of a twenty-five sail convoy, off the Penmarks.
On 26 January 1796 the Indefatigable was refitting at Plymouth when a troop-carrying East Indiaman, the Dutton, went ashore in rough weather under the citadel. With her officers ashore, her masts going by the board, and many of the soldiers breaking into the spirit room to drink themselves stupid in expectation of death, Pellew, although recovering from wounds, clambered aboard and took command. Forcing the men at sword-point to lay hawsers to the shore, and with the invaluable help of Jeremiah Coghlan, a young Irishman whom he would bring into the service and see promoted through the ranks, he succeeded in getting all six hundred people off. He was justly awarded on 5 March with a baronetcy as Sir Edward Pellew of Treverry, Cornwall, and he received gifts from Plymouth and Liverpool.
He afterwards commanded a squadron of five frigates operating out of Falmouth independently of the Channel fleet commander-in-chief, a lucrative arrangement that he nevertheless tested by asking the first lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, for an even bigger cruising ground – a request that was politely but firmly declined. His squadron drove the Volage 26 ashore on 9 April whilst capturing several merchantmen, and took the frigates Unite 38, Captain Durand Linois, on 12 April, and the Virginie 40 eight days later with his own ship taking the prominent part in the action. Several captures followed for his squadron including the Trois Couleurs 10 and Blonde 16 off Ushant on 11 June, and then his own vessel captured the privateer Revanche 12 off Brest on 2 October.
In December 1796, whilst commanding the Inshore Squadron off Brest, he came upon the French expedition to Bantry Bay leaving that port. By opening fire, letting off false signals and burning lights he was able to confuse the French, causing the leaders to lose contact with the rest of the fleet and driving the Séduisant 74 aground. After sending off ships from his squadron to warn the flag officers of the Channel fleet and the Admiralty he returned briefly to Falmouth but was back on station on 13 January 1797, and whilst in company with the Amazon 36, Captain Robert Carthew Reynolds, he drove ashore the French Droits de l’Homme 74 in Audierne Bay, escaping a similar fate through his amazing seamanship.
On 14 October 1797 he captured the Ranger 12 near the Canary Islands, and eleven days later the privateer Hyène 24 after an hour eight hour chase off Tenerife which had commenced when this vessel approached the Indefatigable, suspecting her to be a merchantmen. This was a particularly pleasing capture, for the Hyène had originally sailed under British colours as the Hyena with William Hargood commanding her until her capture by the Concorde in the West Indies, being the first British loss of the war. During the same year Pellew was ordered to cruise off the Welsh coast and provide arms to the inhabitants to defend themselves against the expected ravages of the renegade American, Captain William Tate, and his army of French cut-throats. For the next two years he commanded a frigate squadron in the Channel whilst still plaguing the French marine, on one occasion, on 7 August 1798, taking the Vaillante 20 after a twenty-four hour chase and releasing twenty-five banished priests and twenty-seven convicts who had been bound for Cayenne. This capture was incorporated into the navy as the Danae, mounting 34 cannon. Other captures were the privateer Basque 8 on 30 April 1797, the Nouvelle Eugénie 16 on 11 May1797, the Vengeur 12 on 4 January 1798, the Inconcevable 8 on 16 January 1798, the Heureuse Nouvelle on 28 January 1798 and the Heureux on 5 August 1798.
In March 1799, despite entreating the Admiralty to let him remain where he was, Pellew reluctantly ended his glorious and lucrative frigate career by moving to the Impétueux 74 in the Channel. This ship had previously been the French Amerique, which had been captured at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 and renamed the Impétueuex in honour of another of the prizes which had been burned accidentally shortly after. She was renowned for her disaffection and he was soon obliged to prevent a mutiny in Bantry Bay on 30 May by diving into his men and hauling out a ringleader with his own hands. He then joined Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton’s squadron reinforcing Vice-Admiral Lord Keith in the Mediterranean during the chase of the Brest fleet which had broken out on 25 April 1799, and at Port Mahon the leading mutineers were executed.
He afterwards returned to the Channel, serving in succession under Admirals Keith, Bridport and St Vincent. In June 1800 he was placed in command of an expedition to Quiberon Bay consisting of seven sail of the line, one 50-gun ship, nine frigates, some of which were armed en-flute, and sundry other vessels. It was hoped to bring about a Royalist and Chouan uprising but this did not transpire, largely due to the inadequacies of the Army commander, Lieutenant-General Sir James Pulteney. Pellew, who was so infuriated with this officer that he named the ship’s donkey James P, contented himself with sending in one of his lieutenants, John Pilford, to destroy the corvette Insolente 18. After a spell under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren in the expedition to Ferrol he rejoined the Channel fleet until the Peace, leaving his ship on 15 April 1802. In the meantime, on 1 January 1801 he was nominated a colonel of marines.
In July 1802 he was elected M.P. for Barnstaple after obtaining the second of the two seats on offer to the candidates with the help of his well-earned prize-money. He became a convert to Lord St Vincent’s ideas and occasionally defended him from the attacks by William Pitt, whom he had previously long supported, not least in March 1803 when he earned great praise for what one MP described as the ‘best sea speech that ever was heard’, contributing to a Commons victory over William Pitt by one hundred and thirty votes to seventy-one.
On the resumption of hostilities in March 1803 he joined the Channel fleet off Brest aboard the Tonnant 80, and on 26 August helped recapture the East Indiaman Lord Nelson 26. During September he was appointed to command the blockading force of seven sail of the line off neutral Ferrol and Corunna, where nine French sail of the line opposed him. Whilst Britain was not at war with Spain he was able to go ashore and spy on the French in the port, and indeed officers from both fleets spied on each other from the same windmill, the British squadron being based in Betanzos Bay. On 29 August off Ferrol his force chased the Duguay-Trouin 74 which had broken out of Cap Francois on 24 July 1803, but she got in to neutral Corunna. During this period Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson refused him a command in the Mediterranean fleet after stating that he should have his own fleet.
On 23 April 1804 he was promoted rear-admiral and appointed commander-in-chief in the East Indies, sailing with his flag in the Culloden 74, Captain Christopher Cole, and enduring a five month voyage out to Penang with a convoy. With its prospects for prizes the posting was a money-spinning award for his vigorous support of Lord St Vincent, and was one that he had long coveted with his chief rival for the post being another MP, Rear-Admiral Hon. Alexander Cochrane. William Pitt recognised this as such, and when he came to power he split the East India command in two, giving the eastern half with the rich Dutch colonies to another St. Vincent man, Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Troubridge. The two men quarrelled bitterly over their rights with a strong under-current over prize-money, almost taking the matter to a duel, and such was the ensuing incapacitation to the service that following advice to the Admiralty from the East Indies expert Admiral Peter Rainier, and at the Earl of Chatham’s instigation, Troubridge was instructed to leave his command and proceed to the Cape. Sadly he was lost en route on 1 February 1807, there being some irony in the fact that Pellew had tried to get Troubridge out of his doomed flagship, the Blenheim.
Within the confines of his role Pellew had been able to do little to assist the Calcutta merchants in protecting their trade, and this was mainly due to their flagrant disregard of the enemy privateers and cruisers operating out of Mauritius, and also because a planned attack on that base in 1806 had been cancelled when his marines were diverted to suppress a mutiny. In any event, from 1807 the Mauritius privateers became the responsibility of the admiral commanding at the Cape. Pellew did destroy a small Dutch squadron in the Batavia Roads on 27 November 1806, and ensured the destruction of two Dutch sail of the line at Griessee on 11 December 1807. In early 1808 he sailed around to Bombay in expectation of meeting a French squadron, but in the event nothing materialised.
During his tenure Pellew did not hesitate to promote his young sons through the ranks, and he ensured that Fleetwood was given the opportunity to earn plenty of prize-money. Such was the nepotism that even the supportive Lord St. Vincent was moved to claim that the ‘whole race of Pellews is bad in grain’. He was promoted vice-admiral on 23 April 1808, and on 3 January 1809 was relieved by Rear-Admiral William O’Brien Drury. The voyage home was not without incident, and he was obliged to demonstrate all his seamanlike skills during a hurricane off the Isle de France that accounted for four East Indiamen in convoy. The Culloden passed through the Cape in April after parting company with several more sail from the East India convoy, and in July Pellew eventually arrived home armed with a fortune in prize money, and with his excellent reputation even further enhanced, although he claimed that he had become to fat and unhealthy. With him came a tame tiger and a 500lb turtle
In 1810 he became commander-in-chief in the North Sea with his flag in the Christian VII 80, Captain Richard Harward, having declined the offer of second in command to Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood in the Mediterranean, however in April 1811 he became commander-in-chief of that station with his flag in the prized Caledonia 120, commanded by his son-in-law Captain Richard Harward and later Jeremiah Coghlan, and with his brother Israel Pellew being the captain of the fleet. The importance of his command could be highlighted by the fact that in 1812 he had under his orders twenty-nine sail of the line, twenty-nine frigates, and twenty-six sloops. He was well supported by Vice-Admirals Sir Richard Keats and Sir William Sidney Smith, although the latter irritated him madly, and he felt that his captains were not prepared to take the risks he had once done as a younger man. There were only brief actions with the French Admiral Emeriau between July and November 1811, on 5 November 1813 and on 13 February 1814 to keep him happy.
In February 1814 Edwards Lloyd Graham replaced Coghlan as flag captain but retained the role for only a short time before being succeeded by Captain Edward Reynolds Sibley. Pellew was created Baron Exmouth of Canonteign, his Devonshire estate, on 14 May 1814 and granted a pension of 2,000 guineas per annum, and on 19 August he hauled down his flag. He became an admiral on 4 June 1814 and was created a K.C.B on 2 January 1815 with the G.C.B being added a year later. He returned to the command of the Mediterranean during Napoleon’s one hundred days when he superseded Rear-Admiral Charles Penrose with his flag in the Boyne 98, Captain James Brisbane, but he actually finished the war on the back of a horse with the army operating against Marshal Guillaume Marie Ann Brune.
In December 1815 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Rome and in the following year attempted to negotiate with the Dey of Algiers over the ransom of Christian slaves. When the talks broke down and there seemed every likelihood that the mob would murder him and his embassy he returned to England. Soon word was received that a massacre of two hundred and ninety Christians had violated the Congress of Vienna truce, and he was sent back to Algiers with seventeen ships and with his flag in the Queen Charlotte 100, Captain James Brisbane to enforce the great powers wishes. His force was supplemented by six Dutch frigates. On 27 August he started to bomb the town’s strong fortifications and after using a tremendous amount of shot finally silenced the batteries and destroyed the Algerian fleet. His victory enabled the release of almost three thousand Europeans and allowed the great powers and the Americans, who had also been fighting the Algerians, to dictate terms to the Dey and abolish Christian slavery. Pellew was created a viscount and he received rich rewards from the city of London, from Spain, Naples, Holland and Sardinia, whilst also receiving a cameo from the pope.
From September 1817 until February 1821 he was commander-in-chief at Plymouth with his flag in the Impregnable 104, Captain Hon. Pownall Bastard Pellew, although the only time he had to draw his sword was to face down a mob in defence of Sidmouth House when emotions during the trial of Queen Caroline ran high. After retiring from active life to his residence at Canonteign near Teignmouth, he died there on 23 January 1833 following a protracted period of ill health, being buried at Christowe.
On 28 May 1783 Pellew married Susannah Frowde of Knoyle in Wiltshire by whom he had two daughters and four sons, of whom, Pownall Bastard Pellew, 2nd Viscount, was posted captain in 1806 and died in 1833, and another, Sir Fleetwood Broughton Reynolds Pellew, rose to the rank of admiral. His two younger sons, Edward and George, became theologians. The unfortunately named Bastard was so christened after the MP Edmund Bastard who was married to the daughter of Captain Philemon Pownall. His eldest child, Emma married Admiral Sir Lawrence William Halsted in 1803, and the other daughter, Julia, married Captain Richard Harward of the Navy in 1810. His wife died in October 1837.
Pellew, known to friends and family as ‘Ned’, was a tall good-looking man in his early days, but ‘bulky’ later, especially following his profitable time in the East Indies. He had immense strength and personal courage which he used to encourage his men in leading by example. On one occasion in the East Indies he rushed aloft barefoot with an axe to cut away a damaged spar and save his flagship whilst his crew cowered below. In the Indefatigable he could climb to the masthead quicker than any of his midshipmen, and there was not a single duty on the ship he could not perform. He was also renowned for saving life by plunging into the sea after drowning seamen, on one occasion even from the foreyard of the Blonde, and on another off Newfoundland whilst suffering ill-health. As a boy his party-trick for his captain’s friends was to perform handstands in the maintop. Famously when once alone in a boat his hat blew overboard, and without hesitation he jumped in after it and spent an hour swimming back to the boat.
Religious, devoutly so in his later life, he was also seen by civilians as a bluff seaman, as well as somewhat phlegmatic. Many said he lacked the flair for leadership of a fleet, although he was by far the greatest frigate captain of his time. He was never a popular admiral but was a fine seaman and a good tactician, and was almost without parallel in the fleet for his all-round skills, being superior in seamanship and bravery to all his contemporaries. Although a strict disciplinarian, and in particular a fierce flogger as a frigate commander, he always looked to the good health of his men, allowing them to fish and entertain themselves. The low rate of sickness in the Mediterranean fleet during the period of his command was unparalleled. Keeping a frequent but modest table, he gave surplus from his meals to the sick and visited them regularly. His idea that all punishment books be presented monthly to him, during his command of the East Indies, later became the Admiralty norm.
He owed his early advancements to the influence of the Tory Viscount Falmouth, the brother of Admiral Boscawen, and named one of his sons after his early commander Philemon Pownall. He remained a lifelong friend of the French officer Captain Jacques Bergeret of the Virginie, having first captured him on 20 April 1796, and then become re-acquainted in 1805. Such was their friendship that Pellew considered retiring to France at the end of the war to live on a neighbouring estate. Similarly he sent money to the widow of Captain Mullion of the Cléopâtre. He was also a close friend of the equally brilliant Admiral Sir Richard Keats, and was the favourite of the counties of Devon and Cornwall. By the end of the war he had earned over 300,000 guineas in prize-money, which would be equivalent to over sixty million pounds in today’s money.
His parliamentary addresses were given as Flushing, and Trefusis House, near Falmouth, and Hampton House, Plymouth. He earned the everlasting enmity of William Pitt for one rousing and controversial speech in support of the Earl of St. Vincent, however he was always on friendly terms with Pitt’s elder brother, the influential Earl of Chatham. Never afraid to castigate his peers and seniors, he bitterly criticised the record of Admiral Lord Bridport on his retirement from the command of the Channel fleet in 1800.
His civil secretary from 1804-14 was John Locker, son of Captain William Locker. During the campaign against Algeria after the Napoleonic War his flag-lieutenant, John Paynter, was seized by that country and confined to the ‘black hole’ before being released.