1732-1808. He was born in April 1732 of Scottish decent, the fourth son and one of nine children of the judge, Sir Gilbert Elliot, and of his wife Helen Steaurt. He was the younger brother of the statesman and philosopher Sir Gilbert Elliot, the uncle of the politician, diplomat and governor-general of India, 1st Earl Minto, and the great-uncle of Admiral Sir George Elliot.
In May 1745 he joined the Channel-based Augusta 60, Captain John Hamilton, as a captain’s servant, and in January 1747 was rated an able seaman aboard the Chesterfield 44, Captain William Gordon, removing with that officer to the Assistance 50 in July, both vessels serving in home waters. This service was followed by two years aboard the sloop Peggy 8, Commander Lucius O’Brien, engaged in fishery protection off Scotland, and having passed his lieutenant’s but not been made examination in March 1752 he joined the Penzance 44, with the broad pennant of Commodore Charles Saunders, going out to Newfoundland.
Elliot was commissioned lieutenant of the newly commissioned Scarborough 20, Captain Robert Routh, on 30 April 1756, this promotion being achieved after his elder brother had been appointed a lord of the Admiralty. In short order he was further promoted commander on 21 January 1757 and posted captain on 5 April, briefly commanding the Royal William 80 in order to justify his new rank before being appointed to the brand new frigate Hussar 28, serving in the Channel. On 23 November 1757, in company with the Dolphin 24, Captain Benjamin Marlow, he sunk the Alcion 50 during a two hour night action. His vessel also took the French privateers Vengeance 32 off the Lizard on 8 January 1758, the Heureux 22 shortly afterwards, and was later attached to the grand fleet under Admiral Sir Edward Hawke and Admiral Lord Anson.
At the end of 1758 he commissioned the Aeolus, a brand new 32-gun frigate for service in the Channel. On the following 19 March, in company with the Isis 50, Captain Edward Wheeler, he captured the French ship Mignonne 20 and put the Blonde 36 to flight off the south coast of Brittany after the British ships had come across four French frigates in escort of a convoy. In January 1760 the Aeolus was forced to seek shelter from the weather on the French coast in Kinsale Bay, Ireland, along with two other frigates, the Pallas 36, Captain Michael Clements, and Brilliant 36, Captain James Loggie. Upon receiving an urgent letter from the lord-lieutenant of Ireland, addressed to the ‘senior officer’ at Kinsale, he then led these ships against Commodore François Thurot’s squadron of three frigates and two corvettes which was landing troops at Carrickfergus. In an outstanding action that was to see him anointed as a national hero Elliot’s force captured the French frigates Maréchal de Belleisle 44, Blonde 36 and Terpsichore 24, and brought them into Plymouth on 25 March, receiving the thanks of the British and Irish parliaments for his efforts and being presented to a delighted King George II.
After a brief cruise in which she cut out a brig from beneath the batteries of Belle Isle on 17 May 1760 the Aeolus was obliged to enter port for repairs before returning to the Bay of Biscay. The following spring Elliot brought another capture into Portsmouth in the form of the substantial privateer Minette. Thereafter he captained the Chichester 70 from August 1761 for the remainder of the war, going out to the Mediterranean in November.
In the summer of 1763 he recommissioned the Plymouth guard-ship Bellona 74, retaining her until 1765, and during the Falkland Islands dispute in September 1770 he commissioned the Portland 50, sailing in early 1771 for St. Helena to join the sloop Swallow 14,Commander James Shirley, and bring home twelve homeward-bound merchantmen.
In April 1777 Elliot commissioned the Trident 64, becoming the senior officer in the Downs. Raising a broad pennant as commodore, he sailed for North America from St. Helens in the following year, giving passage to the peace commissioners, the Earl of Carlisle, William Eden, and George Johnstone, and arriving in the Delaware on 7 June 1778. With Captain Anthony Molloy joining him as his flag-captain he became second-in-command to Vice-Admiral Lord Howe on the North American station, participating in the defence of New York in July and operations off Rhode Island in August before returning to England and at the end of the year.
Having been appointed a colonel of marines but turned down the position of captain of the Channel fleet to Admiral Sir Charles Hardy as he felt the brilliant Richard Kempenfelt was more deserving, Elliot instead commissioned the new Edgar 74 in May 1779. He served in the Channel fleet retreat of August 1779 and under Admiral Sir George Rodney in his relief of Gibraltar, distinguishing himself at the action off Cape St. Vincent on 16 January 1780 where his vessel captured the San Carlos 32 and Santa Teresa 24, but suffered the casualties of six men killed and twenty wounded. After remaining at Gibraltar for several months as senior officer Elliot was recalled with the Edgar as it was felt that a frigate was the largest vessel that should be stationed there.
Returning to the Channel Fleet, the Edgar was present in the campaign between June and December 1780, the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781 and the campaign of June to December 1781. During June-August Elliot’s broad pennant flew aboard the Victory under Captain John Howarth’s command. Rejoining the Edgar with Captain Thomas Boston as his flag-captain,he fought with Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt at the brilliant capture of a French convoy on 12 December 1781, leading the line and engaging the Triomphant 84. In the early part of 1782 he was in the Channel fleet with Captain John Moutray serving as his flag-captain, and in June 1782 he raised his broad pennant aboard the Romney 50, Captains John Wickey and Thomas Lewes, based at Plymouth but serving off St. Malo. He was ordered to go out to the West Indies with a squadron of five sail of the line towards the end of the war but in the event hostilities came to an end before he could depart.
For the years 1786-88 Elliot was the lieutenant-governor and commander-in-chief at Newfoundland with his flag aboard the Salisbury 50, Captain Erasmus Gower, the vessel sailing thither each June and returning home each autumn. Being a beneficiary of the policy of fast-track promotions which led to Lord Howe’s resignation as first lord of the admiralty on 16 July 1788 Elliot was elevated to flag rank on 24 September 1787. Further promotion to vice-admiral came on 21 September 1790,, and he flew his flag aboard the Barfleur 98, Captain Robert Carthew Reynolds, during the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790.
He became an admiral on 16 April 1795 but was forced into retirement through ill-health, living at Mount Treviot, Roxburghshire prior to his death on 20 September 1808.
Elliot remained unmarried and his estate was inherited by his nephew, Earl Minto. He was M.P. for Cockermouth from 1767-8 and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in January 1776.
A caring man, he refused to take his younger brother to sea as he thought he would be a mischief. He was a first rate officer, able seaman and fine astronomer who advanced the use of lunar observations at sea.Prior to being commissioned lieutenant Charles Saunders said of him that he was ‘already qualified to command a fleet, and had gained the esteem of everybody in the ship’.