John Elliot

1732-1808. He was born in April 1732 of Scottish decent, the third 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, Earl Minto, and the great-uncle of Admiral Sir George Elliot.

In May 1745 Elliot 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 employment was followed by two years engaged in fishery protection off Scotland aboard the sloop Peggy 8, Commander Lucius O’Brien, and having passed his lieutenant’s examination but not been commissioned in March 1752 he joined the Penzance 44 with the broad pennant of Commodore Charles Saunders, going out to Newfoundland and later Lisbon.

After a period of unemployment, during which time he contemplated joining the East India Company service, Elliot was commissioned lieutenant on 30 April 1756 of the newly launched Scarborough 20, Captain Robert Routh, this promotion being achieved after his elder brother had been appointed a lord of the Admiralty. He moved in early December to Rear-Admiral Temple West’s flagship Neptune 90, Captain Michael Everitt, and in short order he was promoted commander on 21 January 1757 of the xebec Mediterranean 12 , a recent capture from the French, although such was his brother’s determination to advance him through the ranks that he was never to set foot upon her.

Elliot was posted captain on 5 April 1757, briefly commanding the dock-bound Royal William 80 at Portsmouth in order to justify his new rank before being appointed to the brand new frigate Hussar 28 at Chatham in July, eventually departing on a North Sea cruise in October before leaving Portsmouth for the Bay of Biscay at the end of that month. Following a two hour night action on 23 November, and with the meagre assistance of the Dolphin 24, Captain Benjamin Marlow, the Hussar dismasted and sunk the French Alcion 50, which vessel only had one gun deck in operation. Such was the damage to his own ship that Elliot was unable to put any boats in the water to save life, and a solitary boat that was launched from the Dolphin was unable to find even one survivor. The Hussar, which suffered twenty-one casualties in the engagement, was docked at Plymouth for a month to undergo repairs.

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Elliot’s famous action with Thurot 1760

After returning to sea the Hussar captured the St. Malo-based privateer Vengeance 32, but only mounting twenty-four cannon, after a ten-hour chase and an action of an hour and three quarters off the Lizard on 8 January 1758. The enemy, whose crew was superior in size, lost fifty-two men killed and thirty-seven wounded in return for casualties aboard the Hussar of six men killed and fifteen wounded. Declining the offer of a larger ship, Elliot took the French privateer Heureux Maloiun 22 in August, and after service in the Channel entered Plymouth for repairs.

At the end of 1758 he commissioned the brand new 32-gun frigate Aeolus at Deptford, with the officers and men of the Hussar transferring into her. On the following 20 March, in company with the Isis 50, Captain Edward Wheeler, he gave chase to four French frigates off the south coast of Brittany that were escorting a huge convoy from Bordeaux to Brest. In the ensuing action he captured the French ship Mignonne 20 in a quarter of an hour, inflicting casualties of thirty men killed including her captain, the Chevalier de Tursanville, and thirty-five wounded in return for just two men wounded, although the sacrifice of the Mignonne did allow the Blonde 36 to take flight. After another brief visit to Plymouth the Aeolus went out on patrol in the Bay of Biscay and was later stationed in protection of the Channel Islands and on the French coast.

In January 1760 the Aeolus was driven from the French coast to seek shelter from the weather in Kinsale Bay, Ireland, where she was joined by two other frigates, the Pallas 36, Captain Michael Clements, and the Brilliant 36, Captain James Loggie. Upon receiving an urgent letter from the lord-lieutenant of Ireland addressed to the ‘senior officer’ at Kinsale, Elliot 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 lasting about ninety minutes on 28 February Elliot’s force captured the French frigates Maréchal de Belleisle 44, Blonde 36 and Terpsichore 24, and subsequently brought them into Plymouth on 25 March. During the action Commodore Thurot was killed. Acclaimed as a national hero, Elliot received the thanks of the British and Irish parliaments for his efforts and on 28 March he was introduced to King George II at St. James’ Palace.

Elliot resumed command of the Aeolus at Portsmouth on 29 April, and after a brief cruise in which she cut out a brig from beneath the batteries of Belle Isle on 17 May the frigate returned to the Bay of Biscay, enjoying more success against the enemy. On 23 March 1761, whilst bringing a convoy home from Cadiz, she took the Bayonne-based privateer Carnival 4 some hundred miles off Cape Finisterre before arriving at Spithead on 12 April.

On 13 May 1761 Elliot assumed the command of the Chichester 70 at Portsmouth, taking scores of his followers from the Aeolus with him, and on 2 June he arrived off Belleisle where he joined Commodore Hon. Augustus Keppel’s squadron, being present in the latter stages of the campaign to capture that small French island. Thereafter the Chichester remained with the fleet on the French coast before departing for Plymouth in August to re-provision and effect repairs. A brief visit to Cork on convoy duty ensued, and after a further stint off France she was sent into Portsmouth to fit for service with the Mediterranean Fleet, reaching Gibraltar on 10 December. Throughout the remainder of the war she remained on patrol on that station, suffering much sickness during 1762 as well as a great deal of tedium.

Following the peace Elliot commanded the recently commissioned Prince of Orange 60 at Chatham from May – June 1763, transferring in the latter month to the recommissioned Plymouth guard-ship Bellona 74, and retaining her until the early summer of 1765. During the Falkland Islands dispute from September 1770 he commissioned the Portland 50, being able to man her with volunteers in three days, such was his popularity and known humanity. Sailing in early 1771 for St. Helena to join the sloop Swallow 14, Commander James Shirley, he brought home twelve homeward-bound merchantmen but then left her in August when she received orders to fit out for the West Indies.

In April 1777 Elliot commissioned the Trident 64, becoming the senior officer in the Downs, and then cruising in the Channel in February of the following year. Raising a broad pennant as commodore, he sailed in April 1778 for North America from St. Helens, giving passage to the peace commissioners, the Earl of Carlisle, William Eden, and George Johnstone, and arriving in the Delaware on 7 June. 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 at the end of the year.

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The Moonlight Battle of St. Vincent 1780 where HMS Edgar took two prizes

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 that the brilliant Richard Kempenfelt was more deserving, Elliot commissioned the highly regarded new Edgar 74 at Woolwich in May 1779. He served in the Channel fleet retreat of August and under Admiral Sir George Rodney in his relief of Gibraltar, distinguishing himself at the Moonlight Battle 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 with a commodore’s pennant, Elliot was recalled with the Edgar as it was considered that a frigate was the largest vessel that should be stationed there. Upon arriving at Portsmouth on 10 May, and having sailed through the Spanish fleet under fire but receiving no material damage, he personally provided an update on the siege of the Gibraltar to the King.

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 . 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 , 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 May he raised his broad pennant aboard the Romney 50, Captains John Wickey and Thomas Lewes, based at Plymouth but serving off St. Malo. In November his squadron was ordered to see the West India convoy to safe latitude, and in December he took a smaller squadron out to Ushant from Spithead with orders to observe the motions of the French fleet. In the last week of the year he left the Admiralty for Portsmouth with orders to take a squadron of five sail of the line out to the West Indies, but having sailed on 19 January 1783 he was back at St. Helens on the 21st after a sloop had been sent to recall him following the signing of the preliminary articles of peace.

During 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 Spanish Armament 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 who was very popular with his men, 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 his being commissioned lieutenant, Admiral Sir Charles Saunders said of Elliot that he was ‘already qualified to command a fleet, and had gained the esteem of everybody in the ship’. If he did have a weakness it was in his poor spelling and grammar.

Elliot was a patron of Vice-Admiral John Inglis.