John Jervis 1st Earl of St. Vincent
1735-1823. He was born on 9 January 1735 at Meaford Hall in Staffordshire, the second and younger son of a barrister-at-law, Swynfen Jervis. His mother, Elizabeth, was a distant cousin of Admiral Lord Anson and the sister of the Whig politician, Sir Thomas Parker. He had two younger sisters and was the uncle of Captain William Henry Jervis Ricketts.
Whilst studying at Burton-on-Trent Grammar School and at a private school in Greenwich, where his father had become treasurer of the hospital and solicitor to the Admiralty, Jervis was intended for the bar but instead he ran away from home and entered the Navy at Woolwich. Upon learning of his parent’s inevitable distress he returned home, but his indefatigable desire to remain at sea prevailed against his father’s wishes, and having been given twenty guineas and a new suit of clothes he was sent packing.
Through the influence of family friends he was taken aboard the Gloucester 50, Captain John Storr with the broad pennant of Commodore George Townshend, as an able seaman on 4 January 1749, sailing for Jamaica in May. Being anxious for excitement away from an inactive flagship he found employment on other vessels of the station, including the sloop Ferret 14, Commander Carr Scrope, in which he saw action on the Mosquito Coast against the Spanish
On 25 June 1752 he moved as a midshipman to the Severn 50, Captain Henry Dennis, based at Jamaica with the broad pennant of Commodore Thomas Cotes, and he followed Dennis to the sloop Sphinx 20 which returned to England in the summer of 1754 before being paid off in November. He thereafter had short spells in the Seaford 20, Captain Molyneux Shuldham, and yacht William and Mary, Captain John Moore.
On 19 February 1755 Jervis was commissioned lieutenant, having passed his examination on 22 January, and he briefly joined the Royal George 100, Captain Roger Martin, before transferring on 11 March to the North American-bound Nottingham 60, Captain Samuel Marshall, part of Vice-Admiral Hon. Edward Boscawen’s fleet. From March 1756 he served at the Nore in the Devonshire 66, Captain John Moore, transferring in June to the Prince 90, Captain Alexander Hood, carrying the flag of Jervis’ patron, Rear-Admiral Charles Saunders, and moving with these officers to the Culloden 74 in November 1756.
He had his first experience of captaincy on January 1757 as a temporary replacement for Captain Sir John Strachan aboard the Experiment 24, and on 16 March fought an indecisive action with a French privateer off Cape Gata. During the same period he won a severe action with a French-manned Moorish xebec of 26 guns. After returning to the Culloden he remained closely tied to the fortunes of Rear-Admiral Saunders who in June 1757 took him to the St. George 90, Captain Alexander Hood. When the admiral was superseded in May 1758 Jervis took the prize ship Foudroyant 84 back to England, and on 15 January 1759 he rejoined Saunders once more, this time as first lieutenant on the Neptune 90, Captain Brodrick Hartwell, which was carrying the admiral out to North America to assume the position of commander-in-chief.
Promoted commander on 15 May 1759, Jervis removed into the temporary command of the sloop Porcupine 16, and he gave passage to General James Wolfe whilst leading the transports past Quebec, and was the recipient of Wolfe’s last message to his betrothed. This he delivered upon returning home with despatches in the sloop Scorpion 10, which vessel he had joined on the 25 September, having originally being appointed to her in May. He then sailed for North America once more in January 1760 with despatches for Major-General Jeffrey Amherst in command of the Albany 10, the Scorpion having sprung a leak and returned to Plymouth. He was back in home waters by May and joined Rear-Admiral George Brydges Rodney’s squadron in the Channel, being posted to the Gosport 44 on 13 October 1760.
Jervis was thereafter employed in the North Sea before conveying the trade to North America in May 1762, during which voyage the escort under the overall command of Captain Joshua Rowley repulsed an attack by the French Commodore Charles-Henri-Louis d’Arsac de Ternay. The Gosport later served in the operations to recapture Newfoundland from de Ternay, and Jervis returned to England in the spring of 1763 at the end of the war with his ship being paid off.
After nearly six years of unemployment he recommissioned the Alarm 32 in February 1769, going out to the Mediterranean in May. On 9 September 1769 two Turkish slaves escaped into his boat at Genoa and their forced removal by the local guards caused Jervis to embark on a furious diplomatic attack which eventually saw the slaves delivered up and the guards imprisoned. In March 1770 his command, having recently sailed from Cadiz, went aground in a storm in the Marseilles Roads, and to a large degree she was rescued by the skill of a French lieutenant, the Sieur Pleville de Pelley, who then helped make the Alarm sea-worthy after her masts had been cut away. Whilst cruising in the Mediterranean from August 1771 until May 1772 Jervis carried the convalescent Duke of Gloucester aboard, and after returning to Portsmouth in June of the latter year the Alarm was eventually paid off in October.
Being on half-pay, Jervis decided to visit France, taking four months off at Lyon to learn the language. Upon returning to England he teamed up with Captain Hon. Samuel Barrington in 1774 for a cruise to the Baltic, where they not only attended court in St. Petersburg but also gathered as much naval intelligence as they could about the Baltic powers. In the following year Jervis yachted to France with Barrington, making careful notes about the harbours at Brest, Lorient, Rochefort and Bordeaux which would stand him in good stead many years later when he sought to enforce a strict blockade of the French Atlantic coast.
After being initially appointed to the Kent 74 in June 1775 he paid her off two months later and in September recommissioned the Foudroyant 80, his former prize-command, initially employed as a Plymouth guardship before cruising against American privateers in home waters through 1777. During June he declined a request from the French Commodore Jean Toussaint Guillaume La Motte-Picquet de la Vinoyère to allow his squadron to sail in company with the Foudroyant, and on 7 August he drove the American privateer Fancy 12 into Mount’s Bay and made a capture of her..
With war against France looming in 1778 Jervis detained the French frigate Pallas 32 on 18 June and sent her into Plymouth where she would be added to the Navy as the Convert once hostilities had officially been opened. Considered to be the smartest ship in the navy, the Foudroyant fought at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July, with Jervis being conspicuous in support of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel at the commander-in-chief’s subsequent court martial, in the course of which he had to reassure his crew, who had refused to weigh anchor, that he would return to command the ship once the trial was over. With reports of Jervis resigning his command in protest at the government proving to be false, the Foudroyant remained in the Channel fleet during the retreat from the allies in August 1779, and later in the year Jervis commanded a small squadron of two sail of the line and four frigates which cruised off the Western Islands.
In March 1780 the Foudroyant, whilst out on a cruise, captured a sloop bound from France to Philadelphia with despatches of such importance that Jervis felt constrained to rush them personally to London and lay then before the King. His command was present in the Channel Fleet campaign of June –December 1780, and at the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781, as well as participating in the Channel fleet campaign from June – November 1781.
On 20 April 1782, whilst attached to Vice-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington’s squadron off Brest, she captured the Pégase 74 after a long chase for which action Jarvis was made a Knight of the Bath, his coat of arms including a winged horse. This indeed was a special reward, and the only other officer not of flag rank to be so honoured would be Captain Lord Cochrane in 1809. Although the Pégase was a new ship with inexperienced men and officers, Jervis nevertheless did well to take her within forty-five minutes at the cost of only five men wounded, among whom was himself with a splinter wound to the temple that temporarily endangered his eyesight and would trouble him ever after.During May Jervis took leave of absence at Bath to recover from his wounds whilst Captain Richard Boger temporarily commanded the Foudroyant in his absence, and in early June he attended a levee to receive his knighthood from the King.
After sitting on the court-martial into the loss of the Royal George on 29 August 1782 he served in Admiral Lord Howe’s relief of Gibraltar on 18 October 1782 and at the subsequent action off Cape Spartel, where he lost four men killed and seven wounded. The Foudroyant returned to home waters and served briefly off Ireland under Vice-Admiral Mark Milbanke before she was paid off. In the spring of 1783 Jervis was instructed to raise his broad pennant on board the Salisbury 50, to be commanded by Captain John Duckworth, in command of a small squadron bound for the Spanish West Indies consisting of four frigates, two sloops, a bomb, fireship and ancillary vessels, but the secret expedition was cancelled on the signing of the peace treaty.
In January 1783 he was selected as M.P. for Launceston in the Whig interest at Lord Shelburne’s instigation, becoming M.P. for Great Yarmouth in the following year and holding the seat until 1790. With his old friend Barrington and Captain John MacBride amongst others he served on a commission to audit the fortifications of Portsmouth and Plymouth, and on 5 March 1787 he spoke out in the house in support of Captain David Brodie, who had been denied promotion to the rank of admiral as he had not served in the last war despite his entreaties for a command. On 24 September 1787 Jervis was promoted rear-admiral, being a beneficiary of Brodie’s case which led to Lord Howe’s resignation on 16 July 1788.
During the Dutch armament in 1788 the new Hannibal 74 was fitted out by Captain Richard Boger for Jervis’ flag, with Captain Josias Rogers being earmarked for the role of flag-captain, but in the event the fleet did not put to sea. In 1790 during the Spanish Armament, he was initially captain of the fleet to Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington aboard the Barfleur 98, Captain Robert Calder, before hoisting his flag aboard that vessel when Barrington moved to the Royal George 110. He later removed to the Prince 98, Captain Josias Rogers, this vessel being paid off in December. During 1790 he was returned to parliament for Chipping Wycombe on the instigation of his friend Shelburne, who had by now become the Marquess of Lansdowne, although he was to resign this seat in January 1794.
In 1793, after being promoted a vice-admiral on 1 February, he was appointed to command the navy in the actions against the French West Indies, even though his strong reservations about the war were well known to the King and his ministers. He set sail on 26 November with six thousand troops under the command of his friend, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Grey, three sail of the line, eight frigates and sundry other vessels, and with his flag aboard the Boyne 98, commanded by Grey’s third son, Captain Hon George Grey. His departure was threatened when the French sent Rear-Admiral Vanstabel’s squadron to intercept him, but the presence of the Channel fleet prevented this attempt on 18 November 1793, allowing him through.
On 10 January 1794 the combined force reached Barbados and during the next three months captured Martinique on 22 March, St. Lucia on 4 April, Guadeloupe on 20 April, and Marie Golante and the Saintes, as well as establishing itself on Haiti. The swift success was followed by recrimination as a plan by Jervis and Grey to confiscate property and future produce from the French colonists was vetoed by the government at home. In May Victor Hugues arrived to attempt the recapture of Guadeloupe for the French and to emancipate the slaves, and by October had succeeded in doing so. Other French reinforcements were unable to arrive due to the English command of the seas, however as the French Revolution had declared blacks and whites equal so Haiti rose under Toussaint l’Ouverture with five hundred thousand men to expel the English and French alike. By the end of the year the British forces had been depleted through the loss of scores of men to yellow fever, and Jervis himself was weak from campaigning.
He returned to England in February 1795, having resigned the West Indian command following allegations of corruption by the West Indian merchants, these being later supported by the secretary of war, Rt. Hon. Henry Dundas and many at home. One of the complaints was that he had set up his own prize court in the Leeward Islands to pass judgement on prizes that would ultimately benefit him financially. He suffered further misfortune on 1 May when his flagship, the Boyne, caught fire and blew up at Spithead with the loss of eleven men in addition to another two men aboard the Queen Charlotte who perished when the Boyne’s heated guns unleashed a shot which struck the three-decker. His conduct in sequestering the booty in the West Indies then came under public scrutiny and only when the opposition members sided with the ministry to defeat a motion of censure was he allowed to proceed with his career.
On 1 June 1795 he was promoted admiral and in November was appointed on Admiral Adam Duncan’s advice to command the Mediterranean Fleet, which following Admiral William Hotham’s tenure was in a dreadful state of discipline and low on moral. Sailing in the frigate Lively 32, Captain Lord Garlies, he joined the fleet on 30th June off Corsica and hoisted his flag aboard the Victory 110 three days later, Captain Hon. George Grey becoming his flag-captain and Robert Calder captain of the fleet. His great strength of character soon began forging the fleet into an efficient and ruthless fighting machine that was to maintain superiority over the enemy for years to come, an initial success being the capture of Elba on 10 July. However, before he had time to make his presence felt he was forced to withdraw to the Tagus as a result of of Spain’s alliance with France on 8 October 1796 and Rear-Admiral Robert Man’s defection home from Cadiz with a third of his force in October. During 1796 he refused an offer to stand for parliament for the seat of Great Yarmouth, and when nominated in his absence at a subsequent by-election he came last in the poll.
In February 1797 he positioned his fleet off Cape St Vincent, being determined to prevent any Franco/Spanish Mediterranean fleet union with the Brest fleet which might secure the Channel prior to an invasion of the British Isles. On 14 February, with fifteen sail-of-the-line and seven frigates, he attacked the Spanish Cartagena fleet of twenty-seven sail of the line and nine frigates off the Cape, and through the brilliance of Commodore Horatio Nelson and others, as well as his own bold initiative, he gained a superb victory, capturing four enemy ships. During the action he sucked happily on an orange, oblivious to the blood and brains of a seaman who had been killed whilst standing near to him and which covered his coat. In addition to this man a further five were wounded aboard the flagship. When news of the victory reached England on 3 March Dundas proposed a vote of thanks from the government benches in the House of Commons and was seconded by Fox, leading the opposition. The victorious admiral was created Baron Jervis of Meaford and Earl of St. Vincent, a title suggested by the King, awarded a pension of three thousand guineas a year, and granted the freedom of almost every substantial city in the kingdom. Great though his victory was however, subsequent authorities questioned his conduct in not having annihilated the Spanish, armed that he was with a knowledge of their deficiencies in skilled officers and men.
In June 1797 he returned to blockade the remnants of the Spanish fleet in Cadiz with his flag in the Ville de Paris 110, Captain Hon George Grey, and on 7 July, through the strictest measures, he managed to repress a mutiny on several Channel fleet ships which had been sent to him, hanging four men on the following Sunday despite protests from his officers. Prevalent among the latter was his second-in-command, Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Thompson, who St. Vincent immediately asked the Admiralty to recall. When another officer stated that it was a shame to hang men of previous good character, St. Vincent retorted by saying he was happy to hang good men as well as scoundrels, for it would show that he ‘meant business’.
From 21-25 July 1797 a squadron from his fleet under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson failed in its attempt to capture the town of Santa Cruz on Tenerife. In May 1798 a detachment of eight sail of the line from the Channel fleet under Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis was sent to him, and after one of the men in the Marlborough was convicted of mutiny St. Vincent took further severe measures to ensure the death sentence was carried out. In June he made a similarly defiant stand on the stowage of bread in the Centaur 74, Captain John Markham. However, he did not look so clever however when he ordered a court-martial on Captain Charles Henry Knowles for disobeying orders, as his own captain of the fleet, Sir Robert Calder, gave testimony to the fact that the order in dispute had never been given. Shortly afterwards, on 3 July 1798, Grey was promoted captain of the fleet with Captain Walter Bathurst became St. Vincent’s flag-captain.
During this period St. Vincent’s workload and health began to get the better of his fragile temper and after a vicious row he sent home Vice-Admiral Sir John Orde, his disgruntled third-in-command, who was jealous of the favouritism afforded to Nelson and had demanded a court martial as to his own conduct. Even the Admiralty felt it necessary to write to St. Vincent and reprimand him for his rudeness to Orde, whilst Rear-Admiral Sir William Parker also complained of being ill-used. Nevertheless success followed success, as Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson was despatched to win the Battle of the Nile on the 1 August 1798, destroying the French Toulon fleet and marooning Napoleon in Egypt, whilst Commodore John Duckworth effected the capture of Minorca on the 15 November.
On 15 June 1799 St. Vincent was finally forced home through the ill-health which had badly affected him for over a year, having resigned earlier but then stayed on at Gibraltar with his flag in the sheer hulk Souverain, and thereafter at sea and at Minorca. The situation had been most confusing for all, not least his nominated successor, Vice-Admiral Lord Keith, whose pursuit of the French Admiral Bruix following his breakout from 25 April to 8 August had been hampered by the old admiral. St. Vincent’s passage to England was aboard the old fashioned two-decked Argo 44, Captain James Bowen.
Arriving back in England on 18 August, St. Vincent temporarily retired to Rochetts, a small estate at South Weald near Brentwood, Essex that he had recently purchased. Although apparently worn out he nevertheless had enough vigour to pursue some prize-money through the courts that had been taken subsequent to his leaving the station, a case that he lost. By October he had somewhat recovered, and when news of this reached Sir John Orde he immediately demanded satisfaction for St. Vincent’s earlier conduct towards him, to which the old admiral responded that he had only been doing his duty. By the time that Orde replied with the view that the St. Vincent’s behaviour had been personal the dispute had reached the public domain and on 4 October 1799 both men were bound over to keep the peace, even the Admiralty advising the two admirals that the King had insisted there should not be a duel.
After a bad winter in which he suffered from dropsy, St. Vincent had recovered sufficiently by the spring and on 26 April 1800 assumed command of the still mutinous Channel fleet. His appointment was against the advice of his doctors and much to the fury of Admiral Sir Alan Gardner, who thought the command should have devolved upon him. Flying his flag initially in the Namur 100, Captain William Luke, and then in the Ville de Paris 110, Captain Grey, St. Vincent was soon forced to have the crusty old Gardner transferred, for not only did that officer make his displeasure public but he was also guilty in St. Vincent’s eyes of being a friend of the Hoods, with whom he had long held a mutual enmity. St. Vincent later had to move to Admiral Lord Bridport’s ex-flagship Royal George 100, Captain William Domett, in order to earn that ship’s support, with Domett also acting as his captain of the fleet from August to the end of October.
With the assistance from November of a new captain of the fleet, Captain Sir Thomas Troubridge, and a vibrant third-in-command, Rear-Admiral Lord Nelson, St. Vincent imposed a vigorous discipline on the officers and men, ordering that no officer could sleep off their ship, venture more than three miles inshore, or take a boat out after sunset. One lady of a captain raised a toast to him, declaring ‘may his next glass of wine choke the wretch.’ He blockaded Brest from May to September 1800, and by the time the fleet had returned to port there were but sixteen invalids aboard the hospital ship, a remarkably small number which bore testimony to the order and care he had imposed. His own health was not so good however, and during the following winter he obtained permission from Lord Spencer at the Admiralty to remain ashore at Torre Abbey, with his flag flying on Captain Sir Thomas Thompson’s Bellona 74 whilst Admiral Sir Hyde Parker commanded the fleet at sea.
In the spring of 1801, upon the replacement of Pitt’s ministry with that of Henry Addington, St. Vincent succeeded Earl Spencer as first lord of the Admiralty in which office where he fought valiantly against dockyard corruption with the support of his henchmen, Troubridge and Captain John Markham, and where he reformed the Admiralty administration. When a fleet was despatched to the Baltic to confront the Armed Neutrality, and his favourite, Nelson, was considered too inexperienced to lead it, he summoned old Admiral Sir Hyde Parker from his new young bride and gave him the command. It was Nelson nevertheless who fought and won the Battle of Copenhagen on 1 April.
In August 1802 St. Vincent left London to rigorously inspect the naval establishments, and when he discovered the level of corruption that was prevalent he obtained a royal commission of enquiry into the whole organisation. Displaying a haughtiness and hunger for witch-hunting, St. Vincent manage to bring the hate and fury of both the great officials and the lowly shipwrights upon him. The results of the enquiry staggered everybody and led some years later to the impeachment of the ex-treasurer and future First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Melville. Meanwhile the fleet was largely ignored as St. Vincent felt the Peace of Amiens would last, and hence neither he nor the navy were prepared for the renewal of war in 1803. He had overseen a reduction in the number of seamen from one hundred and thirty thousand to seventy thousand, and he had even sold off overstocks to the French, however he boldly refuted claims that his country was at risk by stating ‘ I do not say that the French can not come, I only say that they can not come by sea.’ Nevertheless, on 15 March 1804 St. Vincent was vehemently attacked by William Pitt in the House of Commons for his failure to keep the fleet up to strength at the expense of his zealous behaviour. Needless to say, when things did not always go his own way he threatened to resign.
Typically other controversies stalked his tenure, not least when he was censured by a parliamentary select committee for pressing a junior officer, David Bartholomew, on 17 December 1803 after his over-zealous applications for employment. The first lord’s reaction was undoubtedly prompted by Bartholomew being a follower of Commodore Sir Home Riggs Popham, whom St. Vincent despised so much that he later orchestrated false accounting accusations against him. He also used his position to ensure that Captain Lord Cochrane was put firmly in his place by firstly being denied employment, and then given command of an ex-collier with which he was expected to protect the Orkney fishing fleet.
St. Vincent left the Admiralty on Pitt’s return to office in May 1804 and refused to take command of the Channel when the prime minister requested it. But this was a long-coveted role, and on Pitt’s death in January 1806, and at the behest of his friend the new prime minister, Lord Grenville, he engineered Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis’ removal in order that he could assume command of the Channel. With the temporary rank of admiral of the fleet he flew his flag initially aboard the Formidable 98, Captain Francis Fayerman, and later on the Hibernia 110, Captain Tristram Robert Ricketts, with Captain James Bowen again acting as his captain of the fleet before being replaced by Rear-Admiral Edward Oliver Osborn. He remained off Ushant until October, when the fleet returned to Cawsand Bay for the winter where once again he lived ashore with the Admiralty’s agreement. Only briefly did he take the fleet to the Tagus to bolster the Portuguese resistance to mighty France.
By 1807 St. Vincent was again very ill, and when Grenville left office in March he struck his flag which had latterly been flying aboard the Renown 74, Captain Philip Durham. Upon entering retirement he opined to the King that the service had gone to the dogs with good men remaining un-promoted through lack of interest, although his rant did not prevent him from unfeasibly calling for a prince to take command of the Army following the defeat at the Battle of Corunna in 1809.
In 1810 he retired from public life to his house at Rochetts where he maintained an ascendancy over his relatives and continued to despatch deprecatory letters to all and sundry. He was promoted general of marines on 11 May 1814 and elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1815, but his wife died in February 1816 and his own health and memory began to fade. In the winter of 1818 he lived near Hyères in the south of France, where he was taken on a guided tour of the docks at Toulon by an old foe, Admiral Édouard-Thomas de Burgues, Comte de Missiessy. On 19 July 1821 he was bestowed with the rank of admiral of the fleet on George IV’s accession which was a great honour, given that the title was already in the possession of the Duke of Clarence and that the baton of office was sent by the king himself.
The Earl of St. Vincent died on 14 March 1823, being attended by his faithful old flag captain Hon. George Grey and his secretary Jedidiah Stephens Tucker. He was buried at Stone in Staffordshire. Having been childless his earldom became extinct whilst his viscountcy passed to his sister’s son, Edward Jervis Ricketts.
On 5 June 1783 he married his cousin, Martha, daughter of Sir Thomas Parker, apparently on the instigation of his great friend Hon. Samuel Barrington. His heir and nephew, William Henry Jervis, drowned on the 16 January 1805 when his gig conveying Captain Patrick Campbell, late of the Doris, from his command the Tonnant 80 to Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, capsized. Although William was supported for some time by his coxswain, the latter’s strength eventually gave away and he was forced to save himself. William Henry left a wife and two daughters. St. Vincent’s niece married Admiral Earl of Northesk.
Jervis was bull-necked, heavy-shouldered, had a long nose and craggy features and was given to blunt oratory. He was inclined to stooping, was of medium height and strongly built, being described as ‘burly’, had a large head, long nose, darting eyes and heavy eyebrows. He was an extremely strong disciplinarian with his officers, being un-diplomatic, haughty, imperious but rigidly and unnecessarily strict. Typical of the bully, he had a cynical sense of humour, a temper that he could not control and he cared not whom he lambasted with his vicious tongue. Various toasts were directed against him, i.e. ‘May the discipline of the Mediterranean never be introduced to the Channel’, and ‘May his next glass of wine choke the wretch.’ One song went ‘Damn and blast Old Admiral Jervis, for he was no sailor’s friend.’ He disliked women aboard his ships, although he delighted in Captain Thomas Fremantle’s wife-to-be, Betsy Wynne. At various times he brought chaplains on board his flagship in rough weather to ‘hold a conclave’, woke up marine officers in the middle of the night so that they could enjoy the ‘smell’ of Spain, and forced lieutenants to clamber aboard like common seamen. In the Mediterranean he sent home the physician of the fleet when he complained of his commander-in-chief’s tyranny and duplicity. He did not become any more likeable in old age, his ancestor having to destroy his memoirs due to their gushing self-praising qualities.
Despite being a supporter of the slave trade he was an avid Whig, indeed so militant that Pitt attacked him as a danger to the party, Jervis rarely spoke on any matters bar naval. At the Admiralty he introduced the ceremony of raising the ensign in the morning and lowering it at night, and of taking one’s hat off for the national anthem. He refused to promote anyone in the peace who was not worthy of advancement, having earlier announced in the newspapers that he would give preference to those who had been on half-pay the longest, and je ignored the requests of the influential, be they Lord Nelson or a member of the Royal family. He described himself as a ‘Royalist Whig’, and in admiring the King he hated William Pitt. An established churchman, he was devoutly religious, and he did not let politics affect his promotion of officers other than anybody who was associated with the maverick Commodore Sir Home Riggs Popham.
Jervis generally retired for his six hours sleep at 8 p.m., and was an avid reader. He brought a new urgency to the Mediterranean fleet and generally earned respect, although many officers hated him. Nicknamed ‘Sour Crout’ in respect of his stern deportment, ‘Jarvie’, and ‘Old Jack’ or ‘Hanging Jervis’; he was strongly opposed to the marriage of sea-officers. He always took great care of his men, demanding that stores were of good quality and quantity, and he did much to assist the sick and wounded in the fleet, providing hospital ships for their comfort. He also followed the French revolutionary fashion of holding his hat over his head when speaking to any one, whatever their rank. On one occasion a seaman, Roger Odell, lost £70 when the notes he was carrying in his pocket became submerged. St Vincent summoned all hands aft and after admonishing Odell for showing weakness at his loss repaid the amount out of his own pocket. On another occasion he gave £100 to a frigate captain whose command had long been stationed inshore off Cadiz, and who needed the money to refit for a cruise, yet he somewhat hypocritically turned his venom on officers who sought prize money rather than glory, given his own financial irregularities during the West Indian campaign of 1794. He could be kind-hearted and generous to those he liked, and was gallant and charming in the company of most women. He could also relax easily when not on duty, was a lavish and charming entertainer, enjoyed whist in particular, and never allowed the discussion of politics at his table.
Jervis did not like the word ‘trouble’ and said ‘cant’ should be substituted by the word ‘try’. He encouraged those who were uncertain but determined, and rebuked anybody showing arrogance. In his early years his father, being of a poor family, refused to provide assistance in allowing him to pursue his chosen career, and being too poor to live in the gunroom he was obliged to mess with the common seamen. He was a lifelong friend of Lord Keith, General Wolfe and Evan Nepean, secretary to the Admiralty, who had been his purser on the Foudroyant in 1780.In his opinion Nelson and Troubridge were the greatest of sea officers, but although he was apparently a great friend of the former it did not prevent a lawsuit between the two over prize-money in 1801. He was despised by the Lords Hood and Bridport and shared the same view of them, particularly Bridport, where an enmity had existed since the days of the Keppel court martial in 1779. He disliked Scotsmen in general and the Cochrane’s in particular, suggesting that they were greedy, mad and liars. He was not averse to making fools out of his captains, on one occasion sending the master of the fleet aboard Sir Charles Henry Knowles’ ship to move it when this officer was absent. He described Admiral Lord Barham as a ‘Scottish Pack-horse’, and made plain his dislike for Admiral Lord Gambier, describing him as a ‘compound of paper and pack-horse’. Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren earned his disapprobation for his interest in pursuing prize money before duty. Officers who did earn his respect and patronage included James Carpenter, Henry Bayntun, and Edward Griffith. His secretary for many years, George Purvis, was brother to Admiral John Child Purvis.
Jervis was not a great tactician, the Battle of St. Vincent having been largely won due to the brilliance of Nelson, nor was he successful in his fight against sleaze, mainly due to the sheer enormity of the task. He was however a brilliant ‘moulder’ of the fleet, and was revered by most.