Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pellew, Edward

1157885Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 44 — Pellew, Edward1895John Knox Laughton

PELLEW, EDWARD, Viscount Exmouth (1757–1833), admiral, born at Dover 19 April 1757, was second son of Samuel Pellew (1712–1764), commander of a Dover packet. The family was Cornish. Edward's grandfather, Humphrey Pellew, a merchant, resided from 1702 at Flushing manor-house in the parish of Mylor, and was buried there in 1722. On the death of Edward's father in 1764 the family removed to Penzance, and Pellew was for some years at the grammar school at Truro. In 1770 he entered the navy on board the Juno, with Captain John Stott, and made a voyage to the Falkland Islands. In 1772 he followed Stott to the Alarm, and in her was in the Mediterranean for three years. Consequent on a high-spirited quarrel with his captain, he was put on shore at Marseilles, where, finding an old friend of his father's in command of a merchant ship, he was able to get a passage to Lisbon and so home. He afterwards was in the Blonde, which, under the command of Captain Philemon Pownoll, took General Burgoyne to America in the spring of 1776. In October Pellew, together with another midshipman, Brown, was detached, under Lieutenant Dacres, for service in the Carleton tender on Lake Champlain. In a severe action on the 11th Dacres and Brown were both severely wounded, and the command devolved on Pellew, who, by his personal gallantry, extricated the vessel from a position of great danger. As a reward for his service he was immediately appointed to command the Carleton. In December Lord Howe wrote, promising him a commission as lieutenant when he could reach New York, and in the following January Lord Sandwich wrote promising to promote him when he came to England. In the summer of 1777 Pellew, with a small party of seamen, was attached to the army under Burgoyne, was present in the fighting at Saratoga, where his youngest brother, John, was killed, and he himself, with the whole force, taken prisoner.

On returning to England he was promoted, on 9 Jan. 1778, to be lieutenant of the Princess Amelia guardship at Portsmouth. He was very desirous of being appointed to a sea-going ship, but Lord Sandwich considered that he was bound by the terms of the surrender at Saratoga not to undertake any active service. Towards the end of the year he was appointed to the Licorne, which, in the spring of 1779, went out to Newfoundland, returning in the winter, when Pellew was moved into the Apollo, with his old captain, Pownoll. On 15 June 1780 the Apollo engaged a large French privateer, the Stanislaus, off Ostend. Pownoll was killed by a musket-shot, but Pellew, continuing the action, dismasted the Stanislaus and drove her on shore, where she was protected by the neutrality of the coast. On the 18th Lord Sandwich wrote to him: ‘I will not delay informing you that I mean to give you immediate promotion as a reward for your gallant and officer-like conduct;’ and on 1 July he was accordingly promoted to the command of the Hazard sloop, which was employed for the next six months on the east coast of Scotland. She was then paid off. In March 1782 Pellew was appointed to the Pelican, a small French prize, and so low that he used to say ‘his servant could dress his hair from the deck while he sat in the cabin.’ On 28 April, while cruising on the coast of Brittany, he engaged and drove on shore three privateers. In special reward for this service he was promoted to post rank on 25 May, and ten days later was appointed to the temporary command of the Artois, in which, on 1 July, he captured a large frigate-built privateer.

From 1786 to 1789 he commanded the Winchelsea frigate on the Newfoundland station, returning home each winter by Cadiz and Lisbon. Afterwards he commanded the Salisbury on the same station, as flag-captain to Vice-admiral Milbanke. In 1791 he was placed on half-pay, and tried his hand at farming, with indifferent success. He was offered a command in the Russian navy, but declined it, and he was still struggling with the difficulties of his farm when the war with France was declared. He immediately applied for a ship, and was appointed to the Nymphe, a 36-gun frigate, which he fitted out in a remarkably short time. Having expected a good deal of difficulty in manning her, he had enlisted some eighty Cornish miners, who were sent round to the ship at Spithead. With these and about a dozen seamen, besides the officers, who were obliged to help in the work aloft, he put to sea; and, by dint of pressing from the merchant ships in the Channel, succeeded in filling up his complement, but with very few man-of-war's men. On 18 June the Nymphe sailed from Falmouth, on the news of two French frigates having been seen in the Channel, and at daybreak on the 19th fell in with the Cléopâtre, also of 36 guns, commanded by Captain Mullon, one of the few officers of the ancien régime who still remained in the French navy. After a short but very sharp action, the Cléopâtre's mizenmast and wheel were shot away, and the ship, being unmanageable, fell foul of the Nymphe, and was boarded and captured in a fierce rush. Mullon was mortally wounded, and died in trying to swallow his commission, which, in his dying agony, he had mistaken for the code of secret signals. The code thus fell intact into Pellew's hands, and was sent to the admiralty. The Cléopâtre, the first frigate taken in the war, was brought to Portsmouth, and on 29 June Pellew was presented to the king by the Earl of Chatham and was knighted.

In January 1794 Pellew was appointed to the Arethusa, a powerful 18-pounder frigate—carrying 32-pounder carronades on her quarter-deck and forecastle—which in April was attached to the frigate squadron appointed to cruise towards Ushant, under Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren [q. v.] On St. George's Day they fell in with one of the French squadrons which Warren was specially directed to suppress. They captured three ships out of the four, the Pomone, the largest and heaviest frigate then afloat, striking her flag actually to the Arethusa. On 23 Aug. the same squadron fell in with and destroyed another small French squadron; and the admiralty, encouraged by this repeated success, formed a second squadron, under the command of Pellew, which, within a few days of its sailing, fell in with and captured the French frigate Révolutionnaire [see Nagle, Sir Edmund]. During the winter the frigates continued to keep watch on the fleet in Brest. In the end of January 1795 Pellew was moved into the Indefatigable, an old 64-gun ship which had been cut down to a frigate, and in her was employed during the year cruising off Ushant, either independently or in company with Warren.

In January 1796 the Indefatigable was refitting at Plymouth, when, on the afternoon of the 26th, the Dutton, a large transport bound to the West Indies with troops, was forced by stress of weather to put into the Sound, and in a violent gale was driven ashore under the citadel. Her masts went overboard, and she was beating to pieces. The captain and others of the officers were on shore; those on board were young, inexperienced, and unequal to the emergency. The men were panic-struck; some of the soldiers broke open the spirit-room and drowned their despair. Pellew happened to be on shore at the time, and, running down to the beach, succeeded in getting on board. He then took command; a boat sent from the frigate came to his assistance, and by his exertions hawsers were laid out to the shore, and Pellew, with his sword drawn, directed the landing. Every one was safely landed before the wreck broke up. His conduct was deservedly praised. The corporation of Plymouth voted him the freedom of the town, the merchants of Liverpool presented him with a service of plate, and on 5 March he was created a baronet, with the grant of an honourable augmentation to his arms, a civic wreath, and for a crest a stranded ship.

During the following months Pellew commanded a strong squadron of frigates on the coast of France, which made several important prizes, among others the 38-gun frigate Unité and the 40-gun frigate Virginie. In December they were off Brest, and on the 16th, when the French fleet put to sea, Pellew sent the Révolutionnaire to carry the news to Sir John Colpoys, then some distance to the westward, while he himself, in the Indefatigable, carried the news to Falmouth, whence it was sent post to the admiralty. On the 22nd he was at sea again, with the Amazon in company; and, after a stormy cruise in the Bay of Biscay, was returning towards the Channel, when, late in the afternoon of 13 Jan. 1797, the two frigates fell in with the French 74-gun ship Droits de l'Homme, one of the fleet which had sailed on 16 Dec., and had been scattered on the coast of Ireland. It was blowing a furious south-westerly gale; the Droits de l'Homme had her fore and main top-masts carried away, and rolled so heavily that when attacked by the frigates she could not open her lower-deck ports. For nearly an hour the Indefatigable, at first alone, and afterwards assisted by the Amazon, continued pouring in raking broadsides. Towards midnight the Frenchman's mizenmast was shot away, and the action continued in this tremendous storm till near daybreak. The three ships were by that time in Audierne Bay, the wind blowing dead on shore, and a very heavy sea rolling in. By great exertions and remarkable seamanship, the Indefatigable succeeded in beating out of the bay; the Amazon, which had sustained more damage, struck, and became a total wreck, though with very little loss of life [see Reynolds, Robert Carthew]. The Droits de l'Homme was less fortunate. She struck almost at the same time as the Amazon, on the morning of the 14th, but the boats which were hoisted out were almost immediately broken to pieces. Many men were crushed or drowned; many died of cold, of hunger, of thirst. It was the 18th before the miserable survivors were landed. The loss of life has been very differently stated; but, according to the best French accounts, she had on board 1,280 men in all, of whom 580 were soldiers and fifty were prisoners. Of these, 960 were saved, 103 had been killed by the frigates' fire, and 217 were lost in the wreck. It is not improbable that these numbers are too small; but it is certain that the numbers reported in England—1,350 lost out of a total of 1,750 on board—are much exaggerated (Chevalier, ii. 303; Troude, iii. 59; Marshall, i. 219).

During 1797 and 1798 Pellew, still in the Indefatigable, continued in command of a frigate squadron to the westward; and in March 1799 he was moved to the Impétueux, a remarkably fine 74-gun ship, but with a ship's company known to be on the verge of mutiny. Pellew's personal influence and stern decision had prevented any outbreak on board the Indefatigable, even in 1797; and it was generally believed that he was appointed to the Impétueux in the hope that he might be equally successful with her. The men, perhaps, felt that they were ‘dared;’ and, when the fleet drew back to Bantry Bay towards the end of May 1799, a general mutiny seems to have been projected. On 30 May it broke out on board the Impétueux. Pellew threw himself among the men, seized one of the ringleaders, and dragged him on deck. The officers, following his example, secured others. The mutiny was at an end, and the Impétueux went out to the Mediterranean with Rear-admiral Cotton. At Port Mahon the ringleaders were tried by court-martial, sentenced to death, and executed. St. Vincent, speaking of the incident afterwards, said that Pellew was ‘an excellent and valuable officer, but the most important service he ever rendered to his country was saving the British fleet in Bantry Bay. We know that it was the intention to burn the ships and join the rebels on shore.’ The Impétueux returned to the Channel with Lord Keith, and remained with the fleet under Lord Bridport, and afterwards Lord St. Vincent. In June 1800 Pellew was sent with a strong squadron to Quiberon Bay, where it was proposed to land a force of five thousand men to co-operate with the French royalists. It was, however, found that the royalists were not able to rise, as they had intended, and, beyond destroying a small battery, and bringing away or burning the shipping in the inner bay [see Pilfold. John], nothing was done. Pellew was afterwards at Ferrol under Warren; and, having rejoined the fleet, remained with it till the peace of Amiens, when the ship was paid off.

In July 1802 he was returned to parliament for Barnstaple; but, as soon as the renewal of the war appeared certain, he applied for active employment. In March 1803 he was appointed to the 80-gun ship Tonnant, in which he joined the fleet off Brest under Cornwallis, and early in the summer was detached as commodore of a strong squadron to watch the port of Ferrol, which the French had practically appropriated, and where, during the autumn and winter, they had a squadron of six or seven ships of the line. To blockade this, Pellew's force was little, if at all, superior in numbers, and he had no certainty that some additional ships, escaping from Brest, might not overpower him; but the blockade was efficiently maintained throughout the winter. In March he was recalled to England, in reality, it would seem, to speak in support of the admiralty against Mr. Pitt's motion on 15 March 1804 for an inquiry into Lord St. Vincent's policy. In Parliament Pellew had supported Mr. Pitt, but on this occasion he spoke strongly in support of Lord St. Vincent, and especially against the idea that the enemy's gunboats ought to be met by gunboats. He agreed with St. Vincent that the true defence was in the fleet; the gunboats he thought a most contemptible force, and he was not disposed to concur in ‘the probability of the enemy being able, in a narrow sea, to pass through our blockading and protecting squadrons with all that secrecy and dexterity and by those hidden means that some worthy people expect’ (Osler, pp. 204, 223).

On 23 April 1804 Pellew was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and was at the same time appointed commander-in-chief in the East Indies. He went out with his flag in the Culloden, but he expected that, for his speech and vote of 15 March, he would be shortly superseded. The new admiralty did not venture quite so far, but they sent out Sir Thomas Troubridge [q. v.], with a commission as commander-in-chief in the seas to the east of a line running due south from Point de Galle in Ceylon, leaving Pellew with only the western and least important part of the station, though with an authority to collect and command the two squadrons should the French come in force into the eastern seas. The division of the station, especially at that time (1805), when a strenuous attack by the French seemed not unlikely, was considered by Pellew as in the highest degree ill-judged, and he proposed various modifications of the order to Troubridge, at the same time offering him an equal share of the pecuniary advantages and of the patronage. Troubridge held that the admiralty order was absolute, and declined to accept the proposals of Pellew, who thereupon wrote a very strong remonstrance to the admiralty, who, apparently after consulting with Admiral Peter Rainier [q. v.], yielded to Pellew's reasoning, and recalled Troubridge, appointing him to the command at the Cape of Good Hope, Pellew remaining, as at first, commander-in-chief of the whole East India station.

On the part of the French the war was principally waged by a few powerful frigates and many privateers, fitted out for the most part from Mauritius. The imprudence of the Calcutta merchants in letting their ships sail without convoy played into the enemy's hands, and they suffered severely in consequence (Laughton, Studies in Naval History, pp. 449–50); but the arrangements of Pellew reduced the risk of ships sailing with convoy to a minimum, and the losses by capture were less than those by the dangers of the sea (Mahan, Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, ii. 217). The Dutch, on the other hand, had a considerable force of ships-of-war on the station; but, after many minor losses, the residue was destroyed at Gressie on 11 Dec. 1807 (James, iv. 284). As captain and as admiral, Pellew was at all times most careful of the health and comfort of the men under his command; and, though determined to enforce the strictest discipline, he knew that, as a rule, frequency of punishment is a proof of unsatisfactory discipline. Accordingly, soon after arriving in India, he required a monthly return of punishment from every ship under his command; and the admiralty, struck with the good effects of the order, adopted it as general for the whole service. It is rightly described as ‘the first step in the milder and more effectual system of discipline which has since prevailed’ (Osler, p. 258).

On 28 April 1808 Pellew was advanced to the rank of vice-admiral, and in 1809 he returned to England in the Culloden. Having declined an offer of the post of second in command in the Mediterranean, under Lord Collingwood, he was, in the spring of 1810, appointed commander-in-chief in the North Sea, with the charge of blockading the enemy's fleet in the Scheldt. In the spring of 1811 he succeeded Sir Charles Cotton as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean, and went out with his flag in the 120-gun ship Caledonia, in which he continued during the war, for the most part off Toulon. On 14 May 1814 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Exmouth of Canonteign, a Devonshire estate which he had bought; on 4 June 1814 he became admiral of the blue; and on 2 Jan. 1815 was nominated a K.C.B., from which he was advanced a few months later to a G.C.B.

On the conclusion of the war, by the exile of Napoleon to Elba, Exmouth returned to England; but, on the escape of Napoleon in the following year, he was again sent out with his flag in the Boyne. The squadron wintered at Leghorn, and early in 1816 he was ordered to visit the several North African powers and claim the release of all British subjects. This was granted without difficulty by Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli; but the dey of Algiers positively refused a further request that he would abolish Christian slavery.

After a very warm altercation, and a serious risk of some of the English officers being torn to pieces by the mob, it was agreed to refer the matter to England, the dey undertaking to send a special embassy. Exmouth accordingly sailed for England; but before his arrival the news of a fresh outrage of the Algerines had determined the government to inflict a summary punishment on them. Exmouth was ordered to undertake the task, and, in consultation with the admiralty, declared his readiness to do so with five sail of the line. He was offered a larger force, but refused, considering that a greater number of ships could not be advantageously placed. The force with which he actually sailed from Plymouth on 28 July consisted of two three-deckers, the Queen Charlotte and Impregnable, and three 74-gun ships, with one of 50 guns, four frigates, and nine gun-brigs and bombs. At Gibraltar he found a Dutch frigate squadron, whose commander begged that they might be allowed to co-operate. To this Exmouth consented, and, coming off Algiers on 27 Aug. at daybreak, sent in a note demanding, among other points, the abolition of Christian slavery and the immediate release of all Christian slaves. At two o'clock in the afternoon no answer had been returned, and Exmouth, in the Queen Charlotte, made the signal to move in to the attack. At half-past two the Queen Charlotte anchored a hundred yards from the mole-head, the other ships taking up their appointed positions in excellent order. The fire of the batteries was immediately replied to by the ships, and the action continued with the utmost fury for nearly eight hours. The batteries were silenced and in ruins, so also was a great part of the town. On the next morning a message was sent off to Exmouth to the effect that all his demands were granted, and this was finally confirmed on the 29th. Some three thousand slaves, mostly Italians and Spaniards, were liberated and sent to their respective countries; and Exmouth, having completed his task, returned home.

It was felt through Europe that the victory was Christian rather than English, and the several states of Christendom hastened to testify their gratitude to the victor. His own sovereign raised him to the dignity of a viscount, with an honourable augmentation to his arms. London voted him the freedom of the city and a sword richly ornamented with diamonds. He was made a knight of the Spanish order of King Charles III; of the Neapolitan order of St. Ferdinand and Merit; of the Netherlands order of Wilhelm; of the Sardinian order of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus. The pope sent him a valuable cameo, and the officers who had served under him in the battle presented him with a piece of plate of the value of fourteen hundred guineas.

From 1817 to 1821 Exmouth was commander-in-chief at Plymouth, after which he had no further service, and, with the exception of attending occasionally in the House of Lords, passed the remainder of his life at Teignmouth. On 15 Feb. 1832 he was appointed vice-admiral of the United Kingdom. ‘I shall have it only for one year,’ he wrote to his brother. He had it for not quite so long, dying at Teignmouth on 23 Jan. 1833. He had married, in 1783, Susan, daughter of James Frowde of Knoyle in Wiltshire, and had issue two daughters and four sons, of whom the eldest, Pownoll Bastard, succeeded as second viscount; the youngest, Edward, died honorary canon of Norwich in 1869; the second, Sir Fleetwood Broughton Reynolds [q. v.], and the third, George [q. v.], are separately noticed.

In figure Exmouth was tall and handsome, and of remarkable strength and activity. Almost as much at home in the water as on the land, he repeatedly saved life by jumping overboard—on one occasion from the foreyard of the Blonde; and more than once, in storm or battle, when the seamen quailed before some dangerous piece of work, he either did it himself, or set an example which the men felt bound to follow.

Exmouth's portrait, as a captain, by Opie, belongs to Mr. Tansley Witt; another, by Owen, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich; another, by Sir William Beechey, in the National Portrait Gallery, has been engraved by C. Turner; a fourth, by Northcote, is also in the National Portrait Gallery; a fifth, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, was in 1863 in the possession of Mrs. H. E. Pellew.

[Osler's Life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth (with an engraved portrait after Owen) is the principal authority, and, is, in general, to be depended on except in the matter of dates. His official correspondence during his command in India, in the Public Record Office, which gives full details of the dispute with Troubridge, has an exceptional value for the history of the war in its commercial aspect. See also James's Naval History; Chevalier's Histoire de la Marine française (ii.) sous la première République, and (iii.) sous le Consulat et l'Empire; Troude's Batailles navales de la France; brief memoir in Mylor Parish Mag. 1895, by Fleetwood H. Pellew, esq., of Clifton, Lord Exmouth's grandson.]

J. K. L.