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Royal Naval Biography/Elliot, William

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath, and Knight Commander of the Royal Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword[1].
[Post-Captain of 1810.]

This officer was born at Cawsand, in Cornwall, Dec. 15, 1782; and he entered the naval service, Feb. 21, 1795, with no better prospect than that of ultimately becoming a purser; his only professional friend being Mr. P. Ellery, captain’s clerk of the Irresistible 74, commanded by the late Admiral John Leigh Douglas, who allowed him to join that ship as an assistant to his amanuensis[2].

In the action off l’Orient, June 23, 1795, we find Mr. Elliot serving as a volunteer of the first class, and receiving a wound, which, although not dangerous, was of such a nature as to render it necessary for him to be sent home in the hospital-ship attached to Lord Bridport’s fleet. Some time after his recovery, he was removed from the guard-ship at Plymouth to the Carnatic 74, Captain Richard Grindall, whom he successively followed into the Colossus and Russel third rates, in which latter ship he continued as a midshipman, under the respective commands of Captains Grindall[3], Archibald Dickson, Henry Trollope, Herbert Sawyer, and William Cuming, until she was put out of commission, at Plymouth, in the spring of 1802; after sharing in two of our most brilliant naval engagements, under Duncan and Nelson, off Camperdown and Copenhagen, Oct. 11, 1797, and April 2, 1801[4].

After passing the usual examination, Mr. Elliot was ordered by Earl St. Vincent to join the Audacious 74, then about to sail for Jamaica, where he received his first commission, dated Mar. 17, 1802, and from whence he returned home in la Nereide frigate.

Lieutenant Elliot’s next appointment was to the Plantagenet 74 in which ship he assisted at the capture of a large French privateer, and a beautiful corvette mounting 22 guns[5]. In 1805, he was appointed first of the Rattler sloop, commanded by Captain Francis Mason, with whom he afterwards joined the Daphne 24, at the particular request of that very respectable officer.

In our memoir of Captain Mason, we have already noticed the dreadful weather encountered by the Rattler, when proceeding to Newfoundland[6]; but without mentioning the circumstance of her falling in with a merchant-brig belonging to Poole, lying on her beam ends, and her crew, with two women, lashed to the weather side, expecting each succeeding moment to be their last. These poor creatures, 9 in number, were rescued from their perilous situation, through the intrepidity and great personal exertions of Lieutenant Elliot, who volunteered to attempt their deliverance, notwithstanding it then blew a perfect hurricane, and success appeared impossible. The Rattler first lowered her jolly-boat, but she was instantly swamped: the yawl was then launched overboard, and although only 6 volunteers could be procured out of the whole ship’s company, Lieutenant Elliot proceeded to make his daring attempt. At 10 P.M., he succeeded in getting under the lee of the brig; but the sea ran so high, and beat so heavy on her, that he found it impracticable to get alongside till day-light, when the weather moderated; and he had the happiness of fully accomplishing his object:– in less than an hour afterwards, the vessel went to the bottom! Lieutenant Elliot’s courageous perseverance on this occasion, was thus acknowledged by the master of the ill-fated brig, in a letter addressed to Dr. Hawes, the Treasurer of the Royal Humane Society:–

Poole January 27, 1806.

“Sir,– I beg leave to recommend to the notice of the Royal Humane Society, Lieutenant William Elliot, for rescuing me and my crew from the wreck of the merchant brig Success, who, though intreated not to hazard his life, still persisted in the attempt. Permit me to say, that I think Lieutenant Elliot not unworthy of your notice, and by laying the particulars before the R.H.S. you will oblige, &c.

(Signed)J. G. Robinson.”

On another occasion, whilst in the Rattler, Lieutenant Elliot saved the lives of three men, who could not swim, by jumping overboard after them, at sea. We have not been able to find a copy of Captain Mason’s letter to the above institution, but we are informed, that its honorary medallion has been twice presented to the subject of this memoir.

In October 1806, the Daphne accompanied the naval and military reinforcements sent to Buenos Ayres; and Lieutenant Elliot commanded a party of her seamen at the storming of Monte Video, Feb. 3, 1807[7]. The particulars of a very gallant exploit afterwards performed by him on the Baltic station, are thus detailed in an official letter from Captain Mason to Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, dated off Lessoe:–

“Sir,– Judging from the cargo of the sloop destroyed on the 22d, that the rest of the enemy’s vessels at Fladstrand were also loaded with provisions, and destined for the relief of Norway, I conceived it to be an object to attempt getting them out; and the officers and crews of both ships having volunteered, I, last night, sent three boats from this ship, and the Tartarus two, all under the direction of Lieutenant William Elliot, first of the Daphne, accompanied by Mr. Hugh Stewart, master; Lieutenant Boger, R.M.; Messrs. Beazeley, Durell, Elliot, Moore, and Ayton, midshipmen; and Lieutenants Gittins and Patterson; and Messrs. Septford, Lussman, and Andrews, midshipmen of the Tartarus. They were towed near the shore by the Forward gun-brig. They found the vessels moored close under the foot of the castle, which mounts 10 guns, with hawsers fast to the shore; and immediately on getting to them, the alarm was given by some Danish boats: the enemy instantly forsook the vessels, and the castle and three other guns began, and kept up a heavy fire of round, grape, and musketry; many of the shot went through the hulls and sails of the vessels, notwithstanding which, the five boats cleared the harbour of all but two brigs, both light, and one of them with neither sails nor rudder. As no credit can accrue but to those who planned and executed this enterprise, I trust, Sir, I may be allowed to express to you, my admiration of the steady valour and good conduct of Lieutenant Elliot (whose behaviour at all times led me to expect it from him), as well as every officer and man employed in it. He speaks in the strongest terms of the courage and steadiness of the officers, petty officers, seamen, and marines of both ships. I am happy. Sir, to add, that the loss is very trifling on either side, which I am surprised at, having observed from the ship the heavy fire kept up by the enemy. A Danish boat, with 5 men in it, having the temerity to persist in endeavouring to retake one of the vessels, although repeatedly warned by Lieutenant Elliot, the latter was obliged with his people to fire in their own defence, and 3 of the 5 fell; on our side there were 3 wounded by the enemy, and one by mistake, but none badly. Amongst the former is Lieutenant Elliot, which, with his being an old Lieutenant, and a very deserving officer, will, I trust, be an additional inducement with you, to recommend him to the notice of my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. I enclose a list of the wounded. * * * *. All but my first Lieutenant and one seaman are able to do duty.”

On this occasion, Lieutenant Elliot received a severe contusion in the middle of the right thigh, by a splinter, when on board one of the enemy’s vessels; and a seaman belonging to the Daphne was wounded in the neck by a shipmate, who had mistaken him for an enemy. The prizes consisted of 5 brigs, 3 galliots, 1 schooner, and 1 sloop; the whole of which, except one galliot, were deeply laden with grain and provisions, as the captain of the Daphne had anticipated.

As a reward for his distinguished conduct. Lieutenant Elliot was once more sent to the West Indies on promotion, and directed to proceed thither as a passenger on board the Brazen sloop of war. – From that vessel he removed into the Castor frigate, for the purpose of joining Sir Alexander Cochrane, commander-in-chief on the Leeward Islands station.

On the 16th April 1809, the Castor assisted at the capture of the Hautpoult, a French ship of 74 guns, and 680 men: during the pursuit, Mr. Elliot was ordered by her captain to do duty as first Lieutenant, an appointment which was immediately afterwards confirmed by the Admiral, who had joined in the chase, but, owing to the bad sailing of his flagship, was rendered incapable of affording any assistance[8].

Captain Fahie, in his official letter to Sir A. Cochrane, says, that at 3-30 A.M ., the Castor succeeded in getting within shot of the Frenchman, and soon after began a smart cannonade, which was immediately returned by the enemy, who, in yawing to bring his guns to bear, gave the Pompée an opportunity of ranging up abreast of him. We have been told by an officer who was present, that the Hautpoult’s tiller-ropes were shot away by the Castor. The latter ship, commanded by Captain William Roberts, had one man killed and six others wounded.

In August following. Lieutenant Elliot was appointed acting Commander of the Pultusk sloop of war, in which vessel be made several captures off the north end of Guadaloupe. Towards the close of the same year, he assisted Captain George Miller, of the Thetis frigate, in an attack upon a French national brig, lying at anchor in the port of Des Hayes; but after a warm action of about two hours, it was found impossible to make any impression on the fort by which she was defended. During this attack, the Pultusk was repeatedly hulled, and indeed nearly sunk, two of the enemy’s shot having passed between wind and water, after her pumps had been rendered useless.

The next step adopted by Captain Miller, in order to obtain possession of the enemy’s vessel, was to place a party of seamen under the orders of his first Lieutenant, whom he directed to land after dark, and try to storm the fort; but that officer, not finding a convenient landing place, and being fired upon by some troops posted behind rocks, was speedily obliged to retreat. Captain Elliot, who, when consulted by the senior officer, had confidently predicted the failure of the attempt, if made by night, now offered his services to conduct an attack the following day; and his proposal being acceded to by Captain Miller, a landing was accordingly effected at noon, about 6 miles from the fortification; the Pultusk having previously towed the boats, containing about 90 officers and men, within musket shot of the shore.

The difficulties Captain Elliot and his brave followers surmounted in finding their way through an almost impenetrable wood, over a high hill, without any path or guide, afford another instance of the perseverance and intrepidity of British seamen and marines. While on their march, most of the officers and men lost their shoes, canteens, &c.; and when only half-way through the wood they heard a detachment of French soldiers on their right, proceeding towards the spot where they had disembarked. This rendered it necessary to halt for a few minutes, and it was nearly 6 o’clock before they arrived near the fort. Having no time to lose, as it was probable that the above mentioned troops would soon return, Captain Elliot then formed his party close to the edge of the wood, and proceeded singly to ascertain where the entrance of the fort was situated. After making one turn to his left by a hedge, he discovered the drawbridge, partly drawn up, and a centinel, who advanced and challenged him. Receiving no answer, the Frenchman turned suddenly round, walked back about 20 yards, and, screening himself behind the corner of a wall, fired at, but missed his pursuer, whom he afterwards attempted to bayonet: in this design, however, he was fortunately prevented by Captain Elliot, who shot him with his left hand pistol, at the moment they were coming into close contact.

The Frenchman, although he instantly fell, was still capable of doing mischief, for on Captain Elliot turning round to order the storming party forward, he managed to get up unperceived, and aimed a tremendous blow at him with his musket, the butt-end of which inflicted a severe contusion on the chest, whilst the cock of the lock, as the piece descended, was literally driven into the knee of our gallant and unsuspecting countryman. Both parties now came together to the ground, but not before Captain Elliot had used his cutlass so effectually as to seal the fate of his antagonist.

In five minutes after this occurrence, Captain Elliot and the whole of his men were within the walls of the fort, he himself having been assisted over the drawbridge by a non-commissioned officer of marines. The French garrison (amounting, by the account of a prisoner, to 300 men) were completely taken by surprise:– some jumped over the parapets, and concealed themselves among the surrounding bushes; some defended themselves with becoming spirit; and others were taken in the barrack, without resistance; their arms, piled in front of the building, being previously secured by the British. The drawbridge was then hauled up, the guns towards the road loaded with grape, and those to seaward directed against the brig, which was immediately compelled to surrender.

No sooner had the enemy afloat announced their submission, by hailing, than Captain Elliot directed all the ordnance to be thrown over the walls, and a train laid to destroy the magazine and barrack. He then went off in a French boat and took possession of his prize, which proved to be le Nisus. a new brig, mounting 18 thirty-two pounders, with a complement of 150 men, many of whom had jumped overboard and swam to the shore on finding the guns of the fort turned against them. The remainder of the business on shore was conducted with great zeal and ability by Mr. Nathaniel Belhier, first Lieutenant of the Thetis.

Le Nisus had recently arrived at Des Hayes with a supply of provisions from l’Orient, and when captured was waiting a favorable opportunity to sail for France with a return cargo of coffee. Captain Elliot found her aground; but a breeze springing up, he got her off without difficulty; and she was afterwards commissioned as the" “Guadaloupe” sloop of war.

On the 18th Dec. 1809, Captain Elliot was present at the destruction of two large French frigates in Ance le Barque, together with a heavy battery by which they were defended[9]. We subsequently find him commanding the Hazard sloop, and greatly distinguishing himself, both afloat and on shore, during the siege of Guadaloupe, on the surrender of which island he was ordered to convey the bearers of the naval and military despatches to England[10].

On his return home (March 1810), Captain Elliot received an official letter from the Secretary of the Admiralty, acquainting him, that in consequence of his meritorious services in the West Indies, the Lords Commissioners had been pleased to order a minute to be made for his promotion to post rank, to take place at the expiration of twelve months, from the date of his confirmation as a Commander; and in December following, on his arrival from Newfoundland, he had the gratification of receiving a commission, dated, according to promise, Oct. 16, in the same year.

From the above period. Captain Elliot was obliged through ill-health, occasioned by his wounds and repeated change of climate, to remain on shore till June 1812, when, considering himself sufficiently recovered to serve again afloat, he applied for employment, and was immediately appointed to the Crocodile of 28 guns, in which ship he continued, on the Guernsey and Lisbon stations, till she was ordered to be paid off in June 1815.

Captain Elliot was nominated a C.B. in 1815: his next appointment appears to have been September 5, in the same year, to the Florida 20; and from her we find him removed April 8, 1816, to the Scamander frigate, fitting for the West Indies, where he evinced great zeal in protecting British commerce, and preventing the principles of our trade from violation, by seizing ten vessels of different descriptions, for various breaches of the navigation laws.

On the 21st Oct. 1817, Captain Elliot encountered a most destructive hurricane, near Barbadoes, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the Scamander escaped its dreadful ravages. – For his subsequent exertions in saving numerous vessels which had been dismasted and driven ashore in Carlisle Bay, he received a very flattering letter from the merchants of that island, whose brethren at Trinidad also voted him their thanks for rescuing considerable property belonging to them, which had fallen into the hands of some Spanish pirates, and been carried into la Guiara. The Scamander was paid off at Portsmouth, in November 1818.

Captain Elliot’s last appointment was, Nov. 22, 1823, to the Lively of 46 guns, in which frigate he escorted Don Miguel, then an exile, from Lisbon to Brest: on his return to the Tagus, he was honored with the company of King John, the Infantas of Portugal, and the Ministers of State, all of whom had been invited to a grand fête given on board the Lively, and which his Portuguese Majesty declared to be the most splendid entertainment he ever witnessed. Among other honors distributed by the happy monarch, to commemorate his restoration to power, was the insignia of a Knight Commander of the Tower and Sword, set in diamonds, presented to the subject of this memoir, who has since received his own sovereign’s most gracious permission to accept and wear the same.

On the 2d Jan. 1826, the Lively arrived at Plymouth from Vera Cruz, with despatches, announcing the surrender of the castle of St. Juan d’Ulloa to the Mexican forces. On her being paid off, the officers gave a splendid dinner to Captain Elliot, at the Royal Hotel, Devonport, “to evince their sense of his kindness to them, while under his command, and as a mark of their high esteem for the man and for the officer.”

Captain Elliot married, first, in 1806, Lucretia, daughter of the Rev. John Harries of Newfoundland; and by that lady, who died at Barbadoes, in 1818, he had four children, all of whom are deceased: 2dly, Sarah, daughter of John Parkin, Esq., ship-builder at Frank Quarry, co. Devon, by whom he has issue two sons and one daughter. He has three brothers in the naval service, viz.– John, a Purser; and Thomas and James, Lieutenants. One of his sisters is married to Lieutenant Lapidge, R.N.

Agents.– Messrs. Stilwell.

  1. Captain Elliot’s name is mis-spelt in the Admiralty List.
  2. Admiral J. L. Douglas died in Montague Square, London Nov. 13, 1810.
  3. Captain Grindall commanded the Irresistible in Lord Bridport’s action, on which occasion he bore a distinguished part, and was severely wounded: he resigned the Russel on account of ill-health; commanded the Prince 98, at Trafalgar; was nominated a K.G.B. in 1815; and died at Wickham, Hants, May 23, 1820, aged 70 years.
  4. See Vol. I., pp. 150 et seq., and note at p. 847.
  5. See Vol. II., Part I., p. 175.
  6. See Suppl. Part I, p. 60, Par. 3.
  7. See Vol. I, p. 666*, and note at the bottom.
  8. See Vol. I. p. 717.
  9. See Vol. I. p. 878 et seq.
  10. The Hazard led Commodore Ballard’s squadron into Ance le Barque, and assisted in taking possession of the enemy’s batteries, which enabled the troops under Brigadier-General Harcourt, to land without opposition. Captain Elliot was afterwards attached to the second division of the army. – See the extract of Sir George Beckwith’s General Orders, inserted at p. 879 of our first volume.