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Royal Naval Biography/Pellew, Israel

Vice-Admiral of the White; and Knight Commander of the most honorable Military Order of the Bath.

It might be a subject of curious disquisition, to enquire into the origin of this name; but this is rendered totally unnecessary, by the fame attached to it in modern periods, which would have imparted a brilliancy to any name, even of the most ancient and illustrious family, and reflected back a splendor, on the most distinguished ancestry, not inferior to that of its proudest actions.

The subject of this memoir is a younger brother of Admiral Viscount Exmouth; and like him, entered at an early age into the naval service. In the month of Jan. 1783, he commanded the Resolution cutter, of 12 guns and 75 men, and captured, after a smart action of an hour and a half, the Flushing, a Dutch privateer, of 14 guns and 68 men, one of whom was killed and six wounded. He soon after attained the rank of Commander, but does not appear to have been employed during the peace that succeeded the contest with our American colonies. It fortunately happened, however, as has been already stated in our memoir of his brother, that he served as a volunteer with that officer on board la Nymphe, at the capture of la Cleopatre; in consequence of which he was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain, June 25th, 1793, seven days after the action.

After acting for some time in the command of la Nymphe, Captain Israel Pellew was appointed to the Squirrel, of 20 guns, employed in the North Sea, where he remained until the spring of 1795, and then removed into the Amphion frigate, in which he served under the orders of Sir James Wallace, at Newfoundland; and on his return from thence, after cruizing some time in the North Sea, was directed to join the squadron of frigates, commanded by Sir Edward Pellew, employed between Falmouth and the French coast. On her passage, the Amphion sustained some damage in a gale of wind, and was obliged to put into Plymouth to refit.

On the 22d Sept. 1796, the Amphion’s fore magazine by some accident took fire and blew up; which had such an effect as to rip the upper works in the fore part of the ship to atoms, and she almost immediately sank alongside the sheerhulk, and close to the dock-yard jetty, in ten fathoms water. The number of persons on board at the time, including visitors of both sexes, was at least 300, not more than 40 of whom were saved, and several of these severely wounded. Captain Pellew, his first Lieutenant, and Captain Swaffield of the Overyssel, were in the cabin at dinner; hearing a kind of rumbling noise immediately preceding the blowing up, the two former ran into the quarter gallery nearest the sheerhulk, on whose deck Captain Pellew was instantaneously thrown, whereby he received a severe blow on the head, and a contusion on his breast. The Lieutenant was thrown into the water much wounded. Captain Swaffield, Mr. John Hearie, third Lieutenant, the Master, Surgeon, Lieutenant of Marines, gunner, carpenter, and several midshipmen, perished.

Though the explosion was very great, yet it had but a trifling effect on shore, or even on board the ships near to which she lay. Her masts (excepting the mizen-mast) were shivered almost to pieces, and forced out of the ship; four of her main-deck guns were thrown in upon the hulk’s deck; and several bodies, pieces of the wreck, &c. were seen to be thrown as high as her maintop-gallant masthead.

The cause of this dreadful accident in all probability will never be discovered, as it is most reasonable to suppose that the person from whose imprudence it was occasioned, shared the fate of his miserable companions.

Captain Pellew afterwards commanded the Cleopatra frigate, stationed in the Channel, where he captured l’Emilie, French privateer, of 18 guns and 110 men. Towards the latter end of 1798, he escorted a fleet of merchantmen to Halifax, where he continued until the year 1800, and then proceeded to Jamaica.

Whilst on the latter station, the Cleopatra appears to have had more than one narrow escape from destruction. On one occasion, when crossing the Gulph stream, under a reefed fore-sail and mizen stay-sail, in a strong gale, not far to the northward of Cape Hutterus, in a night rendered dark by a deep and jet black thunder cloud, which had obscured the moon; after very vivid lightning and a loud explosion, the wind shifted in a heavy squall, so as to bring the ship up several points, with her head to a very high and much agitated sea, giving her at the same time fresher way through the water. Her first plunge put the whole of the forecastle deep under, and the officers on deck hardly expected to see her rise again. Captain Pellew, who was in his cot, got a severe blow by being dashed violently against the beams. The ship, however, rose, throwing a vast body of water aft, which burst open the cabin bulk head, breaking loose every thing upon the deck but the guns. In this send aft, the tafferel and after part of the quarter-deck were far under water. Luckily, only part of the after hatchway was open, and no great body of water went below. The fore-sail was hauled up, and the damage found to be only the loss of the jib-boom, sprit-sailyard, and bumpkins; bowsprit and fore-yard sprung; small cutter carried away from the davits; the spanker boom, and many ropes broke.

Early in 1801, the Cleopatra got aground on the island of Abaco, one of the Bahamas, where she remained three days and nights, and was forced to throw her guns and part of the ballast overboard before she could be got afloat. During the same cruize, and some time previous to this accident, Captain Pellew being off Cuba, in company with the Andromache, sent the boats of the two frigates into Levita Bay’, for the purpose of cutting out some vessels which lay at anchor there under the protection of three armed gallies. The enemy, expecting an attack, was prepared for their reception; and on the approach of the boats, discharged such a tremendous volley of grape and langridge as to occasion great slaughter among the assailants, who with intrepid bravery pushed on, and boarded and carried one of the gallies. The incessant fire from the enemy, however, having nearly destroyed all the boats, obliged them to relinquish any further attempt, and retreat to their ships, with the loss of Lieutenant Taylor of the Cleopatra, who commanded the party, and 11 others killed, and 17 wounded.

After this disastrous cruize, Captain Pellew returned to the coast of America, where he continued until the suspension of hostilities. The Cleopatra arrived at Portsmouth, from Halifax, Dec. 6, 1801.

In the spring of 1804, he was appointed to the Conqueror, of 74 guns, stationed in the Channel. Towards the close of the same year, he joined the fleet in the Mediterranean, under the orders of Lord Nelson, whom he accompanied to the West Indies, in pursuit of the combined squadrons of France and Spain. Captain Pellew was also present at the battle of Trafalgar, on which memorable occasion the Conqueror had 3 men killed and 9 wounded.

Our officer was subsequently employed under the orders of Sir Charles Cotton, blockading the Tagus; in which service he continued until the surrender of the Russian fleet[1]; soon after which he was appointed to superintend the payments of the ships afloat at Chatham. On the 31st July, 1810, he attained the rank of Rear-Admiral; and in the following year accompanied his brother to the Mediterranean, as Captain of the fleet on that station, where he remained till the peace. He was nominated K.C.B. Jan. 2, 1815; and advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral, Aug. 12, 1819.