Admiral Edward Pellew: The true history of this most novel Captain

Anne thought she left great happiness behind her when they quitted the house; and Louisa, by whom she found herself walking, burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness; protesting that she was convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.
Persuasion

Admiral Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth, GCB, (April 9, 1757 – January 23, 1833) was a British naval officer. He fought during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary, and the Napoleonic Wars. His younger brother, Israel Pellew, also pursued a naval career.

Pellew is remembered as an officer and a gentleman of great courage and leadership, earning his land and titles through courage, leadership and skill – serving as a paradigm of the versatility and determination of Naval Officers during the Napoleonic Wars.

Edward Pellew was born at Dover, the second son of Samuel Pellew (1712 – 1764), commander of a Dover packet. The family was Cornish, descended from a family which came originally from Normandy, but had for many centuries been settled in the west of Cornwall. 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. He was a pugnacious youth, which did not endear him to his headmaster. He ran away to sea at the age of 14, but soon deserted because of unfair treatment to another midshipman.

In 1770 he entered the Royal 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 Marseille, 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 John 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. He, together with the rest of the force, was taken prisoner. After the surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, he was repatriated.

On returning to England he was promoted, on 9 January 1778, to be lieutenant of the Princess Amelia guardship at Portsmouth. He wanted to be 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. 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–apart from 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 seasoned navy men. On 18 June the Nymphe sailed from Falmouth on the news that two French frigates had been seen in the Channel. At daybreak on the 19th Nymphe 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.

On 28 May 1783 he married Susannah Frowde. They had four sons and two daughters. These children were:

  • Emma Mary Pellew, born 18 January 1785
  • Pownoll Bastard Pellew, born 1 July 1786, later 2nd Viscount Exmouth
  • Julia Pellew, born 31 May 1787
  • Fleetwood Broughton Reynolds Pellew, later an admiral and knight, b. 13 December 1789
  • George Pellew, later a bishop, born 3 April 1793
  • Edward William Pellew, later a minister, born 3 November 1799

He was captain of the Nymphe which took the first French warship, the Cléopâtre, during the Revolutionary war with France in 1793. For this action he was knighted. By 1794 he was Commodore of the Western Frigate Squadron. In 1795, he took command of HMS Indefatigable the ship with which he is most closely associated.

He was also a good swimmer and noted for saving many lives. The most striking event was on January 26, 1796 when the East Indiaman Dutton, which was carrying troops, ran aground under Plymouth Hoe. Due to the heavy seas, the crew and soldiers aboard were unable to get to shore. Pellew swam out to the wreck with a line and helped rig a lifeline which saved almost all aboard. For this feat he was, on 18 March 1796 created a baronet.

His most famous action started on January 13, 1797 when cruising in company with HMS Amazon, a French 74 gun ship of the line, the Droits de l’Homme, was sighted. Normally a ship of the line would outmatch two frigates, but by skilful sailing in the stormy conditions, the British frigates avoided bearing the brunt of the superior fire power of the French. In the early morning of January 14, 1797, the three ships were embayed on a lee shore in Audierne Bay. Both the Droits de l’Homme and Amazon ran aground, but Indefatigable managed to claw her way off the lee shore to safety.

Pellew was responsible for press-ganging the brilliant young black violinist and composer Joseph Antonio Emidy who had been playing in the Lisbon Opera orchestra.

Pellew was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1804. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the East Indies. It took six months to sail out to Penang so he took up the appointment in 1805. On his return from the east in 1809, he was appointed, to the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1811 to 1814 and again in 1816.

In 1814, he was made Baron Exmouth of Canonteign. He led an Anglo-Dutch fleet against the Barbary states and was victor of the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816 and secured the release of the 1,000 Christian slaves in the city. For this action he was created 1st Viscount Exmouth on 10 December 1816. Following his return to England he became Port Admiral at Plymouth from 1817 to 1820, when he effectively retired from active service. He continued to attend and speak in the House of Lords. In 1832 he was appointed Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom.

He bought Bitton House in Teignmouth in 1812 and it was his home until his death in 1833. The museum in Teignmouth has a comprehensive collection of artefacts which belonged to him.

The Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands, situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria were named after Pellew by Matthew Flinders who visited them in 1802. Other Australian geographical features include Cape Pellew (adjacent to the islands) and Exmouth Gulf. Pellew Island, Jamaica is also named after Edward Pellew. However, while Palau (formerly the Pellew or Pelew Islands), east of the Philippines is often said to be named for Edward Pellew, it was called that by Captain Henry Wilson in 1783 which was well before Pellew came to prominence. It appears to be an anglicization of the indigenous name Belau.

There is also a building in HMS Raleigh (where a lot of the Naval basic training is conducted) named after him which are used as sleeping quarters for new recruits, and a Sea Cadet Unit in Truro called T.S.Pellew

Admiral Pellew is featured as the Captain of Indefatigable in some of C. S. Forester’s fictional Horatio Hornblower novels; in the television adaptations, as portrayed by Robert Lindsay, he is given a more prominent role. As a midshipman, he appears in the novel Jack Absolute by C. C. Humphreys. Pellew is the name of a minor character in several of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, but as himself is only mentioned in The Yellow Admiral and The Hundred Days.

From Wikipedia, the free, online encyclopedia.

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