Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth

Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth

Infobox Military Person
name=Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth
lived= birth date|1757|4|9death date and age|1833|7|19|1757|4|9

caption="Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth"
placeofbirth=Dover, England
placeofdeath=Teignmouth, Devon, England
allegiance=flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
branch= Royal Navy
battles=American War of Independence
French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleonic Wars
Barbary War
relations=Israel Pellew

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. Pellew makes fictional appearances in the Horatio Hornblower novels.


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 (1650 - 1721), a merchant and ship owner, son of a naval officer, resided at Flushing manor-house in the parish of Mylor. Part of the town of Flushing, was built by Samuel Trefusis MP for Penryn; the other part was built by Humphry Pellew who was buried there. He also had a property and a tobacco plantation in Maryland, United States of America. Part of the town of Annapolis stands on what was, before the revolt of the colonies, the estate of the Pellews. 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.

Early career

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 (→ American War of Independence). 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 (→ Battle of Valcour Island). 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 revolutionary government of France declared war on Great Britain on 1 February 1793. 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.

ervice in French Revolutionary War

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.

Admiralcy and Peerage

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 and Admiral of the Red Squadron of His Majesty's Fleet, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath, also of the Royal and distinguished Order of Charles the Third of Spain, Of the Military Order of William of the Netherlands, Of the Royal Sicilian Order of St. Ferdinand and Merit, Of the Military Order of St. Maurice and St. Lazare of Sardinia, and Knight of the Most Honourable and Most Ancient Order of the Annunciation of the Royal House of Savoy, High Steward of Great Yarmouth, and one of the Elder Brethren of the Hon. Corporation of the Trinity House.

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. [Cite web|url=http://www.devonmuseums.net/component/option,com_mumancontent/task,view/sectionid,30/catid,294/|title=Teignmouth & Shaldon Museum|accessdate=2007-12-02|publisher=Devonmuseums.net|year=2006]

Marriage & Family

On 28 May 1783 he married Susannah Frowde. They had four sons and two daughters. These children were:
*Emma Mary Pellew, b. 18 January 1785
*Pownoll Bastard Pellew, later 2nd Viscount Exmouth, b. 1 July 1786
*Julia Pellew, b. 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

Geographical namesakes

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. Point Pellew, Alaska.

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

Fictional appearances

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, including "The Reverse of the Medal", "The Surgeon's Mate", but as himself is only mentioned in "The Yellow Admiral" and "The Hundred Days". As a captain, he is mentioned several times in "Rabble in Arms", a historical novel by Kenneth Roberts.


* Mahan, A.T. (1902) [http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18314/18314-h/18314-h.htm#PELLEW "Pellew: The Frigate Captain and Partisan Officer"] in: "Types of Naval Officers: Drawn from the History of the British Navy", Chapter VII, London : Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Available on Project Gutenberg - accessed 10 June 2007
* Osler, Edward (1854) [http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17929/17929-h/17929-h.htm "Life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth"] , London : Geo. Routledge & Co., 235 p., Available on Project Gutenberg - accessed 10 June 2007
* Parkinson, C. Northcote (1934) "Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, Admiral of the Red", London : Methuen & Co., 478 p.

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