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Pellew's/Exmouth's Life - A Compendium by Various Authors




Pellew's Childhood




From "Types of Naval Officers," by Alfred Thayer Mahan (Little, Brown, and Co., Boston, 1913):


"In England, the Pellew family was settled in the extreme southwest, in Cornwall and Devonshire, counties whose nearness to the great Atlantic made them the source of so much of the maritime enterprise that marked the reign of Elizabeth. Lord Exmouth's grandfather was a man of wealth; but, as he left many children, the juniors had to shift for themselves, and the youngest son, Samuel Pellew, the father of the admiral, at the time of the latter's birth commanded a post-office packet on the Dover station. He accordingly made the town of that name the home of his wife and children; and there Edward, the second of his four sons, was born, April 19, 1757. Their mother was a daughter of a Aconite gentleman, who had been out for the Pretender in 1715 -- a fact which probably emphasized the strong Hanoverian sympathies of Samuel Pellew, whose habit was to make his children, every Sunday, drink King George's health upon their knees.

In 1765, when the future admiral was only eight years old, his father died, and the mother making an imprudent marriage three years later, the children were thrown upon the world with small provision and scanty care. The resolute, active, and courageous character of the lads, however, brought them well forward among their equals in age. At school, Edward was especially distinguished for fearlessness. Of this he gave a marked instance, when not yet twelve by entering a burning house where gunpowder was stored, which no other of the bystanders would approach. Alone and with his own hands the lad brought out the powder. A less commendable but very natural result of the same energetic spirit was shown in the numerous fighting matches in which he was engaged. Being threatened with a flogging for one of these, the circumstances became the immediate occasion of his going to sea. If flogged, he declared, he would run away; and as a decided taste for seafaring life had already manifested itself, his guardian thought better to embrace at once the more favourable alternative and enter him regularly in the navy. He thus went afloat towards the end of 1770, the date at which Nelson, also, though one year younger, began his career."


Pellew Joins the Navy


From "The Adventures of Edward Pellew," a chapter in Henry Newbolt's "Book of the Blue Sea" (Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1914).


"Accordingly at thirteen and a half he was entered in the Navy, under Captain Stott of the Juno. When Stott was transferred to the Alarm, he took Edward with him to the Mediterranean, and there a most extraordinary thing happened. Captain Stott, in circumstances very disgraceful to himself, lost his temper and struck a midshipman named Frank Cole. The boy at once very properly applied to be discharged from the ship, and the captain ordered a boat to take him ashore. Edward instantly went to him and said, "If Frank Cole is to be turned out of the ship, I hope, sir, that you will turn me out too." He did, and the two boys would have been landed in a foreign country without any money, if two of the lieutenants, Keppel and Lord Hugh Seymour, had not helped them. At Marseilles the captain of a merchantman, who knew the Pellew's, offered to take Edward as far as Lisbon, but said he had no room for Cole. However, he was no match for two mids of that character, who were determined to stand by each other, and it ended in his agreeing to take them both. From Lisbon, they reached Falmouth in a packet boat.

The rest is equally characteristic of the English sailor. Twelve years afterwards, when Edward Pellew was a post-captain commanding the Winchelsea, he took under his protection a son of Captain Stott (who was then dead), and did everything he could to help him; so he may be said to have won handsomely on both innings."


Pellew and His Mentor

1775 - 1782

From A. T. Mahan, "Types of Naval Officers Drawn from the History of the British Navy," Little, Brown, and Co., New York, 1913.


"He next passed under the command of a Captain Pownoll, between whom and himself were established such warm relations, of affection on the one side and reverential regard on the other, that Pownoll became a family name among the descendents of the Admiral. He himself gave it to his first-born, and it still appears in the present generation. Under him, also, Pellew was brought into direct contact with the American Revolution; for on board the frigate Blonde, Pownoll's ship, General Burgoyne embarked in 1775 for Canada, there beginning the undertaking which ended so disastrously for him."

From Henry Newbolt, "The Book of the Blue Sea," Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1914.

"He was next appointed to the Blonde, under Captain Pownoll, a first-rate officer who had been trained by Admiral Boscawen, and who in his turn was the making of Pellew. He had the very best material to work on, for Edward was the smartest and most fearless boy in the ship. This will show you what he was like. When General Burgoyne came on board the Blonde to sail for America, the yards were manned in his honour. As he looked up he was astonished to see one mid. on the yardarm standing on his head. Captain Pownoll told him not to be alarmed, for it was only one of Pellew's usual frolics, and even if he fell he would only dive under the ship and come up on the other side. He was quite right: for Edward actually did once dive from the fore-yard of the Blonde, as she was going fast through the water, and succeeded in saving a man who had fallen overboard. Captain Pownoll reproached him for his rashness, but he loved him for it."

After his service in America, Pellew returned to England anticipating his promotion to lieutenant. But according to Newbolt, his promotion was a "bitter disappointment, for he was appointed to a guard ship. He wrote again and again to Lord Sandwich, and at last even dared to tackle him in the street, taking his commission out of his pocket and begging to be allowed to return it and get the command of a privateer rather than remain inactive while the war was going on. Lord Sandwich smiled, made him pocket his commission again, and soon afterwards appointed him to the Licorne. A few months later he was transferred to the Apollo, a frigate commanded by his old friend Captain Pownoll, who made Edward his First Lieutenant.

On June 15th 1780, the Apollo, cruising in the North Sea with other ships, was ordered away in pursuit of a cutter. During the chase she sighted a French frigate, the Stanislaus, and at once brought her to action, though she tried to escape to the neutral port of Ostend. After an hour's fighting Captain Pownoll fell, shot through the body. He died immediately in Edward's arms, only saying, "Pellew, I know you won't give his Majesty's ship away." After another hour the Stanislaus was beaten, dismasted, and driven ashore, but she claimed the protection of the neutral port, and so avoided surrendering. She was eventually got off, and sold in Ostend; the British Government bought her and added her to the Navy.

Edward looked upon this as a failure, and thought himself ruined; but three days later Lord Sandwich wrote to condole with him on his captain's death and to promise him promotion for his 'gallant and officer-like conduct.' He was made Commander of the Hazard sloop; then transferred to the Pelican, a vessel so small that he declared his servant could dress his hair from the deck while he sat in the cabin! But his ship mattered little, for he always took all his chances. He sailed in the little Pelican on 20th April 1782, and came back next day with a captured French privateer. He sailed again on the 24th for the coast of France, and immediately attacked a brig, a lugger, and another vessel, of ten or twelve guns each, in Bass Roads, beat them and ran them on shore under a battery, with which he then exchanged fire. He got out of the harbour with only two men wounded, and the Admiralty were so impressed by his skill and daring that they made him a post-captain within a month afterwards."

Pellew Meets Pownoll


From Parkinson's "Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth"


"Many descriptions exist of a boy's first days afloat in the eighteenth-century navy. They all agree in showing those days to have been of such sort as to form a period of hopeless misery. This misery might be of various kinds, but it was always more or less intense. In large ships already manned it took the form of bullying and practical humour. In small ships it took the form of neglect and disillusionment. Pellew's must have been of the latter kind.

The ship he joined was the Juno, a sixth-rate of thirty-two guns, commanded, as we have seen, by Admiral Boscawen's boatswain whom the admiral had brought forward. His name was Stott and he was probably rather a rough customer, like many good seamen. He can have had no particular interest in young Pellew, whom he had taken at the request--under the circumstances we may call it the command--of his patron's brother. To him, and to the kind of officers such a captain was likely to have, a child of thirteen was simply a nuisance, a useless encumbrance on his already littered deck. So much for the neglect."

As we know, Pellew was abruptly dismissed from Captain Stott's next ship, the Alarm, some five years later. Here's how that came to pass:

"The Alarm remained in the Mediterranean until 1776, but Pellew's connexion with her terminated abruptly in the course of the previous year, when he and another midshipman were turned out of the ship at Marseilles. The correct, though not the only, version of how this came about seems to be as follows: Captain Stott obeyed the regulations which forbade him to carry his wife on board by carrying his mistress instead. The practice was not unknown at the time. He was in this less eccentric than might be imagined. He was nevertheless slightly sensitive on the subject, and when he discovered Pellew and Frank Cole, a younger midshipman, laughing over a caricature of the lady which the latter had drawn, he promptly sent them both ashore.

This event was for Pellew a blessing, however complete its disguise. The casual attitude the Service adopted towards midshipmen, which allowed a captain to flog or dismiss them at will, had a more pleasant aspect in a willingness to overlook their faults. To be more exact, 'young gentlemen' were of so little importance that the Admiralty never heard of their sins or grievances. Consequently, while Pellew could hope for no redress for the absurdly excessive punishment inflicted on him, neither was he to fear any real injury to his career.

The two culprits found their way back to England without difficulty, with the aid of a loan from one of the lieutenants, and there the matter ended. But it was a turning point in Pellew's life. For this was the year in which the War of American Independence was slowly developing and taking shape. Pellew, by reaching England when he did, was enabled to see active service much sooner than he would have done had he stayed in the Alarm until her crew was paid off in the following year. Even more important, his return to England resulted in his joining a ship commanded by a man of exceptional ability. The ship was the thirty-six gun frigate Blonde, which he joined in January 1776. The captain was Philemon Pownoll.

Captain Pownoll...was a very remarkable man. He was only prevented from figuring in the history of his time by an early death while still a frigate captain. He had been a lieutenant under Boscawen--that was how Pellew came to sail with him, as a protégé of Boscawen's brother--and a contemporary of John Jervis, who became Earl St. Vincent. Pownoll had begun his career well, as a captain, by becoming a rich man. ...His wealth combined with his talents and his reputation as an officer had marked him out as a rising man. He was clearly a strong personality, a disciplinarian and a man of religion; given to experiment; a thinker. On Pellew his influence was enormous.

For coming under Pownoll's influence, Pellew obviously had to thank the interest of Lord Falmouth. But for Pownoll's care to train him and bring him forward in the service [Pellew] had only to thank himself. He did not enjoy Pownoll's favour from the beginning--that is shown by the fact of his disrating from the rank of master's mate on joining his new ship. Clearly, he earned Pownoll's protection before he had it."

Now we come to Pellew's first introduction to Pownoll, and vice versa. The scene is taken from Showell Style's "The Sea Officer," a fictionalised account of Pellew's career**.

"Pellew climbed on board and dodged through the groups of brawny, fur-capped men who were hustling casks and cases down the hatches. A young officer in a tarpaulin coat approached him.

'Mr. Edward Pellew? The captain's orders were to bring you to him as soon as you reported on board.' He led the way to the main cabin aft. Pellew entered, doffing his hat and stooping beneath the low deck head. 'Mr. Pellew, sir, just come aboard," said the officer. 'Very good, Mr. Dacres. Good morning, Mr. Pellew.' 'Good morning, sir. ' Pellew met the level gaze of a pair of very keen blue eyes. Captain Pownoll was tall, slim and elegant, sitting very upright in his chair behind the table. He had a long, lean face, with a wide and sensitive mouth which could set itself in unrelenting sternness. 'Your last ship was the Alarm, I believe,' he continued in level tones. 'Yes, sir.' 'You left her at Marseilles?' 'Yes, sir. Captain Stott--'' I have knowledge of the circumstances, Mr. Pellew, thank you. They are unlikely to be repeated in this vessel. You have considerable sea experience, I understand.'' Nearly five years, sir.' Pellew hesitated. 'I was rated master's mate in the Alarm--' 'But disrated,' interrupted the captain with a slight frown. 'Please to attend, Mr. Pellew. In this vessel no man who does his duty has anything to fear. He who neglects his duty has much to fear. I endeavour to do my duty, which is to be just, and spare not the offender. Remember that, and you will find your place in my ship's company.' He picked up his pen to make a note in the book that lay open before him. 'Young gentlemen joining this ship are rated able seamen, and as such you will be rated, Mr. Pellew. That is all thank you. Mr. Dacres, you'll oblige me by showing Mr. Pellew the midshipmen's berth."

  * "Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, Admiral of the Red," C. Northcote Parkinson, Methuen and Co., Ltd., London, 1934.

** "The Sea Officer," Showell Styles, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1962.


Pellew in the American Revolution


Taken from "The Book of the Blue Sea," by Henry Newbolt, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, 1914


"In the war of the American Revolution, Edward was sent ashore with another midshipman named Brown, under Lieutenant Dacres of the Blonde, to help in the defence of Canada. They were employed to build and equip a flotilla on Lake George, where a dockyard was set up under Lieutenant Schank and a 300-ton ship called the Inflexible was built in a few weeks: 'trees growing in the forest in the morning would form part of the ship before night.' They had also two schooners, the Maria and the Carleton, and a kind of raft, the Thunder, carrying twelve heavy guns and two howitzers.

When they sailed against the enemy, Dacres, Pellew, and Brown were appointed to the Carleton. Being nearest she attacked at once, but owing to the state of the wind the other ships could not get up to support her, and she suffered very severely. Brown lost an arm at once, and Dacres fell senseless. Edward took command, and in obedience to a signal of recall, brought the Carleton out of action. She was close to shore, and under fire from the enemy's marksmen; seeing that she was not coming round, Edward himself ran out on the bowsprit and pushed the jib over. The marksmen all missed him, but when the boats took the Carleton in tow, a shot cut the tow-rope; again, seeing everyone hesitate, he went forward and repaired it himself.

The action was successful, for the enemy lost a 12-gun schooner, burnt, and a 3-gun gondola sunk; and two days afterwards the rest of their flotilla was again defeated and destroyed. This result was important to the army in the land campaign, and the Carleton got great credit for it. Dacres was sent home with dispatches, promoted, and received an audience by the King. Edward, who was only eighteen, was given command of the Carleton, and received three letters -- from his senior officer, Sir Charles Douglas; from Lord Howe, the Commander-in-Chief, and from Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, all promising him promotion as soon as he came home.

Edward afterwards accompanied General Burgoyne's army in the advance on Saratoga and in the retreat to Fort George, building bridges for them and acting as pioneer. When their provision store-ship in the river was captured by the enemy, it was Pellew at the head of his sailors who recaptured it. For this he was specially thanked by the general, who also summoned him to attend his council of war, where he was by far the youngest officer present.

After Burgoyne's surrender, he was sent home with dispatches and a warm recommendation from Sir Guy Carleton. He sailed in a transport, which was chased by an enemy's cruiser. The senior military officer on board assumed the command; but Pellew at once told him that as the only naval officer present he insisted on fighting the ship himself. He had his own way, engaged the privateer, and beat her off: came home safely, and was immediately promoted."


Pellew Sails for Fun


The Book of the Blue Sea," Henry Newbolt, Longmans, Green, and Co., New York, 1914.


Edward Pellew, at 21, was "a fine seaman, and a man of extraordinary physique and daring. He would sometimes go out in a boat alone and upset her on purpose by carrying too great a press of sail. In doing this in Portsmouth harbour he was once very nearly drowned. Another time when he was going by himself from Falmouth to Plymouth in a small punt, his hat blew overboard; he fastened the tiller a-lee, undressed, and jumped into the water. As he was returning, with his hat, the boat began sailing on her own account, and ran some distance before she came up in the wind. He had almost reached her when she filled again; and he was thus baffled three or four times, till he was so exhausted that when at last he caught hold of the rudder it was a considerable time before he had the strength to get into the boat.



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