Edward Pellew

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Sir Edward Pellew painted in 1804
Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, later 1st Viscount Exmouth,

(1757-1833) was a British naval officer. He fought during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary, and the Napoleonic Wars.

Pellew is principally remembered as the mentor of the fictional Horatio Hornblower in C.S. Forester's novels. In the Aubrey-Maturin series, Pellew is briefly mentioned as Lord Exmouth in The Hundred Days and his ship makes an important appearance in Post Captain but Pellew himself is not mentioned.


Early career

Pellew was born at Dover, son of Samuel Pellew, commander of a Dover packet. The family was Cornish. On the death of Edward's father in 1764 the family moved to Penzance. Pellew ran away to sea at the age of 14. He entered the Royal Navy on board the Juno, and made a voyage to the Falkland Islands. In 1772 his ship was sent to the Mediterranean Sea for three years. After a quarrel with his captain, he was put on shore at Marseille, where he was able to get a passage home. This does not seem to have harmed his career or else his influence assisted him in obtaining another post. He joined the Blonde, under the command of Captain Philemon Pownoll who became an important influence on Pellew. The Blonde took General John Burgoyne to America in the spring of 1776 to fight in the American War of Independence. Pellew was detached for service in Burgoyne's campaign on Lake Champlain. In the Battle of Valcour Island, when Benedict Arnold's gunboats attempted to ambush the British ships on Lake Champlain on Lake Champlain, Pellew with his superior officers wounded managed to save his ship and was immediately promoted to command her. In the summer of 1777 Pellew, with a small party of seamen, was attached to the army under Burgoyne to build bridges and act as engineers. He was present at the Battle of Saratoga, where his youngest brother, John, was killed. He was taken prisoner. After the surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, he was repatriated carrying Burgoyne's despatches. This proved to be a lucky assignment as on his return, he was promoted to lieutenant. He was moved into the Apollo, with his old captain, Pownoll. In 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. He was promoted to the command of a sloop, which was employed for the next six months on the east coast of Scotland. In March 1782 Pellew was appointed to the Pelican, in April off Brittany, he engaged and drove on shore three privateers. As a result he was promoted to post captain. He captained a series of ships until 1791 when he was placed on half-pay. He tried his hand at farming with indifferent success and was offered a command in the Russian navy but declined it.

French Revolutionary Wars

He was still struggling with his farm when revolutionary France declared war in 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 difficulty in manning her, he enlisted eighty Cornish miners. With these and a few seamen he put to sea and pressed seamen from merchant ships to make up his crew. On 18 June the Nymphe sailed from Falmouth, Cornwall. At daybreak on the 19th Nymphe fell in with the Cléopâtre, also of 36 guns. After a short but very sharp action, the Cléopâtre was boarded and captured. The Cléopâtre was the first frigate taken in the war and Pellew was knighted as a reward.

By 1794 he was Commodore of the Western Frigate Squadron. In 1795, he took command of HMS Indefatigable.

In a striking parallel with Jack Aubrey, 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 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 created a baronet.

His most famous action started on January 13, 1797 when cruising in company with HMS Amazon, the French 74 gun ship of the line Droits de l'Homme was sighted. Normally a ship of the line would outmatch two frigates, but by skillful sailing in the stormy conditions, the two frigates avoided much of French ship's superior fire power. Early the next morning, 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.

For the next few years, Pellew was active off the coast of western France and Spain, including trying to promote a rebellion of French Royalists in Brittany.

During the Peace of Amiens, he was elected to be a Member of Parliament and when war recommenced he was appointed to the Tonnant, a 80 gun ship of the line.

Napoleonic Wars

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. Here he increased his fortune with the admiral's share of the prize money. He also gained a reputation for nepotism when he promoted his son at a very young age. On his return from the east, he was appointed, in succession to the positions of Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1811 to 1814, and later of the North Sea in 1820.

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. For this action he was created Viscount Exmouth.

In the Canon

There are several references to characters named Pellew in the Aubrey-Maturin series, for example Treason's Harbour and The Reverse of the Medal, but these do not refer to Pellew himself. His ship makes an appearance in Post Captain when the British squadron appears to rescue Aubrey and Maturin from the Lord Nelson. The action between the Indefatigable and the Droits de l'Homme is also described in chapter five of The Yellow Admiral. Finally Lord Exmouth is reported to be the new admiral in the Mediterranean early in The Hundred Days, but he becomes Lord Barmouth by the time he appears in the story.


  • Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth by C. Northcote Parkinson, (1934)
  • Life of Viscount Exmouth by Edward Osler

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