ELPHINSTONE, Sir George Keith (1746-1823).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



14 Feb. 1781 - 1790
1796 - 15 Dec. 1801

Family and Education

b. 7 Jan. 1746, 3rd surv. s. of Charles, 10th Baron Elphinstone [S], by Lady Clementina Fleming, da. and h. of John, 6th Earl of Wigtown [S], niece and h. of George Keith, 9th Earl Marischal [S]. educ. Edinburgh h.s. 1753-5. m. (1) 10 Apr. 1787, Jane (d. 13 Dec. 1789), da. and coh. of William Mercer (formerly Nairn) of Aldie, Kinross, 1da.; (2) 10 Jan. 1808, Hester Maria, da. and coh. of Henry Thrale of Streatham Place and Southwark, Surr., 1da. KB 13 Apr. 1794; cr. Baron Keith of Stonehaven Marischal [I] 16 Mar. 1797 and [GB] 15 Dec. 1801; Baron Keith of Banheath (with spec. rem. to his e. da.) 17 Sept. 1803; Visct. Keith 1 June 1814; GCB 2 Jan. 1815.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1761; discharged 1766; acting lt. 1769, lt. 1770, cdr. 1772, capt. 1775, half-pay 1783-1793, r.-adm. 1794, v.-adm. 1795, adm. 1801; c.-in-c. Mediterranean 1799-1802, Plymouth 1803, North Sea 1803-7, Channel 1812.

Sec., chamberlain and keeper of the signet of the principality of Scotland 1783; treasurer and comptroller of household to the Duke of Clarence 1789-d.


Elphinstone was fortunate in his connexions. His brother William was an East India Company director and he was brother-in-law of William Adam*; better still, he won the friendship of the Prince of Wales and of the Duke of Clarence, both of whom awarded him places. His politics were those of the opposition, on which account the King objected to his appointment in Clarence’s household.1 But by previous agreement he was expected to give up his seat for Dunbartonshire at the end of the Parliament of 1784 and his canvass of Glasgow Burghs in 1789 came to nothing when he was bought off by William McDowall, the ministerial candidate. Much to Henry Dundas’s relief he made no difficulties about ceding his county seat.2 So he went out of Parliament in 1790.

On the outbreak of hostilities with revolutionary France, Elphinstone resumed his naval career in the Mediterranean. He distinguished himself at Toulon, was honoured and promoted. In 1795 he was in command of a squadron sent to the Cape and wrote to Henry Dundas, 18 Feb.:

I ... beg you will accept my sincere thanks for having brought me into the public view and service, and [for] every other attention I have received from your favour and protection; and on no occasion will I decline coming forward when it is supposed I may be of any use to your schemes.3

Following his services at the Cape he obtained an Irish peerage. In the same year he was employed to quell the mutiny at Sheerness and promptly solicited a British peerage.4

In 1796, during his absence at the Cape, Elphinstone was again returned to Parliament, this time for Stirlingshire, at the instigation of the Duke of Montrose and with Henry Dundas’s blessing. He cannot have been an active Member in view of his naval service, but on 19 Feb. 1797 it was he who presented the Prince of Wales’s ‘Manifesto’ on Ireland to Pitt and Dundas. In November 1798, after a spell with the Channel Fleet, he returned to the Mediterranean under St. Vincent. He succeeded St. Vincent in June 1799 and commanded the naval forces during the Egyptian campaign of 1801. He was rewarded with a British peerage.5

As Lord Keith, with the command in home waters, he dabbled in politics as a friend of the Prince of Wales. He assisted the Whig candidate in Stirling Burghs in 1807 and his nephew in the county. In 1811 he wrote:

As for patronage [in Stirlingshire] the Regent has none. Nor will he interfere so long as those men are in office. He considers them the King’s ministers, but he has said that any mark of favour done to me will be considered as an attention to himself, and thus also he declared himself to Lord Dundas, calling us his old friends in presence of others, no doubt on purpose. It is impossible things can long remain as they are, and I am one who thinks the K[ing] will never recover health nor mind.

In March 1812 during the Perthshire by-election Drummond, Melville’s candidate, complained that ‘the commander of the Channel fleet even has been writing to many against me’. In 1814 he acted for the Regent in the scandal arising out of Princess Charlotte’s relations with Captain Hesse. (His daughter Margaret Mercer Elphinstone was the Princess’s bosom friend.)6 In the same year he became a viscount. He died 10 Mar. 1823.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: D. G. Henry


  • 1. Geo. III Corresp. i. 520.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/157, f. 43.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/641.
  • 4. NLS mss 22, p. 26, Keith to Dundas, 20 July 1797.
  • 5. Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1237-8, 1241, 1245-6, 1250; DNB.
  • 6. SRO GD22/1/327, Keith to Speirs, 15 Oct. 1811; GD51/1/198/21/55; Geo. IV Letters, ii. 515, 547A.