PELLEW, Sir Edward, 1st Bt. (1757-1833), of Flushing and Trefusis, nr. Falmouth, Cornw. and Hampton House, Plymouth, Devon.

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



1802 - July 1804

Family and Education

b. 19 Apr. 1757, 2nd s. of Samuel Pellew of Flushing, and Dover, Kent by Constance, da. of Edward Langford of Trungle, Cornw. educ. by Rev. James Parkins at Penzance; Truro g.s. m. 28 May 1783, Susannah, da. of James Prowde of Knoyle, Wilts., 4s. 2da. Kntd. 28 June 1793; cr. Bt. 18 Mar. 1796; Baron Exmouth 1 June 1814; KCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCB 16 Mar. 1816; Visct. Exmouth 10 Dec. 1816.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1770, lt. 1778, cdr. 1780, capt. 1782; col. marines 1801-4; r.-adm. 1804; c.-in-c. E. Indies 1804-9; v.-adm. 1808; c.-in-c. North Sea 1810, Mediterranean 1811-16; adm. 1814; c.-in-c. Plymouth 1817-21; v.-adm. U.K. 1832-d.

Elder bro. Trinity House 1823-d.; high steward, Yarmouth 1832-d.


Pellew came from an old Cornish family which, by the time of his birth, had known better days. His father, youngest but only surviving son of Humphrey Pellew, who had owned ships, and a tobacco plantation in Maryland which was subsequently lost, went to sea in the Falmouth packet service and later commanded a packet on the Dover station. He died when Edward was eight. After running away from school to escape a flogging, Pellew gained entry to the navy through the influence of the 2nd Viscount Falmouth, on whom his family had a claim. He later became an alderman of Truro in the interest of the 3rd Viscount, whose influence with Pitt secured his elder brother the collectorship of customs at Falmouth. His successive promotions to post rank and the honours which he acquired in the 1790s were all rewards for conspicuous gallantry: in June 1793 he was knighted and an annuity of £150 conferred on his wife, for taking the first French frigate to be captured in the war; his baronetcy, for which he had unsuccessfully applied to Pitt through Falmouth in 1794, was earned by his bravery at the wreck of the transport Dutton in Plymouth Sound in January 1796. He continued to add to his reputation as a daring, enterprising and fearless cruising captain and in 1799 gained much of the credit for the prevention of a mutiny in the fleet in Bantry Bay. In 1801 he was said to ‘fill the eye of the public’ and he stood high in the estimation of Pitt’s brother Lord Chatham, a former first lord of the Admiralty, and of his one time commander-in-chief St. Vincent, who took over the Admiralty in Addington’s administration.1

Pellew was considering the advantages of a seat in Parliament in May 1800, but the nature of his connexion with the 2nd Duke of Northumberland which led him to apply, unsuccessfully, for a seat at Launceston is not clear. He later confided to his friend Alexander Broughton that

our duke ... rather disapproves of my coming into Parliament at all ... I believe from my heart these sort of gentry are incapable of friendship, however I am on guard with him and will make as much use of him as I can. I have never yet seen him, when I do I shall live in his house if he offers me a room but very possibly he may not accord; however we are at present very great friends and I hope may continue so.

Late in 1800 he accepted an invitation from the mercenary London out-voters of Barnstaple to stand for the borough on the next vacancy: ‘if I don’t find it too expensive’, he told Broughton, ‘I shall probably succeed, but I will not contest it at any greater expense than a few hundred; if I thought it would cost me a thousand I should be off’. His wife raised strong objections to Parliament on the ground of the potential expense, but the hard-headed Pellew thought ‘it may be useful in pushing the boys in life and myself too, for I cannot rest where I am, I have begun my fortune, but by no means finished it for a sit down’.2 In April 1801 he asked Chatham to commend his pretensions at Barnstaple to Addington, whom he had met in 1793 and with whom he was to form a lasting friendship after his return to the House. Shortly before the general election of 1802, when he encountered an unexpected opposition at Barnstaple, but had government support and spent enough to secure second place in the poll, he asked St. Vincent for the lucrative command in East Indian waters. St. Vincent told him that he had a rival in Alexander Cochrane, Member for Stirling Burghs, but evidently had a personal preference for Pellew’s claims.3

He survived a petition against his return lodged by Richard Wilson I*, but was soon reflecting on his venture into Parliament with mixed feelings, as he indicated to Broughton, 25 Feb. 1803:

I have really laboured through a great deal of mental uneasiness and vexation, the greater part arising from disquiets at home. Susan is still obstinately bent upon resistance to my wishes ... this tormenting Irishman [Wilson] plagues my heart out and runs me to considerable expense—it has cost me £2,000—but I have pinched it out of my income by odds and ends of prize money and sunk nothing. I have appropriated the marines to it, so that she really ought not to be so foolish—and some good may arise to my family some day or other ... It is terrible ... to hear domestic contention, and therefore ... I am going abroad, I hope with a command.4

In the event he was appointed in March 1803 to the Tonnant, in which he joined the fleet off Brest under Cornwallis before being detached as commodore of a squadron sent to blockade Ferrol, where he remained throughout the winter.

Pellew created a stir by appearing in the House to defend government against Pitt’s attack on the state of the naval defences, 15 Mar. 1804, when he stated that there was no chance of the enemy penetrating the blockading and protecting squadrons and poured scorn on Pitt’s advocacy of the use of gunboats. Lord Glenbervie thought the speech made a ‘great effect’ and Robert Ward described it as ‘the best sea speech that ever was heard’, delivered ‘in a manner uncommonly clear and ready’, but William Windham condemned Pellew as ‘a sad blackguard’ and ‘true West Country man, who has got into a borough with no other view than to advance himself’. Although Pellew claimed in the House that ‘accident’ had brought him there and later told Broughton that, ‘perfectly independent of great commissions and the support of any great man’, he had spoken ‘the truth’, it seems clear that he had been recalled from Ferrol specifically to supply a professional vindication of St. Vincent’s controversial naval administration and, to judge from his private letters, that he was in reality less than happy with the state of the navy. Certainly Pellew, who was back at sea on 27 Mar. 1804, expected and duly obtained rewards. His eldest son, Pownoll Bastard Pellew*, was promoted to the command of a sloop at the age of 17, and shortly before Addington’s resignation late in April 1804 he received his overdue flag promotion and was appointed by St. Vincent to the East Indian command.5

In the debate of 23 Apr. 1804 Pitt voiced his resentment of the ‘obloquy thrown upon me by officers brought from distant stations to support the present system’; in later years Addington told Pellew’s son George, his biographer, that his father was one of three men whom Pitt ‘could not readily forgive’ for siding with the ‘Doctor’ against him. That he managed to hold on to the Indian command when Pitt returned to power was largely the result, according to Rose, of Chatham’s intercession on his behalf. He had earlier told Broughton that he was ‘quite sick’ of Parliament, but was careful to delay his application for the Chiltern Hundreds until the day he boarded his flagship for India.6

Pitt and Melville took a measure of revenge in 1805 by sending out Sir Thomas Troubridge* as joint commander and allocating to him the more lucrative half. Pellew remonstrated strongly and his intransigence cost him the friendship of St. Vincent, who commented in 1806 that ‘the whole race of Pellews is bad in grain’. Restored to the sole command by the ‘Talents’, he soon began to prosper from prize money. One success alone brought him £26,000 and in June 1808 he described himself as ‘abundantly rich’ and ‘worth a City plumb’. He became increasingly prone to foster the not strictly accurate notion that he had risen to wealth and eminence from nothing and unaided: ‘Would you have believed,’ he wrote to Broughton in 1807, ‘that your pock marked, ugly, uninteresting and uneducated cub, your old friend Ned Pellew, would ever have become an admiral, a commander in chief, a colonel of marines, a baronet, and a man with a purse weighing fifty thousand pounds?’7

Pellew, who later held commands in the North Sea and Mediterranean and saw his last action when leading the bombardment of Algiers in 1816, had considered investing some of his new wealth in a seat at Westminster. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for Plymouth in 1809, but nothing came of this. In 1812 he bought a large estate at Canonteign, near Exeter, which was intended for his son and a house for his own use at Teignmouth. His son’s return for Launceston by Northumberland in 1812 was made on the understanding that the seat was to be handed over to Pellew when he returned from the war, but in 1814, having failed in earlier endeavours to secure the Order of the Bath, he received a peerage with a pension of £2,000 a year for himself and his successors in the title.8 He died a wealthy man, 23 Jan. 1833.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. A. Symonds


  • 1. PRO 30/8/165, ff. 209, 211; Spencer Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. lviii), 363; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lv), 199, 239.
  • 2. Parkinson, 274, 280.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/366, f. 243; Pellew, Sidmouth, i. 102, 103; ii. 218; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 87, 253.
  • 4. Parkinson, 286.
  • 5. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 372; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 16 Mar.; Norf. RO, Ketton Cremer mss, Windham to Lukin, 21 Mar. 1804; Parkinson, 300-2, 312-15, 318-19; St. Vincent Letters, ii. 312; Martin Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. xxiv), 298.
  • 6. Pellew, ii. 270; Rose Diaries, i. 141; Parkinson, 321-5.
  • 7. Parkinson, 374-9.
  • 8. Ibid. 370, 394, 400; NMM WYN/107, Pole Carew to Pole, 20 Nov. 1809.