Eliott, George Augustus (DNB00)

From Wikisource
 
Jump to: navigation, search

ELIOTT, GEORGE AUGUSTUS, Lord Heathfield (1717–1790), general and defender of Gibraltar, seventh son of Sir Gilbert Eliott, third baronet, of Stobs, Roxburghshire, was born at Stobs on 25 Dec. 1717. Like most Scotchmen of his period he was educated at the university of Leyden, and he then proceeded, by special permission, to the French military college of La Fère, where he received what was supposed to be the best military education of the time. He first saw service as a volunteer with the Prussian army in the campaigns of 1735 and 1736. When he returned to England he went through a course of instruction at Woolwich, and received his commission in the English army as a field engineer. At this period there was no regular corps of sappers and miners, and engineer officers generally held commissions as well in the cavalry or infantry. Young Eliott was therefore gazetted to the 2nd horse grenadier guards, which afterwards became the 2nd life guards, as a cornet in 1739. His uncle, Colonel James Eliott, then commanded the regiment, and George Eliott was speedily promoted lieutenant and appointed adjutant. He served with this regiment throughout the war of the Austrian succession from 1742 to 1748, was present at the battle of Dettingen, where he was wounded, and at Fontenoy. He purchased his captaincy while on service, in 1745, his majority in 1749, and his lieutenant-colonelcy in 1754, when he resigned his commission as field engineer. George II, who had a great personal liking for Eliott, made him his aide-de-camp in 1755, and when it was decided to equip some regiments of light cavalry after the model of the famous Prussian hussars of Frederick the Great, he was selected to raise one, and was gazetted colonel of the 1st light horse on 10 March 1759. At the head of this regiment Eliott greatly distinguished himself in Germany throughout the campaigns of 1759, 1760, and 1761, and was repeatedly thanked by Prince Ferdinand for his services. He was a military enthusiast, and made his regiment a pattern to the army, and he was particularly noted for the care which he took to make his troopers comfortable in their quarters, though he himself was a perfect Spartan in the field, living on vegetarian diet, and drinking nothing but water. He commanded the cavalry as brigadier-general in the descent upon the French coast in 1761, and was promoted major-general in the following year and sent as second in command to the Earl of Albemarle in the expedition to Cuba. During the fierce fighting and the terrible ravages of disease which decimated the English army in that island, he made himself conspicuous by his valour and constancy, and, when he returned to England in 1763, after the capture of Havana, he was promoted lieutenant-general. As second in command he received a large share of the prize money of Havana, and with it purchased the estate of Heathfield in Sussex, from which he afterwards took his title. On the conclusion of the seven years' war George III reviewed Eliott's regiment of light horse in Hyde Park, and after expressing his astonishment at its admirable condition and efficiency, asked its colonel what honour he could confer upon it, when the general in courtly fashion begged that it might be called the royal regiment. The regiment was accordingly renamed the 15th, or king's own royal light dragoons, a designation now borne by its successor, the 15th hussars. Eliott was at the close of 1774 appointed commander-in-chief of the forces in Ireland, a post which he held only until 1775, when, there being every prospect that Spain as well as France would, under the arrangement of the pacte de famille, take advantage of the rebellion in America to attack England, an experienced governor was needed for the fortress of Gibraltar, and Eliott was selected for the post. The Spaniards had never been reconciled to the possession by the English of Gibraltar; to recover it had been one of the favourite schemes of every prominent Spanish statesman from Alberoni to Wall, and Eliott was specially instructed to put the fortress into a condition of defence and to be prepared for an attack. He had some time in which to put the defences into good repair, for it was not until 1779 that the Spaniards turned their land blockade of the fortress into a regular siege by sea and land. Drinkwater's history of this famous siege, which lasted for three years, has become an English classic, and in it will be found abundant proofs of the energy and ability of Eliott. All the efforts of the greatest engineers of the time, even D'Arzon's invention of firing red-hot shot, failed to make an impression on the defences, and the assaults on the land side were easily repulsed. Far more formidable to the garrison than the bombardment was the close blockade by sea and land, and in the second year of the siege Eliott's little force was reduced to the utmost extremity of famine. He could not have held out much longer, in spite of all his firmness, had not Rear-admiral Lord Howe by breaking the blockade brought a convoy to the beleaguered garrison after one of the most brilliant naval actions of the war. On the conclusion of peace and the cessation of the siege Eliott returned to England, where he received the rewards which he deserved. He was made a knight of the Bath, and on 14 June 1787 was raised to the peerage as Lord Heathfield, baron of Gibraltar. He died at Aix-la-Chapelle of palsy, two days before he had intended to start for Gibraltar, on 6 July 1790, and was buried in Heathfield Church. He married, on 8 June 1748, Anne Pollexfen, daughter and heiress of Sir Francis Henry Drake, last baronet, of Buckland Abbey, Devonshire. By her he left a daughter Anne and a son, Francis Augustus Eliott, second lord Heathfield, who was colonel successively of the 25th light dragoons, the 20th light dragoons, and the 1st or king's dragoon guards, and rose to the rank of general. On the death of the second Lord Heathfield on 26 Jan. 1813 the peerage became extinct. The first lord's daughter, Anne, married John Trayton Fuller of Ashdown Park, Sussex, whose third son, Thomas, assumed the surnames of Eliott-Drake in 1813 on succeeding to the estates of the Eliotts and Drakes on the second lord's death, and was created a baronet in 1821. The features of the defender of Gibraltar are well known from the magnificent portrait of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds now in the National Gallery.

[Army Lists; Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen; Vizetelly's Georgian Biography; Foster's Baronetage; and especially Drinkwater's Two Sieges of Gibraltar.]

H. M. S.