Pitt, John (DNB00)

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PITT, JOHN, second Earl of Chatham (1756–1835), general, born on 10 Sept. 1756, was eldest son of the statesman, William Pitt, first earl of Chatham [q. v.], whom he succeeded in 1778. His mother was Hester Grenville, only daughter of Richard Grenville and sister of Earl Temple. The younger William Pitt, the statesman, was his younger brother. Entering the army as a lad in 1774, he left in 1776. Re-entering it in 1778, he was appointed lieutenant in the 39th foot, and served as a subaltern during the siege of Gibraltar in 1779–83. In 1779 he was promoted captain in the 86th or Rutland regiment, which was disbanded at the close of the American war.

In July 1788 his younger brother, then prime minister, invited him to join his ministry, and he entered the cabinet on 16 July as first lord of the admiralty. He held the office until December 1794. He was admitted to the privy council on 3 April 1789, and was created K.G. on 15 Dec. 1790. On retiring from the admiralty, to make way for Lord Spencer, on 20 Dec. 1794, Chatham retained his seat in the cabinet, being appointed lord privy seal, and on 21 Sept. 1796 he was transferred to the presidency of the council. He resigned with his brother in July 1801.

Meanwhile he maintained his connection with the army. He was promoted colonel in 1793, major-general in 1795, and colonel of the 4th (king's own) regiment of foot in 1799. In the last year he commanded a brigade in Holland under the Duke of York; he was present on 2 Oct. 1799 at the battle of Bergen, and successfully relieved General Coote when that officer was warmly engaged and hard pressed by the French. Again, on 6 Oct. he was present at the severe though indecisive affair at Beverwyk, where he was wounded. After his return home he was appointed to the responsible office of master-general of the ordnance (27 June 1801), and held it for five years, until 8 Feb. 1806. He became lieutenant-general in 1802, governor of Plymouth on 30 March 1805, and governor of Jersey on 22 Sept. 1807.

Although extraordinarily distant in manner, he was a favourite of George III, to whose favour he mainly owed his numerous employments. But he was ambitious of military distinction, and was keenly disappointed by the bestowal of the command of the army in the Peninsula on Wellesley in 1808. It is said that, to soothe his wounded feelings, he was directed to take charge in 1809 of the expedition to Walcheren, with which his name was to be chiefly connected. The object of the expedition was to destroy Napoleon's fleet and arsenals on the Scheldt, after the troops that usually protected them had been withdrawn in order to take part in the Austrian campaign. Flushing was to be reduced, and Antwerp captured. The force under his command was nearly forty thousand strong, while Sir Richard Strachan [q. v.], with thirty-five ships of the line and numerous smaller vessels, was ordered to co-operate with the land forces. Chatham proved himself wholly unequal to the task assigned him. On 29 July part of his army landed at Walcheren and siezed Middleburg, while other divisions captured fortresses about the mouth of the Scheldt. Antwerp, which could easily have been occupied, was neglected in order that Flushing might be besieged. Flushing surrendered on 16 Aug., but meanwhile Antwerp had been strongly fortified, and its garrison reinforced. In September Chatham suspended operations, ordered fifteen thousand troops to Walcheren, and accompanied the others home. The climate of Walcheren told on the soldiers, and half the army there was soon invalided. Orders were thereupon sent from London to destroy Flushing and abandon Walcheren.

Chatham's failure was complete, and provoked a storm of recrimination in parliament. For many of the disasters the differences of opinion in the cabinet, between Castlereagh, the war minister, and Canning, the foreign minister, were responsible. But the thoroughness of the disaster was due to Chatham's lack of energy and military ability. On returning home he, contrary to etiquette, presented a partisan report to the king in private audience, instead of forwarding it to Castlereagh, the secretary of state. An inquiry into his conduct was held, and the revelations deeply compromised his reputation. He attributed fatal delays in his early movements to the dilatoriness of the admiral, Strachan. The situation gave rise to the epigram—

Great Chatham, with his sabre drawn,
Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;
Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,
Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham!

Strachan's friends retaliated with a charge of unpunctuality against Chatham, and applied to him the sobriquet ‘the late’ Earl of Chatham.

Nothwithstanding his condemnation, Chatham received further promotion. He was promoted general in the army on 1 Jan. 1812, and on the death of the Duke of Kent, in 1820, he was made governor of Gibraltar. That post he held till his death. He died in London, at 10 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, on 24 Sept. 1835.

Chatham strongly resembled his father ‘in face and person,’ and in nothing else. His manners were said by Wraxall ‘to forbid approach’ and ‘prohibit all familiarity’ (Wraxall, Memoirs, iii. 129). He married, in 1783, Mary Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas, first viscount Sydney. She died in 1821, without issue.

[Doyle's Official Baronage; Debrett's Peerage, 1834; Alison's Hist. of Europe, vi. 251 n., vii. 456 n., ix. 236, 238, 239, 240, 241, 246; Observations on the Documents laid before Parliament &c. on the late expedition to the Scheldt, London, 1810; Royal Military Calendar, 3rd edit. i. 375, London, 1820; Cust's Annals of the Wars, v. 222–31; Cannon's Historical Records of the British Army: History of 4th or King's Own Regiment of Foot.]

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