Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Heriot, John

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HERIOT, JOHN (1760–1833), author of ‘An Historical Sketch of Gibraltar,’ was born at Haddington on 22 April 1760. His father was sheriff-clerk of East Lothian. At the age of twelve he was sent to Edinburgh High School, and afterwards entered the university of Edinburgh, but domestic misfortunes dispersed the family. Heriot went to seek his fortune in London, where, Dr. Chambers states (Eminent Scotsmen, vol. ii.), he ‘enlisted’ in the marines. The army lists show that he was appointed a second lieutenant in the marines 13 Nov. 1778, and became first lieutenant in 1780. He served on board the Vengeance, the Preston, and afterwards the Elizabeth frigate on the coast of Africa and in the West Indies. In the last named vessel, a 32-gun frigate, commanded by Captain Maitland, he was present and was wounded in Rodney's action with the French fleet under De Guichen, 17 April 1780. Afterwards he exchanged to the Brune frigate, and was in her off Barbadoes in the terrible hurricane of 10 Oct. 1780. At the peace of 1783 Heriot was put on half-pay, which he commuted to aid his family. Like his brother, George Heriot, afterwards postmaster-general in Canada, and the author of some books of travel, Heriot had literary tastes, and had for many years a hard struggle. He wrote two novels, ‘The Sorrows of the Heart,’ 1787, and ‘The Half-pay Officer,’ 1789, embodying various incidents in his own career, on the proceeds of which he lived for two years. In 1792 he published his ‘Account of Gibraltar,’ intended as a handbook to Poggi's views of the rock. Heriot edited an account of the battle of the Nile from the notes of an officer of rank present in the battle, which went through several editions. He was for a while on the staff of the ‘Oracle’ newspaper, but, owing to a misunderstanding with the editor, transferred his services to the ‘World,’ of which he became editor, but which he was soon glad to abandon. At the suggestion of George Rose, clerk of parliaments (who had served some years in the navy), it was determined that Heriot should start a newspaper supporting the policy of Pitt, the expenses of which were to be guaranteed by certain other officials. With the aid of R. G. Clarke, afterwards printer of the ‘London Gazette,’ the first number of the ‘Sun’ appeared on 1 Oct. 1793. It speedily outstripped its rivals, the sales reaching the then large total of four thousand copies daily. ‘Peter Pindar’ and other writers of note were occasional contributors. Heriot started the ‘True Briton’ on 1 Jan. 1793, and continued to edit both papers until 1806, when he accepted a clerkship in the lottery office. In 1810 Heriot was appointed deputy paymaster-general of the troops in the Windward and Leeward Islands, in which capacity he was stationed at Barbadoes from 1810 to 1816. On his return home he was appointed by the Duke of York to the comptrollership of Chelsea Hospital, an easy berth, in which he ended his days. Heriot died at the age of seventy-three at Chelsea Hospital on 29 July 1833, within a week after his wife's death.

[The most authentic accounts of Heriot appear to be in Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen, vol. ii., in Rose's New Biog. Dict. vol. viii., and in Gent. Mag. 1833, pt. ii. 184. The period of the founding of the Sun newspaper is left a blank in the published Diary and Correspondence of the Rt. Hon. George Rose. Files of the Sun from 1798, but not of Heriot's True Briton, are in the British Museum, and some interesting particulars of the later history of the first named paper will be found in Grant's Hist. of the Newspaper Press, i. 330–45; but there are some obvious mistakes in the account of its origin.]

H. M. C.