Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jervis, John (1735-1823)
JERVIS, JOHN, Earl of St. Vincent (1735–1823), admiral of the fleet, second son of Swynfen Jervis, barrister-at-law, of an old but impoverished family long settled at Meaford in Staffordshire, and of his wife Elizabeth, sister of Sir Thomas Parker (1695–1784) [q. v.], lord chief baron of the exchequer, a distant connection of George, lord Anson [q. v.], was born at Meaford on 9 Jan. 1734–1735. He was educated at the grammar school at Burton-on-Trent, and afterwards at a private school at Greenwich, to which place his father moved in 1747, on being appointed solicitor to the admiralty and treasurer of Greenwich Hospital. It had been intended that he should follow his father's profession, but the naval surroundings turned his inclination, and on 4 Jan. 1748–9 he was entered, with the rating of able seaman, on board the Gloucester, Captain Lord Colvill, going out to Jamaica with the broad pennant of the Hon. George Townshend [q. v.] In the Gloucester he remained till 25 June 1752, when he was moved to the Severn as midshipman, with Captain Henry Dennis, whom, on 30 June 1754, he followed to the Sphinx, in which he returned to England. A month in the Seaford and another in the Mary yacht completed his six years' service, and he passed his examination on 22 Jan. 1755. During all this time, as he used to tell in his extreme old age, he led a life of the most cruel penury. His father, he said, gave him 20l. at starting, and refused all further assistance (Brenton, i. 20; Tucker, i. 10), dishonouring a bill for 20l. which he drew at the end of two years. As, however, during the four years and a half that he was in the West Indies he took up no slops (Pay-books of Gloucester and Severn), it would seem that he must have had sufficient money to buy clothes and soap (Army and Navy Gazette, 22 Nov. 1890).
On 19 Feb. 1755 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Royal George, and on 11 March was moved into the Nottingham, one of the fleet which went to North America with Boscawen [see Boscawen, Edward; Howe, Richard, Earl]. On 31 March 1756 he was appointed to the Devonshire, and on 22 June to the Prince, going out to the Mediterranean. In October Rear-admiral (afterwards Sir Charles) Saunders [q. v.] hoisted his flag on board, and on moving into the Culloden in November, took young Jervis with him. In the following January Jervis was lent to the Experiment during the illness of her captain, and commanded her, 16 March, in a severe but indecisive engagement with a large French privateer, off Cape Gata (Log of Experiment, 17 March; Saunders to Clevland, 20 March 1757). A few days later he returned to the Culloden, and on 1 June followed Saunders to the St. George. In May 1758, on Saunders being superseded, Jervis was appointed to the Foudroyant prize, and in her he returned to England.
On 15 Jan. 1759 he joined the Neptune, in which Saunders went out to North America as commander-in-chief. On 4 July he was appointed acting commander of the Porcupine, and in her had the difficult duty of leading the advanced squadron in charge of the transports past Quebec. General James Wolfe [q. v.], who accompanied him in the Porcupine, was, it is said, much struck by Jervis's prompt decision, and entrusted him with his last message to the lady to whom he was engaged, which Jervis probably delivered in person (Tucker, i. 19). This has been doubted (Wright, Life of Wolfe, p. 574 n.); but he certainly had the opportunity, for he had been promoted, on a death vacancy of 15 May, to the command of the Scorpion, and on joining her, on 25 Sept., was sent to England with the despatches. He was ordered to return immediately with important letters to General Amherst; and the Scorpion springing a leak on her passage from Portsmouth, he was directed by the commodore at Plymouth to proceed in the Albany, which he joined on the evening of 12 Jan. 1760, and in which he sailed on the morning of the 13th. The story told by Tucker (i. 20) of the mutiny on board is not referred to in Jervis's letter to Clevland of the 13th, and is contradicted in all its details by the Albany's log (Army and Navy Gazette, 22 Nov. 1890). He arrived at Sandy Hook on 21 Feb., and returning to England in May, was for a short time attached to the squadron in the Channel under Rear-admiral Rodney, till, on 13 Oct., he was posted to the Gosport of 44 guns. During the following year he was employed in the North Sea, and on 11 May 1762, being in charge of the convoy to North America, in company with the East and West India trade under the escort of Captain (afterwards Sir Joshua) Rowley [q. v.], in the Superb, fell in with and repelled the French squadron under M. de Ternay, then on its way to capture Newfoundland. In September, having joined Lord Colvill, the commander-in-chief in North America, the Gosport took part in the operations which ended in the escape of De Ternay and the recovery of Newfoundland; after which she returned to England, and was paid off in the spring of 1763.
In February 1769 Jervis was appointed to the Alarm of 32 guns, commonly said to have been the first copper-sheathed frigate in the English navy, though, in reality, the Dolphin discovery-ship had been coppered five years earlier [see Byron, John, 1723–1786]. In May he sailed for the Mediterranean, and on 7 Sept. arrived at Genoa with a freight of two hundred thousand dollars for the merchants. On the 9th two Turkish slaves belonging to a galley in the Mole made their escape, and took refuge in the Alarm's boat, from which they were forcibly taken by the guard. Jervis instantly desired the consul to remonstrate in the strongest terms, and to ‘insist on the two slaves being immediately delivered up, and exemplary punishment inflicted on the persons who had thus dared to insult the British flag.’ On the 10th he informed the doge and senate that ‘if ample satisfaction was not made in the course of the next day, he would consider himself in a state of hostility with the republic, and act accordingly.’ The slaves were accordingly delivered up on the 11th, the government at the same time expressing their disapproval of the conduct of the guard. Jervis was not satisfied, and demanded that the men should be sent on board the Alarm to beg pardon for their offence. As a compromise, they were arrested on the 15th and thrown into prison, and there the matter seems to have ended (Jervis to Hollford, 9, 10, 11 Sept.; Jervis to Stephens, 11, 16 Sept.; Hollford to Lord Weymouth, 16 Sept. 1769), the Alarm sailing the next day for Leghorn. In March 1770 she was at Marseilles, when, on the evening of the 30th, in a violent gale, she parted her cables and was driven on the rocks. Throughout the night her total loss seemed imminent, but by great exertions, and the assistance of the French officials, she was first secured, then got afloat, hove down and repaired, and by 11 May was again ready for sea. The admiralty expressed their satisfaction and approval both publicly and privately. ‘A glorious action in the midst of a war,’ Jervis wrote to his father, ‘could not be more applauded than the gallantry of the officers and crew.’ Early in 1771 the Alarm was ordered home; she arrived at Spithead in the middle of May, and in August sailed again for the Mediterranean, to attend on the Duke of Gloucester, who had been ordered to spend the winter in Italy, and who, for most of the time, lived on board, quitting her only in May 1772, when she sailed for England to be paid off.
In October Jervis started on a tour in France, and after some three weeks' sightseeing in Paris, went on to Lyons, where for four months he applied himself to the study of the language. In April 1773 he resumed his travels, and in November returned to England. In the summer of 1774, in company with Captain Samuel Barrington [q. v.], he took a passage to Cronstadt in a merchant ship, and on the way noted the pilotage, making many additions to a private chart. ‘I find all the charts are incorrect,’ he wrote, ‘and it may be useful.’ At St. Petersburg, while enjoying the festivities of society and the court, he applied himself also to a close investigation of the condition of the Russian navy and arsenals. With a similar object in view he visited Stockholm, Carlscrona, and Copenhagen, returning by Lübeck to Hamburg, thence through Holland, and so to England, bringing back a large collection of notes on naval matters. The next year, again with Barrington, he went on a yachting cruise on the west coast of France, visiting Brest, Lorient, coasting through Quiberon Bay to Rochefort and Bordeaux. At Brest, in particular, he examined the approach to the roadstead with a care to be fully repaid in future years, when he bitterly regretted not having also made himself familiar with the approach to the citadel by land (Tucker, ii. 15).
In June 1775 Jervis was appointed to the Kent, but on 1 Sept. was turned over to the Foudroyant of 80 guns, the same ship which he had helped to bring home from the Mediterranean in 1758, and which was still the largest two-decked ship in the English navy. During the years immediately following she lay for the most part at Plymouth, as a guardship, but in 1778 was attached to the fleet under Admiral Keppel [q. v.], and was the flagship's second astern in the action off Ushant on 27 July. At the court-martial on Keppel in the following January, Jervis's strong evidence in Keppel's favour largely conduced to the admiral's honourable acquittal. During the war the Foudroyant continued attached to the Channel fleet; was with Sir Charles Hardy [q. v.] during the summer of 1779; at the relief of Gibraltar by Rodney [q. v.] in January 1780; with Geary [q. v.] in 1780; and at the second relief of Gibraltar by Darby [q. v.] in March 1781. On 19 April 1782 she came off Brest, in the squadron under Barrington, just in time to fall in among a French convoy which had sailed two days before. The French scattered, and the Foudroyant, giving chase to the largest of the ships of war, the Pégase of 74 guns, came up with her a few minutes past midnight, and took her after a close engagement of three-quarters of an hour. The Pégase suffered severely in men, masts, and rigging, while on board the Foudroyant five men were slightly wounded, Jervis being one of them. Jervis's achievement was rewarded by his being immediately made a K.B. But the success appeared to the public more brilliant than it really was, for the Pégase was but newly commissioned, was short of officers, and manned with raw levies of landsmen, while the Foudroyant was noted at the time for the perfection of her order and discipline. In October she was again at the relief of Gibraltar under Lord Howe, and took part in the skirmish off Cape Spartel on the 20th. On the return of the fleet to England she was paid off, having been nearly eight years in commission; and Jervis, acting, it would almost seem, on Barrington's suggestion, married his cousin Martha, daughter of Sir Thomas Parker.
In the following spring he was under orders to go out to the West Indies, with a broad pennant in the Salisbury; but the appointment was annulled on the conclusion of the peace. He then entered parliament as member for Launceston, and in the general election of 1784 was returned for Yarmouth. As a rule he voted with the whigs, but seldom spoke, except on naval matters; as, for instance, in support of Captain David Brodie [q. v.], 5 March 1787. In 1785–6 he was on a commission for considering a proposal to fortify Portsmouth and Plymouth against an attack in force, the fleet being assumed absent. Jervis, with Barrington, Macbride, and the other naval members, objected to the assumption as a practical absurdity; and the proposal, though supported by the government, was negatived in the House of Commons (Annual Register, 1786, vol. xxviii. pt. i. p. 102).
On 24 Sept. 1787 Jervis was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and for a few weeks hoisted his flag on board the Carnatic; and again on board the Prince during the Spanish armament of 1790. In the general election of that year he was returned for Wycombe, and though opposed to the government, was appointed commander-in-chief of an expedition to the West Indies in the autumn of 1793. He had attained the rank of vice-admiral on 1 Feb. 1793. With his flag in the Boyne of 98 guns he reached Barbadoes in January 1794. The force at his disposal, co-operating with the troops under General Sir Charles (afterwards first earl) Grey [q. v.], was far in excess of any the French then had in the West Indies, and Martinique and Guadeloupe were captured in a short series of brilliant operations during March and April [cf. Faulknor, Robert]. The chief share of these fell to the army. The most cordial goodwill was maintained throughout, and the work being accomplished, the squadron, and with it Sir Charles Grey, retired to St. Christopher's, where Jervis received permission to return to England on account of bad health. Almost at the same time came the news of a powerful French force having landed at Guadeloupe, and the Boyne sailed at once to render what assistance might be possible. But the English troops, after a disastrous repulse at Pointe à Pitre, and being fearfully reduced by fever, were driven into Fort Mathilde; the enemy's batteries commanded the sea-approach, and all that could be done was to land a party of seamen as a reinforcement to the garrison [see James, Bartholomew]. In November Vice-admiral Caldwell [q. v.] came out to relieve Jervis, who forthwith sailed for England in the Boyne. She arrived at Spithead in February 1795, when Jervis struck his flag. On 1 July he was made admiral.
As early as May it seems to have been intimated to him that he was to go to the Mediterranean as commander-in-chief [cf. Hood, Samuel, Viscount; Hotham, William, Lord]; but it was not till November that he hoisted his flag on board the Lively frigate for the passage out. On 29 Nov. he joined the fleet on the coast of Corsica, and at once commenced the inculcation of that system of rigid discipline which opened a new career of glory to the English navy. At the same time the war was prosecuted with vigour, the French fleet was shut up in Toulon, and the coasts closely blockaded. But when, towards the close of 1796, the French became masters of Italy, neutrality was forced on Naples. Spain thereupon sent its fleet to co-operate with that of France, and Jervis found himself opposed to vastly superior numbers, without friendly harbours in the Mediterranean, excepting only those of Corsica. On 25 Sept. he received orders to evacuate that island and retire from the Mediterranean. A squadron which had been stationed off Cadiz under Rear-admiral Mann failed through some misunderstanding to rejoin him, and Jervis was obliged to withdraw. He left Corsica on 2 Nov., and after waiting some time at Gibraltar, finally took up his station in the Tagus.
The alarm in England was at this time very great. It was known that the French and Spanish were supreme in the Mediterranean. It was believed that they would make a strenuous effort to obtain the command of the Channel, and to give effect to their long-talked-of scheme of invasion. Jervis realised that at all hazards he must prevent any fleet from the Mediterranean passing to the north to effect a junction with the French at Brest. In this determination he posted himself off Cape St. Vincent in the early days of February 1797. He had intelligence that the Spanish fleet had sailed from Cartagena, and day by day he received news of its approach. On the morning of St. Valentine's day it was in sight, consisting of twenty-seven sail of the line. Of the English there were only fifteen, but most of these had during the past year been subjected to the most severe discipline, and were in exceptionally good order; while the Spanish ships, newly commissioned, with ignorant officers and untrained crews of landsmen, were utterly inefficient. Their fleet was in straggling disorder when, a few minutes past noon, the English in close line of battle passed through it, cutting off and forcing to leeward about one-third of its numbers, and tacked in succession towards the larger division, which at once hauled to the wind and virtually fled. It is quite certain that Jervis was aware of the Spaniards' inefficiency (Nicolas, i. 312), but it would seem that he did not fully realise his superiority; otherwise he would have signalled his ships to tack all together or to chase, and the victory must have ended in the total destruction of the Spanish fleet, which, as it was, would have escaped, disorganised indeed, but without serious loss, had not Nelson, in the rear of the line, on his own responsibility thrown himself in their way and, by hindering their flight, given time for the leading English ships to come up. The battle thus resulted in the capture of four Spanish ships; the rest made good their escape, though many of them were very severely handled. At home, however, the government and the public were in no critical mood. The threat of invasion was at an end, and Jervis was the hero of the hour. The news arrived in London on the afternoon of Saturday, 3 March. On the evening of the same day Dundas, the secretary of war, proposed, and Fox, the leader of the opposition, seconded, a vote of thanks, which the House of Commons passed at once by acclamation. The lords passed a similar vote on the 8th. A pension of 3,000l. a year was settled on Jervis, the city of London voted him its freedom in a gold box, and most of the principal towns in the kingdom followed its example. The king had previously nominated him for a peerage in reward for earlier services and his exertions in 1796. The victory gave him an independent claim, and therefore he was gazetted at one step to an earldom, the king himself choosing for him the title of St. Vincent, which he signed for the first time on 16 July (Tucker, i. 225, 421).
Meanwhile the Spanish fleet, still formidable in respect of numbers, lay in Cadiz, where Jervis was ordered to blockade it. As the year wore on the duty was rendered more difficult by the mutinous spirit which had spread from Spithead and the Nore, and most dangerously infected the crews of the ships under his command. Sternly and with inflexible severity Jervis suppressed it. Measures were taken to prevent any joint action, ship-visiting was strictly forbidden, and on every overt act courts-martial were appointed to try the offenders, and the extreme penalty at once inflicted. On one occasion (8–9 July) two men convicted late on Saturday evening were hanged first thing on Sunday morning; a promptitude which drew from Nelson an expression of warm approval, though Vice-admiral Thompson censured it in a public letter as ‘a profanation of the Sabbath;’ for which, wrote Jervis, ‘I have insisted on his being removed from this fleet immediately, or that I shall be called home.’ Throughout the year the danger was imminent, and came to a head in the May of 1798, when Sir Roger Curtis joined the fleet with a detachment from the Channel and the coast of Ireland. Many of these ships were most seriously disaffected. The Marlborough was supposed to be the worst. One of the ringleaders on board her was brought to a court-martial and sentenced to death. St. Vincent ordered him to be hanged on board his own ship and by his own shipmates. The captain of the Marlborough went on board the flagship to remonstrate. The men, he urged, had sworn that they would not allow one of their comrades to suffer death. ‘If you cannot command the Marlborough,’ was St. Vincent's stern reply, ‘I will immediately send on board an officer who can. The man shall be hanged by his own ship's company; not a hand from any other ship in the fleet shall touch the rope.’ And, with very exceptional precautions to prevent the possibility of an open outbreak, the man was hanged at eight o'clock the next morning.
This long-continued strain told on St. Vincent's health and reacted on his temper, never too gentle. Harsh and dictatorial at all times, he became still more exacting, if not tyrannical; and his quarrel with the second in command, Rear-admiral Sir John Orde [q. v.], whom he summarily ordered home, was but one of many instances which have been recorded. Orde formally applied for a court-martial on him, as having been guilty of cruelty and oppression; and, though the admiralty refused to order one, they wrote to St. Vincent strongly disapproving of his conduct in this instance. Notwithstanding this, the work of the station was carried on with the most satisfactory results. Throughout the year Cadiz was sealed, and while one detachment of the fleet, under Sir Horatio Nelson, destroyed the French in the bay of Aboukir, another, under Commodore Duckworth, captured Minorca without the loss of one man. When the ships that had been most shattered at the Nile came to Gibraltar, St. Vincent ordered them to be refitted there instead of going to England, and under severe pressure the orders were obeyed, although the storehouses were depleted and the officers unwilling. The labour, however, was excessive, and under the fatigue, anxiety, and confinement St. Vincent's health broke down, and he was compelled to ask for permission to resign his command. Lord Keith was accordingly sent out with reinforcements and as his successor, should he be obliged to go home. For some months longer he struggled to retain the command, staying at Gibraltar, and afterwards at Minorca, while Keith conducted the more active operations off Cadiz or in pursuit of the French fleet which had escaped from Brest. The divided command, however, caused misunderstanding, embarrassment, and failure; and St. Vincent, finding himself more and more feeble, finally relinquished the command on 15 June 1799 [see Elphinstone, George Keith, Viscount Keith].
For some months after his return to England St. Vincent lived in close retirement at Rochetts, a little property in Essex which he had purchased. It was not till October that his health was in any degree re-established. No sooner was this known than Sir John Orde sent him a challenge as a sequence to their quarrel off Cadiz. St. Vincent refused it on the grounds of not being personally responsible for his public measures; and while Orde was attempting to convince him that it was his private, not his official, conduct by which he felt aggrieved, the affair became known, and they were both bound over to keep the peace, while the admiralty conveyed to St. Vincent the king's express commands that the challenge was not to be accepted. A copy of their letter was also sent to Orde, as explaining St. Vincent's refusal to meet him, and there, so far as the principals were concerned, the affair terminated. St. Vincent was still very feeble. His disorder, of a dropsical character, was aggravated by the bitter cold of the winter. But with a spell of milder weather the symptoms took a favourable turn, and, as the admiralty had repeatedly expressed a wish that he should take command of the Channel fleet, in which a dangerous spirit of mutiny still existed, he suddenly announced his intention of going afloat. ‘The king and the government require it,’ he said, ‘and the discipline of the British navy demands it. It is of no consequence to me whether I die afloat or ashore.’
His assumption of the command was anything but pleasing to the majority of the captains in the fleet. The severity of his rule in the Mediterranean was well known by repute, and it is said that on the mere rumour of his appointment one captain gave as a toast at the table of Lord Bridport, the then commander-in-chief, ‘May the discipline of the Mediterranean never be introduced into the Channel fleet.’ The story was perfectly well known to St. Vincent (Tucker, ii. 70); but no sooner had he hoisted his flag than he not only issued the same orders which had caused this very strong feeling, but in many instances strengthened them to suit the existing circumstances. There is no doubt that some of these orders were extremely irksome; but they were so well adapted to the emergency and were at the time so necessary that it seems strange that men who were deservedly held to be good officers should have been so bitterly hostile to them. The one which excited the strongest feeling was the revival of a partially disused order that the captain of the ship which had the guard should be present on shore night and day when the fleet was watering. Others, which were curtailments of customary privileges, were that no boat should be away after sunset, that no officer on ordinary day-leave was to go more than three miles from the landing-place, and that no officer should sleep on shore. Against these, and this last more especially, the officers' families revolted, and one angry lady is described as giving ‘in full coterie, as a bumper toast, “May his next glass of wine choke the wretch”’ (ib. ii. 37 n.). For all this, however, St. Vincent cared nothing, and any manifestation of ill-will on the part of the officers themselves was summarily repressed by a strong hint, most commonly conveyed through the captain of the fleet, Sir Thomas Troubridge [q. v.] Whether a milder and more sympathetic rule might not have answered equally well may be doubted. Nelson, whose own very different system, under very different circumstances, has been often referred to as a proof, thought not (Tucker, ii. 51; Nicolas, iv. 184), and at any rate St. Vincent's end was gained. His discipline, combined with many improvements in routine and organisation, led to the most beneficial results in the conduct, health, and efficiency of the ships' companies; in evidence of which it is stated that the fleet kept its station off Brest, without a break, for 121 days, from May to September 1800, and that when it returned to Torbay in November there were only sixteen cases for hospital.
On the formation of the Addington ministry in the spring of 1801 St. Vincent accepted the post of first lord of the admiralty, Troubridge and Captain John Markham [q. v.] joining him as the junior sea-lords, while the other members of the board were civilians. He brought to the admiralty the same close attention to detail which had distinguished him in his commands afloat; and, with his exact and comprehensive knowledge, he was able to point out and prevent many of the gross abuses which were eating into the strength of the navy. In the trial of The King v. Owen and Mardle on 10 July 1801 it was stated by the attorney-general, for the prosecution, that ‘it was a fact capable of the strictest proof that the depredations upon the king's naval stores did not annually amount to less than 500,000l.’ (Naval Chronicle, vi. 242). This referred only to actual stealing; the loss from waste, from carelessness, from extravagance, and from malversation was very much greater.
Of all this St. Vincent had long had a general knowledge. Nearly a year before he came into office he had written: ‘Nothing but a radical sweep of our dockyards can do any good, and that can only be accomplished in a peace’ (Tucker, ii. 142). But the war was still raging, and his first care had to be given to the equipment of the fleet for the Baltic, rendered more difficult by a threatened strike among the shipwrights, who took advantage of the emergency to demand that their pay should be permanently doubled. St. Vincent's reply was to order the delegates into the street, to send down a committee of investigation to each dockyard, and, on their report, to dismiss every man who had taken a prominent part in the ‘combination.’ When the victory at Copenhagen and the death of the czar had broken up the ‘armed neutrality,’ the defence of the coast against the threatened invasion by the Boulogne flotilla fully occupied his attention; and it was not till peace was concluded that he judged it fitting to begin his task of reform. Orders were sent to the several resident commissioners to place all books and papers under their private seal; and early in 1802 he, with his colleagues, made a personal and minute inspection of the establishments. This showed matters to be far worse than even he had suspected. On 19 Oct. the admiralty formally censured the navy board for neglect of duty and condoning, if not conniving at, gross irregularities (Parliamentary Papers, 1805, viii. 237); and in the cabinet St. Vincent insisted on the appointment of a royal commission of inquiry, which, after much opposition, was ordered on 29 Dec. 1802 (43 George III, c. 16). The reports of this commission, beginning in May 1803 and continuing for the next two years, laid bare a mass of corruption and iniquity almost incredible. In every department of the service there was the same dishonesty: there was no effective supervision of expenditure or control of accounts. Even in the office of the treasurer there was culpable laxness; the report on which led directly to the impeachment of Lord Melville, formerly treasurer of the navy and, at the time, first lord of the admiralty [see Dundas, Henry, first Viscount Melville]. The commission of inquiry was followed by one of reform, officially styled ‘for revising and digesting the civil affairs of the navy’ [see Briggs, Sir John Thomas], but with this St. Vincent had nothing to do. The rigorous manner in which he had exposed and checked illegal gains, some of which had come to be considered almost vested interests; the punishment of the guilty by dismissal or otherwise; the censures or reprimands which he liberally bestowed on those, often of high position, who, by neglect of duty, had permitted and encouraged these irregularities—together brought on him a storm of hate and invective almost without a parallel. His real offence was, of course, carefully kept out of sight, though he was accused of intolerable haughtiness; but the charges to which his enemies trusted referred rather to his administration: it was said that by not building new ships he had allowed the fleet to sink below the requirements of the country, and that by not building gunboats he had endangered the safety of the kingdom. Pitt, a political opponent of St. Vincent, but probably unconscious of being the catspaw of an almost criminal faction, constituted himself their mouthpiece in the House of Commons; and on 15 March 1804, in moving for comparative returns of ships built, made a vehement attack on St. Vincent's administrative policy. The motion was negatived; but naturally when, two months later, the Addington ministry collapsed and Pitt resumed the reins of government, there was no question on either side as to the necessity of St. Vincent's retirement from the admiralty.
The parliamentary attacks, however, were continued. Jeffrey, the member for Poole, a man without either ability or knowledge, was repeatedly put forward during 1805 to move for papers, and on 14 May 1806 to move for a committee of the whole house to consider them. This he did in a long, rambling speech, which had been written out for him, and which, under protest from the speaker, he was permitted to read. It was probably felt by St. Vincent's friends that it was better the charges should not be stifled; and after Markham, Lord Garlies, Lord Howick [see Grey, Charles, second Earl], then first lord of the admiralty, and Fox had completely demolished Jeffrey's speech, his motion was negatived without a division; on which Fox, rising again, moved ‘That it appears to this house that the conduct of the Earl of St. Vincent, in his late naval administration, has added an additional lustre to his exalted character, and is entitled to the approbation of this house;’ and this, after some unimportant conversation, was affirmed without a division.
Meantime, a few months after leaving the admiralty, St. Vincent had been requested, through Lord Sidmouth, to take the command of the fleet. He indignantly refused, ‘unless Mr. Pitt should unsay all he had said in the House of Commons’ on 15 March 1804 (Tucker, ii. 268). On the request being repeated by Lord Grenville after Pitt's death, he at once complied with it. The acting rank of admiral of the fleet was conferred on him; and early in March 1806 he hoisted the union flag at the main of the Hibernia, and resumed his old station off Ushant, continuing the work which, since the renewal of the war, had been excellently performed by Cornwallis. In August, on the threat of a French invasion of Portugal, he went to Lisbon, to concert measures for securing the Portuguese fleet and for escorting the king to the Brazils. On both sides, however, the projected measures were postponed, and St. Vincent returned to his station off Ushant till the end of October, when he brought the main body of the fleet into Cawsand Bay for the winter, he himself, by special arrangement with the admiralty, occupying a house on shore in the immediate neighbourhood. He was at this time in very weak health, and retained the command only in deference to the wishes of the Grenvilles. On the change of ministry, in March 1807, he at once requested to be relieved, which was accordingly done on 24 April.
For a few years he occasionally attended in the House of Lords, speaking on naval questions. His last appearance there was in 1810; after which, retiring, as Sheridan had happily said, ‘with his triple laurel, over the enemy, the mutineer, and the corrupt,’ he resided for the most part at Rochetts, exercising a kindly hospitality to his friends, and an autocratic, though genial, sovereignty over his dependents. His wife, after a long illness, died in February 1816, leaving no children. In his later years his memory would seem to have partially failed, if we may judge by the apocryphal anecdotes he is described as telling (e.g. Brenton, ii. 354, where the rescue of the two slaves at Genoa in 1769 is transferred, with many changes of detail, to Tunis, which the Alarm never visited); his health, too, was much broken and he was extremely feeble; nor did he derive any permanent benefit from a change to the south of France for the winter of 1818–1819. On the coronation of George IV he was promoted to be admiral of the fleet, 19 July 1821, the king personally sending him the bâton with heavy gold mountings: the honour was the more marked as, by the established usage of the navy, there could be only one officer of the rank, which was already held by the Duke of Clarence. After a few days of excessive weariness and unrest he died, without pain, on 14 March 1823. In accordance with his will his body was buried at Stone in Staffordshire; a monument to his memory, more conspicuous for ornament than good taste, was erected at the public expense in St. Paul's. As he died without issue the earldom became extinct; his sister's son, Edward Jervis Ricketts, succeeded to the viscounty, changing his surname to Jervis.
The critical state of domestic and continental politics in the early part of 1797 and the great numerical superiority of the Spaniards enhanced the fame of the battle of St. Vincent, and gave the victorious admiral a reputation which appears above his merits. As a tactician Jervis can scarcely be placed in the first rank; on the other hand, his reform of the discipline of the navy, his numerous improvements in the organisation of our ships and fleets, his suppression of the mutinous spirit among the seamen, give him a special claim to distinction in a field in which he has no equal. It required a man of extraordinary force of mind and character fairly to enter the lists against the peculation and inefficiency of the dockyards, and the civil administration of the navy. That he was not entirely successful may be attributed to the enormity of the evil, to the great value of the interests at stake, and to the influence of many of the offenders. Their outcry, though absolutely false in its spirit, left its mark on his reputation, and has impressed on the popular mind a prejudice against naval officers being at the head of the naval administration. No doubt St. Vincent's inflexible idea of the sacredness of the trust confided to him led him to seek his end by most peremptory ways, careless of the feelings he wounded, when he might have avoided opposition by a more diplomatic policy. One who knew him well has recorded that he was far from always ‘preserving an unruffled command of his temper or of himself,’ and that ‘on stirring occasions of unofficer or unseamanlike conduct, or when retarded by laziness or factiousness, a torrent of impetuous reproof in unmeasured language would violently rush from his unguarded lips’ (Tucker, i. 370, 380). He had, too, a certain grim humour, in which he occasionally indulged at the expense of those who were powerless to retort. On the other hand, when an act of zeal, skill, or gallantry merited his approval, it was given ungrudgingly, in the warmest, most enthusiastic, most flattering manner [cf. Faulknor, Robert]; and in his private relations, though careful and economical, he was kindhearted and generous, always ready to assist those whom he conceived to have any claim on him.
In person he is described as of middle height and strongly built. His portrait, by Sir William Beechey, belongs to the Fishmongers' Company; another by Beechey belonged to Admiral Sir William Parker; one, full length, by Hoppner, is in St. James's Palace; another, by Hoppner, belongs to the corporation of the city of London; one, by Cotes, as a young man, belongs to the Earl of Northesk, who has also one by Romney, showing him in middle age. One by Carbonnier, taken at an advanced age, is engraved in Brenton's ‘Life;’ and one, still older, from a drawing in outline by Chantrey, is given in Tucker, vol. ii. The frontispiece of Tucker, vol. i., is an engraving after the Parker's Beechey.