Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gell, John (d.1806)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

GELL, JOHN (d. 1806), admiral, of an old Derbyshire family, was promoted to be a lieutenant in the navy in 1760, and a commander in 1762. On 4 March 1766 he was posted to the Launceston of 44 guns going out to North America as flag-ship of vice-admiral Durell, who died within a few months of his taking command of the station. Gell, however, remained in the Launceston for the term of her commission, and after some years on half-pay was appointed in 1776 to the Thetis frigate, in which he was employed on the North American and afterwards on the home station. In 1780 he was appointed to the Monarca, a fine 70-gun ship captured from the Spaniards by Sir George Rodney on 16 Jan. immediately preceding. Towards the close of the year he was ordered to the West Indies, under the orders of Sir Samuel Hood; but the ship being dismasted in a violent gale, and compelled to return to England, he was afterwards sent out to the East Indies, where, as one of the squadron under Sir Edward Hughes [q. v.], the Monarca took part in each of the five indecisive engagements with the French under M. de Suffren. In 1784 she returned to England, and was paid off. During the Spanish armament in 1790 Gell commanded the Excellent for a few months; and on 1 Feb. 1793 was advanced to the rank of rear-admiral. He was then ordered out to the Mediterranean, with his flag in the St. George, in command of a squadron of four ships of the line and a frigate. On the way, off the coast of Portugal, they fell in with and captured a French privateer, the Général Dumourier, convoying a Spanish treasure-ship, the Santiago, which she had taken a few days before. The prizes were sent home, and, after some doubt in respect to the Santiago, were both condemned. The Spanish ship was of immense value, and her condemnation, under the circumstances, caused much dissatisfaction in Spain, and is said to have been one of the principal causes of the total change of Spanish policy and of the war with England (James, Naval History, ed. 1860, i. 100).

Gell's squadron was but the advanced division of the fleet which, in several detachments, went out to the Mediterranean, and which, by the end of June, was collected at Gibraltar under the command of Lord Hood [see Hood, Samuel, Viscount]. As a junior flag-officer Gell was present with this fleet at the occupation of Toulon, and in October was sent with a small squadron to Genoa, where he took possession of the French frigate Modeste, the slight opposition offered being quelled by a volley of musketry, which killed one man and wounded eight (James, i. 97; Schomberg, Naval Chronicle, ii. 253). French writers have represented this as a wholesale massacre, which excused, if it did not warrant, as a measure of retaliation, the butchery in cold blood of the crew of the merchant brig Peggy nearly a year afterwards (Brun, Guerres Maritimes de la France, Port de Toulon, ii. 261). In the following April Gell was compelled by ill-health to resign his command, and in doing so ended his active service. He became a vice-admiral on 4 July 1794, admiral on 14 Feb. 1799, and died of an apoplectic seizure on 24 Sept. 1806. There is a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

[Charnock's Biog. Nav. vi. 579; Gent. Mag. (1806) vol. lxxvi. pt. ii. p. 984.]

J. K. L.