« PreviousContinue »
successor of the Governor of Dumbarton Castle, being then created Earl of Wigtown and Lord Fleming of Biggar and Cumbernauld. John, sixth Earl, following the loyal traditions of his house, passed with James II. to St. Germains at the Revolution, but returned to Scotland and took an active part in opposition to the Union negotiations. Suspected of complicity in Jacobite plots, he was committed prisoner to Edinburgh Castle in 1715, but was afterwards liberated by order of the High Court of Justiciary, and took up his residence at Cumbernauld, where, in 1731, he erected the fine mansion—the destruction of which in 1877 was so much regretted. Earl John died in 1744, and was succeeded in his titles and estates by a brother Charles, who died unmarried 26th May, 1747. The estates thereupon devolved on a niece, only daughter of Earl John, the Lady Clementina Fleming, who in 1735 had married Charles, afterwards tenth Lord Elphinstone. One or two of the descendants of Lady Clementina merit special notice. Her eldest son, John, succeeded to the Elphinstone honours; Charles, R.N., was lost in the “Prince George,” burnt at sea in 1758 when proceeding to the Mediterranean, the loss by this calamity being 485 out of a total of 745 on board Admiral Broderick's war-ship; a third son, William, had a son, Charles, lost in the “Blenheim," 1707, the mysterious fate of this war vessel forming the subject of a once popular ballad by James Montgomery The fourth and youngest son of the Lady Clementina was George Keith Elphinstone, Admiral of the Blue, a naval officer of very high reputation, created Lord and afterwards Viscount Keith. By his first wife, , only daughter and heiress of William Mercer of Aldie, Viscount Keith left one daughter, Margaret Mercer, married to the Count de Flauhault, French Ambassador at the Court of St. James'. Viscount Keith married secondly Hester Marie Thrale, who survived till 31st March, 1857, when she passed away at the great age of ninety-three, the last surviving member of the once renowned Johnsonian circle at Streatham. (See also pp. 187-191.) The mansion of Cumbernauld had been only partly tenanted during the last seventeen years. In 1875 the estate was sold by the Hon. Cornwallis Fleming, nephew of Admiral Fleming, to Mr. John William Burns of Kilmahew, Dumbartonshire, for £165,000. The property was then described as consisting of 3,807 imperial acres, whereof 2,833 were arable, and the remainder as plantation or rough pasture. The gross rental was then set down at £4,692, and the public burdens at £421.
Making a pleasing addition to personal as well as family history, the "Memoir of Admiral Lord Keith,” completed by Mr. Allardyce, was an altogether fresh work in biographical literature, and bore at the same time not remotely on the stirring events occurring in Egypt. The closing scene of Admiral Keith's official life was intimately associated with the memorable surrender of Buonaparte to Captain Maitland, of the "Bellerophon," during the command of the Channel Fleet by the gallant Viscount. On his shoulders rested the responsibility of transferring the fallen monarch on board Sir George Cockburn's ship, the “Northumberland,” preparatory to being despatched, with a few chosen attendants, to his lonely banishment on St. Helena. It cannot be forgotten, however, by students of the great Revolutionary war, that some fifteen years before the “Surrender” Keith-Elphinstone commanded the fleet which carried out Sir Ralph Abercromby with a British force to Aboukir, when the French power in Egypt was broken for the time, and where Sir Ralph fell mortally wounded as the enemy retreated to Alexandria, preparatory to a full capitulation within a few months. In announcing the accomplishment of the expedition to Egypt, General Hutchinson, who succeeded the brave and popular Abercromby, wrote to the Secretary of State:-"I cannot conclude this letter without stating to your Lordship the many obligations I have to Lord Keith and the navy, for the great exertions they have used in forwarding us the necessary supplies, and from the fatigue they have undergone in the late embarkation of a considerable number of troops and stores, who were embarked on the new lake, and proceeded to the westward under the orders of Major-General Coote. The utmost despatch has also been used in sending the French troops lately captured to France, which in our present position was a service of the most essential consequence.” The despatch of French prisoners would appear to have been not the least of the troublesome duties laid on Admiral Keith, during his command on the coast of Egypt.
While the troops from Cairo were on their way down to Rosetta, Menou made an offer to get rid of a number of his non-combatants in Alexandria, and sent a brig out of the harbour, under cartel flags, with a large company of “savants," members of the Institute and of the Commission des Sciences et des Arts, who wished to get home with their archæological booty. “But as I did not consider it proper,” says Lord Keith, in his report to the Admiralty, “to allow any person whatever to depart from a town long since blockaded, and, I hope, immediately to be besieged, I have advised them all to return, and acquainted General Menou that I shall observe a similar conduct towards the invalids and blind if he sends them out, as proposed in his despatches." With grim humour the Admiral offered to surrender to him a company of French comedians who, sent by the French Government to enliven the garrison of Alexandria, had been captured by the British cruisers; but Menou obstinately refused to accept this addition to his garrison. So actively, however, did his Lordship expedite matters for the despatch of the garrison of Cairo, that he was able to announce to the Admiralty on 21st July—"The transports for the reception of the French corps from Cairo are far advanced in preparation, and will be ready before they arrive at Rosetta; notwithstanding we suffer much interruption by the almost constant swell and impracticability of the bar.” The embarkation began on ist August, and was completed, in spite of the enormous quantity of baggage, within eight days; and the convoy, consisting of six of His Majesty's ships and nearly 50 British and Turkish transports, was despatched without delay. Fifth son of Charles, tenth Lord Elphinstone, George Keith, whom history has ranked among the first of British naval commanders, was born in his father's old tower of Airth, Stirlingshire, early in January, 1746, a critical period in the history of Scotland, for only a few miles off the remains of Prince Charles's retreating expedition were intensifying, if possible, the terror and distress of civil war by a final desperate effort to reduce Stirling Castle. His mother, Lady Clementina Fleming, one of the beauties and toasts of Edinburgh society
in her youth, was strongly imbued with Jacobite principles, and in addition to the extinct earldom of Wigtown, came to unite in herself the two attainted honours of Marischal and Perth. Young Keith was named after his grand-uncle, the Earl Marischal, who had taken part in Mar's rebellion, and was then living in exile at the Court of Prussia, sharing in the favour which Frederick the Great had extended to his illustrious brother, Marshal Keith. Encouraged by the advice of his grand-uncle, Keith Elphinstone followed the example of his brothers, Charles and William, by entering the navy in his fifteenth year, being received as midshipman on board the "Gosport” at Portsmouth, with but slender thought that a peerage and the baton of commander awaited him in the profession he had selected. The commander of the “Gosport” was Captain John Jervis, afterwards ennobled as Earl of St. Vincent, for his memorable defeat of the Spanish fleet. The naval service becoming unsettled by the reduction of the fleet after the peace of Fontainbleau in 1763, Elphinstone served for a short time on board his brother's vessel, under the flag of the East India Company, but again, through the friendly influence of the Earl Marischal, whose attainder had been reversed in consideration of services rendered to England at the Court of Spain, Keith rejoined the Royal Navy as second lieutenant on board the “Trident,” from which he passed in 1772 with his first commission as commander of the "Scorpion," of 14 guns, employed on the coast of Minorea and in the Gulf of Genoa. From 1776, when Elphinstone entered upon his first duties on the American station, his career becomes associated with all that is most memorable in the naval history of England, and can only be glanced at here in the briefest manner. He commanded a detachment of seamen on shore in the reduction of Charleston, was present at the attack of Mud Island, November, 1777, and being sent home with despatches from Admiral Arbuthnot, was appointed to command the “Warwick," of 50 guns. On the conclusion of the American war in 1793, Captain Elphinstone returned home, and was elected M.P. for Stirlingshire, having previously sat for Dumbartonshire, after a contest of uncommon closeness carried on during his absence on the American station with Lord Frederick Campbell, brother of the Duke of Argyll. When the war of the Revolution broke out with France, Elphinstone was again on active service, joining Lord Hood in the Mediterranean, and rendering services worthy of official recognition in the famous descent on Toulon, August, 1793. Rather more than a year later, on hostilities occurring between England and the Batavian Republic, Elphinstone, then Rear-Admiral of the “White," sailed to the Cape of Good Hope, and in conjunction with General Clarke compelled the Dutch, who advanced to the relief of the colony, to surrender at discretion without firing a gun. Pursuant to instructions received from the Admiralty before sailing, Admiral Elphinstone next entered the Indian Ocean, where he first secured to the British Crown the important possessions of Ceylon, Cochia, Malacca, and Molucca; but, on returning to the Cape, captured the entire Dutch fleet, which had been sent out under Lucas, and taken up a position in Saldanha Bay with the view of striking a decisive blow for the recovery of the colony. In 1779 the mutiny at the Nore called out the Admiral's highest qualities in the way of gentle persuasion and concession, coupled with a judicious firmness, necessary to be directed towards the leaders of the revolt. The mutiny was ultimately found to spring from two very different causes-one a well-founded disaffection with pay, provisions, and pensions; second, a dangerous spirit of Republicanism springing directly from the principles and examples of the French Revolution. Scarcely was subordination restored at the Nore, when the Admiral (now Lord Keith) was hurried off to Portsmouth to procure a ship and act as second in command of the Channel Fleet under Lord Bridport, the distrust which had been excited by the conduct of the seamen, as well as the numerous services which were to be performed in the Channel, making the Admiralty anxious to strengthen Lord Bridport's hands. He was ordered to hoist his flag on the “Queen Charlotte," which had been the chief centre of the Spithead mutiny. At the close of 1799 Lord Keith took command in the Mediterranean, which ill-health had compelled Lord St. Vincent to resign. In March he blockaded the harbour of Leghorn in co-operation with the Austrians, and was mainly instrumental, by the rigid blockade maintained, in reducing the French troops under Massena to such straits as resulted in his surrender. Engaged successfully in restoring order