Born 19 April 1757, Edward Pellew came from a sea-faring family based in Cornwall. He was described as a pugnacious youth and, leaving behind an education at Truro Grammar School, he ran away to sea, joining the Royal Navy at age 13 in 1770. It appears his early years in the navy were a little tempestuous but he rose steadily in rank in consequence of outstanding personal courage and an unexampled tactical brilliance as a Frigate Captain.
He was made a Commander in 1780 for fighting a successful action against a French frigate, the Stanislaus, after his Captain had been killed. In 1782 he became post Captain after an attack on three French privateers. In between his sea-faring activities he found time to marry Susannah Frowde on 28 May 1783. They had four sons and two daughters.
He was Captain of the ‘Nymph’ which took the first French warship, ‘La Cléopâtra’, on the outbreak of war with revolutionary France in 1793 and as a result of that he was presented to the king and knighted. By 1794 he was Commodore of the Western Frigate Squadron.
He was a good swimmer and noted for saving the lives of several seamen who had fallen overboard. The most striking life-saving event was on 26 January 1796 when the East Indiaman Dutton, which was carrying more than four hundred troops together with many women and children, ran aground under Plymouth Hoe. Owing to the heavy seas, the crew and soldiers aboard were unable to get to shore. Pellew swam out to the wreck with a line and with help from a young Irishman, Jeremiah Coghlan, helped rig a lifeline that saved almost all aboard: for this feat he was, on 18 March 1796, created a baronet.
His most famous feat was the Action of 13 January 1797 when, cruising in company with HMS Amazon, the British sighted the French 74-gun ship of the line Droits de l’Homme. Normally a ship of the line would over-match two frigates, but by skillful sailing in the stormy conditions, the frigates avoided bearing the brunt of the superior firepower of the French. In the early morning of 14 January, the three ships were embayed on a lee shore in Audierne Bay. Both the Droits de l’Homme and Amazon ran aground, but Indefatigable managed to claw her way off the lee shore to safety.
The war with France continued and Pellew retook the first British warship the French had captured. He became Commander-in-Chief East Indies in 1806 and then succeeded Nelson, Collingwood and Cotton as Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean from 1811 to 1814.
In 1812 the Pellew family, who lived at Canonteign House in the Teign Valley, purchased West Cliffe House, now called Bitton House, Teignmouth. His time as Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean was coming to an end. Typically, in 1814 Pellew landed at Marseilles, which had risen for the Bourbons, and as news of Waterloo put an end to hostilities he was on horseback leading an allied army against the French Revolutionary General, Marshal Brune. Returning to England, he was created Viscount Exmouth in 1815 and settled at his Teignmouth home.
It was not long before his services were required once more. By international agreement at the Congress of Vienna, Lord Exmouth was ordered to suppress trade in Christian slaves, carried on by the Barbary States of Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers. The principal Corsair stronghold of Algiers was selected for attack although protected by some 1,000 guns, lodged in forts with casements five feet thick and served by 8,000 gunners who could be continuously reinforced from an auxiliary arm of 30,000. Lord Exmouth had anticipated the order by earlier requiring one of his captains secretly to survey and plan the Algiers defences. Consequently, he so disposed his force as to be beyond the arc of fire of the main three-tier shore battery. Helped by a Dutch Fleet of five frigates who played an important diversionary role in the battle that ensued, the British ships destroyed the Algerian defences in an eight hour bombardment and secured the release of the 1,000 Christian slaves in the city. It proved a vital blow to the cruel trading in slaves in the Mediterranean.
Two of the cannon captured at Algiers were brought home by Lord Exmouth to embellish his home at Teignmouth where they can still be seen at Bitton House. The day of his Lordship’s return was made a local festival day. The inhabitants turned out to greet him “with all the arrangements and display which could manifest admiration and attachment”. An illuminated address was presented. Amongst those going out to meet him was Admiral Schack under whom he had fought his first action and who is referred to at the end of the address.
After the Algiers victory, Lord Exmouth was made Commander-in-Chief Plymouth and settled in Bitton House, becoming a great benefactor to the town and was responsible for the rebuilding of part of St. James Church, West Teignmouth. In 1832 he was appointed Vice admiral of the United Kingdom. He died at Bitton House in 1833 and was buried at Christow. The flag under which he fought at Algiers was used for the pall and a young oak, to bear his name, was planted near the grave, a suitable memorial for a British seaman.
Later, a monument was erected to his memory in the church at Christow. The memorial records the many honours bestowed upon him by his country, including Knight of the Order of the Bath, and from Spain, the Netherlands, Sicily, Sardinia and Savoy. He was also High Steward of Great Yarmouth and Elder Brethren of the Hon. Corporation of Trinity House.
His heroic activities have attracted a number of fictional characterisations. Chief of those is as the Captain of Indefatigable in some of C. S. Forester’s fictional Horatio Hornblower novels; in the television adaptations, as portrayed by Robert Lindsay, he is given a more prominent role.
The above summary is an amalgam of information from the following two sites: