About Charles Elliot
Sir Charles Elliot, KCB (1801 – 9 September 1875), was a British naval officer, diplomat, and colonial administrator. He became the first administrator of Hong Kong in 1841 while serving as both Plenipotentiary and Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China. He was a key founder in the establishment of Hong Kong as a British colony.
Born in Dresden, Saxony, Elliot joined the Royal Navy in 1815 and served as a midshipman in the bombardment of Algiers against Barbary pirates the following year. After serving in the East Indies Station for four years, he joined the Home Station in 1820. He joined the West Africa Squadron and became a lieutenant in 1822. After serving in the West Indies Station, he was promoted to captain in 1828. He met Clara Windsor in Haiti and they married in 1828.
After retiring from active military service, Elliot followed a career in the Foreign Office. From 1830 to 1833, he was Protector of Slaves in Guiana. In 1834, he went to China as Master Attendant to the staff of Chief Superintendent Lord Napier. He became Plenipotentiary and Chief Superintendent from 1836 to 1841. From 1842 to 1846, Elliot was chargé d'affaires and consul general in the Republic of Texas. He served as Governor of Bermuda (1846–54), Governor of Trinidad (1854–56), and Governor of Saint Helena (1863–69). He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1856.
Elliot was born in Dresden, Saxony, in 1801 to Margaret and Hugh Elliot. He was one of nine children. His uncle was Scottish diplomat Gilbert Elliott, 1st Earl of Minto while Gilbert Elliott, 2nd Earl of Minto and George Eden were cousins. He was educated in Reading, Berkshire, England. On 26 March 1815, Elliot joined the Royal Navy as a first-class volunteer on board HMS Leviathan, which served in the Mediterranean Station. In July 1816, he became a midshipman on board HMS Minden, in which he served in the bombardment of Algiers against Barbary pirates in August 1816. He then served in the East Indies Station for four years under Sir Richard King. In 1820, he joined the cutter Starling under Lieutenant-Commander John Reeve in the Home Station, and HMS Queen Charlotte under James Whitshed.
West Africa and West Indies
In 1821, Elliot joined HMS Iphigenia under Sir Robert Mends in the West Africa Squadron. On 11 June 1822, he became a lieutenant while serving in HMS Myrmidon under Captain Henry John Leeke. He again served in the Iphigenia on 19 June, and in HMS Hussar under Captain George Harris in the West Indies Station. There, he was appointed to the schooners Union on 19 June 1825 and Renegade on 30 August. On 1 January 1826, he was nominated acting-commander of the convalescentship Serapis in Port Royal, Jamaica, where on 14 April, he served in the hospital ship Magnificent. After further employment on board HMS Bustard and HMS Harlequin, he was promoted to captain on 28 August 1828
After retiring from active military service, Elliot followed a career in the Foreign Office. In 1830, the Colonial Office sent Elliot to Demerara in British Guiana to be Protector of Slaves and a member of the Court of Policy from 1830 to 1833. He was brought home to advise the government of administrative problems relating to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. In a letter to the Treasury in 1833, Prime Minister Lord Howick wrote:
Lord Goderich [Secretary of State for the Colonies] feels himself bound to acknowledge that His Majesty's Government are indebted to him [Elliot], not only for a zealous and efficient execution of the duties of his office, but for communications of peculiar value and importance sent from the Colony during the last twelve months, and for essential services rendered at a critical period since his arrival in this country ... Elliot has contributed far beyond what the functions of his particular office required of him.
In late 1833, Elliot was appointed as Master Attendant to the staff of Lord Napier, Chief Superintendent of British Trade. His position was involved with British ships and crews operating between Macau and Canton. He was appointed Secretary in October 1834, Third Superintendent in January 1835, and Second Superintendent in April 1835. In 1836, he became Plenipotentiary and replaced Sir George Robinson as Chief Superintendent of British Trade. Elliot wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston in 1839 that he regarded the opium trade as a "disgrace and sin ... I have steadily discountenanced it by all the lawful means in my power, and at the total sacrifice of my private comfort in the society in which I have lived for some years past."
During the First Anglo-Chinese War, he was on board the Nemesis during most of the battles. In January 1841, he negotiated terms with Chinese Imperial Commissioner Qishan in the Convention of Chuenpee. Elliot declared, among other terms, the cession of Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom. However, Palmerston disapproved of the terms and dismissed Elliot. Henry Pottinger was appointed to replace him as plenipotentiary in May 1841. On 29 July, HMS Phlegeton arrived in Hong Kong with dispatches informing Elliot of the news. His administration ended on 10 August. On 24 August, he left Macau, with his family for England. As he embarked on the Atlanta, a Portuguese fort fired a thirteen gun salute.
Historian George Endacott wrote, "Elliot's policy of conciliation, leniency, and moderate war aims was unpopular all round, and aroused some resentment among the naval and military officers of the expedition." Responding to the accusation that "It has been particularly objected to me that I have cared too much for the Chinese", Elliot wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord Aberdeen on 25 June 1842:
But I submit that it has been caring more for lasting British honour and substantial British interests, to protect friendly and helpful people, and to return the confidence of the great trading population of the Southern Provinces, with which it is our chief purpose to cultivate more intimate, social and commercial relations.
On 23 August 1842, Elliot arrived in the Republic of Texas, where he was chargé d'affaires and consul general until 1846. He served as Governor of Bermuda (1846–54), Governor of Trinidad (1854–56), and Governor of Saint Helena (1863–69). In the retired list, he was promoted to rear-admiral on 2 May 1855, vice-admiral on 15 January 1862, and admiral on 12 September 1865.
In Sir Henry Taylor's play, Edwin the Fair (1842), the character Earl Athulf was based on Elliot. Taylor also mentioned Elliot in his poem, "Heroism in the Shade" (1845). Elliot was made Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1856. He died in Witteycombe, Exeter, England, on 9 September 1875.
Marriage and family
During Elliot's naval service in the West Indies, he met Clara Genevieve Windsor (1806–1885) in Haiti, where she was born and raised. After marrying in 1828, they had two daughters and three sons:
Harriet Agnes Elliot (1829–1896); married Edward Russell, 23rd Baron de Clifford, in 1853; three children
Hugh Hislop Elliot (born c. 1831); served in Bombay Cavalry
Gilbert Wray Elliot (born 1833); studied at Haileybury; weightlifter Launceston Elliot was his son
Frederick Eden Elliot (1837–1916); married in 1861; four children
Emma Clara Elliot (1842–1865); married in 1864 in St. Helena, where her father was governor
Elliot's wife accompanied him to Guiana from 1830 to 1833, and to China from 1834 to 1841.
Places named after Elliot
Elliot's Vale, renamed Glenealy, Hong Kong
Elliot Island; located in the Chusan archipelago, the name endured in maps into the 20th century
Port Elliot, South Australia