1902 Encyclopedia > Sir John Jervis, Earl St Vincent

Sir John Jervis, 1st Earl St Vincent
English naval officer

SIR JOHN JERVIS, EARL ST VINCENT, (1734-1823), a distinguished naval officer, was born at Meaford, Stafford-shire, on 9th January 1734. His father was counsel and solicitor to the admiralty and treasurer of Greenwich hos-pital. Young Jervis was destined for the law, but early showed such a strong predilection for the sea that he ran away from school in order to become a sailor. Accordingly in 1748 he was placed on board the "Gloucester" under Commodore Townsend. Six years later he rose to be lieu-tenant, and in 1759 he distinguished himself so much at the siege and capture of Quebec that he was promoted to the rank of commander. In the following year he was made a post-captain. He commanded the " Foudroyant" in July 1778, when the memorable rencontre took place be-tween Admiral Keppel and Count d'Orvilliers, and bore a very distinguished part in that action. In 1782, while in command of the same vessel, he captured the French ship " Pegase," of 74 guns and 700 men, off Brest Harbour, and was rewarded for his exploit by being made Knight Com-panion of the Bath. In 1784 he entered parliament as member for Launceston, and he afterwards sat for Yar-mouth. Conjointly with Sir Charles Grey, Jervis was appointed to command an expedition sent out in 1793 against the French Caribbee islands, and, though the rainy season and the yellow fever prevented the full success of the British, they were able to obtain possession of Mar-tinique and St Lucia, and to hold Guadaloupe for a short time. In 1795 Jervis became full admiral and succeeded Lord Hood in command of the British fleet in the Medi-terranean, where he rendered important service in blockad-ing the French fleet in Toulon, and protecting English trade in the Levant. On 14th February 1797 he won his most celebrated victory. With only fifteen ships of the line, seven frigates, and two sloops he encountered off Cape St Vincent a Spanish fleet of twenty-six sail of the line, twelve frigates, and a brig, and completely defeated it, capturing four of the enemy's largest ships. For this great triumph, which had a most important effect on the prosecution of the war, Jervis was created a peer by the title of Earl St Vincent. He still further distinguished himself some months later by his resolute and sagacious conduct in re-pressing a mutiny in his fleet when off Cadiz. In June 1799 he resigned his command in consequence of ill-health, but was shortly afterwards placed at the head of the-Channel fleet. On the formation of the Addington ministry in 1801 he was made first lord of the admiralty, and in that important office, which he held for three years, the great capacity for business with which he was endowed by nature shone forth in all its lustre. By means of the cele-brated commission of naval inquiry he was enabled to ex-pose a vast extent of corruption in the public service and to lay the foundation of a system of economical administration. He grappled boldly with the monstrous and deep-rooted abuses brought to light, and by his vigour, honesty, and energy succeeded in rectifying them. In 1806, at the age of seventy-two, Lord St Vincent was again called upon to take the command of the Channel fleet and to head an expedition to the court of Portugal, in which he displayed great talents and address. Advanced age and impaired health led to his final retirement from public life in 1807, but he survived till 13th March 1823, when he died in his ninetieth year.

See Brenton, Life of Earl St Vincent; Lord Brougham, Statesmen of the Times of George III.

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