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Admiral The Hon. Sir George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, 1802-12
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Admiral The Hon. Sir George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, 1802-12

Measurements: Overall: 43cm (17in) x 36.5cm (14in)



Watercolour, pen and ink on paper. Head and shoulders portrait in full Admiral’s uniform of the period 1795 to 1812, decorated with the breast stars of a Knight of the Bath and the Ottoman Order of the Crescent. Attributed to John Jackson, R.A. (1778-1831). Framed and glazed. Together with a stipple engraving by Henry Meyer, published by T. Cadell & W. Davies, titled ‘… From an original Picture by G. Saunders in the possession of his Lordship. Drawn by J. Jackson. Engraved by H. Meyer.’

The present portrait can be dated between 1805 and 1812 when the image appeared in print form. Elphinstone became full Admiral on 1 January 1801 and was decorated by the Sultan Selim III with the Order of the Crescent the same year for facilitating the capitulation of the French in Egypt. On his return to England in July 1802 he became a Knight of the Bath. The artist John Jackson, a future Royal Academician, was the son of a Yorkshire tailor who disapproved of his son’s artistic ambitions, became a student at the Royal Academy Schools in March 1805 thanks to the patronage three Yorkshire aristocrats - the Earl of Mulgrave, the Earl of Carlisle, and Sir George Beaumont who offered him residence at his own home and £50 per year. By 1807 Jackson's reputation as a London based portrait painter was becoming established. It is said he made the transition to oils steadily, if not easily. By the time Jackson made his portrait, Lord Keith as he became in 1797, had descended into an early old age, being fractious, suffering from gout and arthritis, his hair greying and his bristling brow furrowed, although he retained his ruddy features together with his half-lidded eyes and clamped mouth, giving a somewhat leonine impression. When crossed he tended to talk in a very loud disparaging voice, addressing his remarks to himself.

Jackson went on to be elected an Associate of the R.A. on 6 November 1815 and elected a full member on 10 February 1817. After a visit to the Netherlands and Flanders with Edmund Phipps in 1816, he accompanied Sir Francis Chantrey on a trip to Switzerland, Rome, Florence and Venice in 1819. In Rome he was elected to the Academy of St Luke. His portrait of Antonio Canova, painted on this trip, was regarded as outstanding.

Admiral The Hon Sir George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith, G.C.B., (1746-1823) was the fifth son of the 10th Lord Elphinstone. He was born in Elphinstone Tower, near Stirling, and entered the Royal Navy in 1761. In 1767, he made a voyage to the East Indies in the British East India Company's service, and put £2000 lent him by an uncle to such good purpose in a private trading venture that he laid the foundation of a £1million fortune. He became lieutenant in 1770, commander in 1772, and post captain in 1775.

During the American War of Indepedence he was employed against the privateers, and with a naval brigade at the occupation of Charleston, South Carolina. In January 1781, when in command of the 50-gun H.M.S. Warwick, he captured a Dutch 50-gun ship which had beaten off a British vessel of equal strength a few days before. On 15 September 1782 in the Delaware Bay he led a squadron that captured the French 38 gun frigate Aigle during which Captain Latouche Tréville was taken prisoner. After peace was signed he remained on shore for ten years, serving in Parliament as member first for Dunbartonshire, and then for Stirlingshire. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1790.

When war broke out with Revolutionary France in 1793, he was appointed to the 74-gun H.M.S. Robust, in which he took part in the occupation of Toulon under Admiral Hood and where he distinguished himself at the head of a naval brigade in the defeat of the French republicans whilst Captain Benjamin Hallowell deputised for him at sea. After acting as the governor of Fort La Malgue and winning a land battle in command of six hundred men at Ollioules he then safely conducted a large number of the royalist inhabitants away from the port during its evacuation.

In 1794 he was promoted Rear-Admiral, and in 1795 he was sent to occupy the Dutch colonies in South Africa thereby establishing the Cape of Good Hope Station. He had a large share in the capture of the Cape in 1795, and in August 1796 captured a whole Dutch squadron in Saldanha Bay. In 1797 he was active in restoring order after the Nore Mutiny broke out in 1797. He was equally successful in placating mutineers at Plymouth.

At the close of 1798, he was sent as second in command to Lord St. Vincent. It was for a long time a thankless post, for St Vincent was incapacitated by ill-health and very arbitrary, while Horatio Nelson, who considered that Keith's appointment was a personal slight to himself, was peevish and insubordinate. Having refused Nelson permission to return to England with the much needed Foudroyant, Keith lost the services of the hero of the Nile when he returned overland with the Hamiltons. There was little love lost between the two officers, as illustrated on a previous occasion, when embarking Neapolitan troops at Palermo for the siege of Malta, Keith had remarked detrimentally on Nelson’s involvement at the Neapolitan court then stationed there, claiming it to be ‘a scene of fulsome vanity and absurdity’. There was little doubt that he held his subordinate?s behaviour and relationship with Lady Hamilton in utter contempt.

On 25 April 1798 the Brest fleet of twenty-five sail of the line escaped from that port and headed into the Mediterranean where they managed to elude any engagement with the British fleet. Keith was later to be blamed for the subsequent departure of the Brest fleet from the Mediterranean with Captain Cuthbert Collingwood amongst others believing that he had been slow and indecisive. In reality the failure to account for the Brest fleet was not his fault as he had been hamstrung in the first instance by St. Vincent’s continual and disruptive involvement, and then by Nelson’s refusal to obey orders. In the event Keith chased the French all the way back to their home port, and after putting into Torbay he was ordered back to the Mediterranean in November, much to the annoyance of Nelson whose loyalty he never obtained, and who felt that he should have been the commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean.

He returned to the Mediterranean in November as Commander-in-Chief, and co-operated with the Austrians in the siege of Genoa, which surrendered on 4 June 1800. It was however immediately afterwards lost in consequence of the Battle of Marengo, and the French made their re-entry so rapidly that the Kieth had considerable difficulty in getting his ships out of the harbour. The close of 1801 and the beginning of the following year were spent in transporting the army sent to recover Egypt from the French.

He was made Baron Keith of the United Kingdom, an Irish barony having been conferred on him in 1797. Following the resumption of hostilities on 16 May 1803 Keith was briefly employed as the commander-in-chief at Plymouth with his flag aboard the Salvador del Mundo 112, Captain Charles Lane, before assuming the command of the strategically vital North Sea station. This was in effect the defence of the homeland against French invasion, and the huge station extended from Selsey Bill to Scotland.

On 3 October 1804 Keith reluctantly authorised Commodore Sir Home Popham’s attack upon Boulogne. Throughout his tenure the forces at his command were active in their harrying of the French coastline, and he also reinstated the Sea Fencibles which had originally been organised in 1798. Even so, Keith yearned for a more active station, and he bitterly resented the fact that Lord Nelson had been given the Mediterranean station ahead of him. Neither did it help that he had to suffer the ego of another maverick subordinate, Rear-Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, and eventually, worn out by the command, Keith retired ashore in May 1807 to remain unemployed for the next five years.

In February 1812 he was appointed C-in-C in the Channel, and in 1814 he was raised to a Viscounty. In July 1815 he was at Plymouth when Napoleon surrendered and was brought to England in H.M.S. Bellerophon by Captain Maitland (1777–1839). Accordingly it fell to Keith to communicate to the fallen Emperor the Government’s decision to banish him torena, dashing any hopes of settling in England as a private gentleman. Lord Keith refused to be led into disputes by Napoleon, and confined himself to declaring steadily that he had his orders to obey. He was not much impressed by the appearance of his illustrious charge and thought that the airs of Napoleon and his suite were ridiculous.