Charles Elliot

For the British admiral, see Charles Elliot (Royal Navy officer).
Sir Charles Elliot
Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China
In office
Preceded by Sir George Robinson
Succeeded by Sir Henry Pottinger
Administrator of Hong Kong
In office
26 January 1841  10 August 1841
Preceded by (none)
Succeeded by Alexander Johnston (acting)
Governor of Bermuda
In office
Preceded by Sir William Reid
Succeeded by Freeman Murray
Governor of Trinidad
In office
Preceded by George Harris
Succeeded by Robert Keate
Governor of Saint Helena
In office
Preceded by Sir Edward Hay
Succeeded by Charles Patey
Personal details
Born 15 August 1801
Dresden, Saxony
Died 9 September 1875 (1875-09-10) (aged 74)
Exmouth, Devon, United Kingdom
Spouse(s) Clara Windsor (5 children)
Profession Naval officer, diplomat, colonial administrator

Sir Charles Elliot, KCB (15 August 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.[1]

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.

Early career

Elliot was born in Dresden, Saxony, on 15 August 1801[2] to Margaret and Hugh Elliot.[3][4] He was one of nine children.[5] His uncle was Scottish diplomat Gilbert Elliott, 1st Earl of Minto,[1] and Gilbert Elliott, 2nd Earl of Minto and George Eden were cousins.[4] He was educated in Reading, Berkshire, England.[3] On 26 March 1815, Elliot joined the Royal Navy as a first-class volunteer on board HMS Leviathan, which served in the Mediterranean Station.[6] In July 1816, he became a midshipman on board HMS Minden,[6] in which he served in the bombardment of Algiers against Barbary pirates in August 1816.[7] 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.[6]

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.[6]


After retiring from active military service, Elliot followed a career in the Foreign Office.[7] 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.[8] He was brought home to advise the government of administrative problems relating to the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.[3][7] 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.[9]


Elliot's residence at the San Francisco Green in Macao

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 Macao and Canton.[10] He was appointed Secretary in October 1834, Third Superintendent in January 1835,[11] and Second Superintendent in April 1835.[12] In 1836, he became Plenipotentiary and replaced Sir George Robinson as Chief Superintendent of British Trade.[13][14] Elliot wrote to Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston in December 1839, "No man entertains a deeper detestation of the disgrace and sin of this forced traffic on the coast of China. 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."[15]

Captain Charles Elliot

During the First Anglo-Chinese War, he was on board the Nemesis during most of the battles.[6] In January 1841, he negotiated terms with Chinese Imperial Commissioner Qishan in the Convention of Chuenpi. Elliot declared, among other terms, the cession of Hong Kong Island to the United Kingdom.[16] However, Palmerston recalled Elliot and, accusing him of disobedience and treating his instructions as "waste paper", dismissed him. Henry Pottinger was appointed to replace him as plenipotentiary in May 1841.[17] 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 Macao, with his family for England. As he embarked on the Atlanta, a Portuguese fort fired a thirteen gun salute.[18]

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."[19] 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.[20]

Later career

On 23 August 1842, Elliot arrived in the Republic of Texas, where he was chargé d'affaires and consul general until 1846.[21] He served as Governor of Bermuda (1846–54), Governor of Trinidad (1854–56), and Governor of Saint Helena (1863–69).[3] 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.[7][13]

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).[22] Elliot was made Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1856.[3] He died in retirement at Withycombe Raleigh, Exmouth, Devon, England, on 9 September 1875.[13][23] He is buried in the churchyard of St John-in-the-Wilderness, Exmouth. The weathered headstone inscription to his grave reads in worn lead lettering "To the memory of/Adm Sir Charles Elliot KCB/Born 15th August 1801/Died 9th September 1875/The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God".[24] This is the only known memorial to him anywhere in the world.[25]

Marriage and family

A portrait possibly of Elliot's wife, Clara, c. 1838[26]
Elliot's eldest child, Harriet

During Elliot's naval service in the West Indies, he met Clara Genevieve Windsor (1806–1885) in Haiti, where she was born and raised.[9] After marrying in 1828, they had two daughters and three sons:[27]

Elliot's wife accompanied him to Guiana from 1830 to 1833, and to China from 1834 to 1841 as well as to all of his subsequent postings around the world.[27] After ten years of widowhood, she died on 17 October 1885 aged 80 years at the home of her husband's nephew Capt (RN retired) Hugh Maximilian Elliot, The Bury, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.[34] She is buried at the Heath Lane Cemetery, Hemel Hempstead where a stone cross bears a worn inscription to her memory.[35]



  1. 1 2 Endacott 2005, p. 1
  2. Exmouth Museum Document Collection:Churchyard Monumental Inscriptions and Photographs St John-in-the-Wilderness, Exmouth
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Dod, Robert P. (1864). The Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage, of Great Britain and Ireland for 1864, Including All the Titled Classes. p. 251.
  4. 1 2 Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 4
  5. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 256
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 O'Byrne, William Richard (1849). "Wikisource link to Elliot, Charles". Wikisource link to A Naval Biographical Dictionary. John Murray. Wikisource.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Endacott 2005, p. 2
  8. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 5
  9. 1 2 Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 11
  10. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 1
  11. "Official Notification". The Canton Register. 8 (4): 13. 1835.
  12. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 261
  13. 1 2 3 Dictionary of National Biography (1889). Volume 17. p. 251.
  14. Hanes, William Travis; Sanello, Frank (2004). The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. Sourcebooks. p. 33. ISBN 1-4022-0149-4.
  15. Additional Papers Relating to China (1840). London: Printed by T. R. Harrison. p. 5.
  16. The Chinese Repository (1841). Volume 10. pp. 63–64.
  17. Le Pichon, Alain (2006). China Trade and Empire. Oxford University Press. pp. 39–40. ISBN 0-19-726337-2.
  18. Eitel, E. J. (1895). Europe in China: The History of Hongkong from the Beginning to the Year 1882. p. 177.
  19. Endacott 2005, p. 8
  20. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 225
  21. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 201
  22. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 204
  23. Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, General Register Office United Kingdom
  24. Exmouth Museum Document Collection; churchyard inscriptions and photographs St John-in-the-Wilderness, Exmouth.
  25. Hoe & Roebuck,1999, p. xix, Prologue
  26. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, pp. 24–25
  27. 1 2 Hoe & Roebuck 1999, pp. 257, 261–262
  28. Burke's British Peerage 2003, vol 2, p. 2709
  29. Marriage Register Bombay Presidency 1792-1948 India Office archives British Museum
  30. Genealogical Society of South Africa: memorial inscriptions of St Helena
  31. Burke's British Peerage 2003, vol 2, p. 2709 ;
  32. Burkes's British Peerage 2003, vol 2, p. 2709.
  33. Genealogical Society of South Africa; memorial inscriptions of St Helena
  34. Office of Censuses, Population and Surveys, General Register Office, United Kingdom
  35. Heath Lane Cemetery Register, Dacorum Borough Council, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire.
  36. Wordie, Jason (2002). Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong University Press. p. 63. ISBN 962-209-563-1.
  37. Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 134
  38. Wright, Richard N. J. (2000). The Chinese Steam Navy 1862–1945. Chatham Publishing. p. 120. ISBN 1-86176-144-9.
  39. "Port Elliot". The Sydney Morning Herald (13 November 2008). Accessed 22 December 2009.


Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Charles Elliot.
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir George Robinson
Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Pottinger
New office Administrator of Hong Kong
26 January 1841 – 12 August 1841
Succeeded by
Alexander Robert Johnston
as Acting Administrator
Preceded by
William Nelson Hutchinson (acting)
Governor of Bermuda
Succeeded by
William Hassell Eden (acting)
Preceded by
Arthur William Byles (acting)
Governor of Bermuda
Succeeded by
Montgomery Williams (acting)
Preceded by
L. Bourchier (acting)
Governor of Trinidad
Succeeded by
B. Brooks (acting)
Preceded by
Sir Edward Hay Drummond Hay
Governor of Saint Helena
Succeeded by
Charles George Edward Patey
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