Charles Elphinstone Fleeming

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Charles Elphinstone Fleeming
George Engelheart painting of George Elphinstone Fleeming.jpg
Charles Elphinstone Fleeming
Born18 June 1774
Died30 October 1840 (1840-10-31) (aged 66)
AllegianceUnited Kingdom of
Great Britain and Ireland
Service/branchRoyal Navy
RankAdmiral of the Blue
Commands heldHMS Tisiphone
HMS Tartar
HMS Diomede
HMS Egyptienne
HMS Revenge
HMS Bulwark
HMS Standard
HMS San Juan
HMS Elizabeth
West Indies Station
Nore Command
Portsmouth Command
Battles/warsBattle of Cape Finisterre

Admiral Charles Elphinstone Fleeming (18 June 1774 – 30 October 1840) was an officer of the Royal Navy who served during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He commanded a succession of smaller vessels during the early years of the wars, achieving some successes against French cruisers, merchants and privateers, before losing his ship on one operation. Combining his naval career with periods of political activity he took part in only one major fleet operation, the Battle of Cape Finisterre in 1805, but spent several years as a Member of Parliament. Connected by birth to a major noble landowning family several of his children went on to inherit or marry into titles and rank in the British peerage. Charles himself died an Admiral of the Blue with extensive Scottish estates.

Family and early life[edit]

Born Charles Elphinstone in 1774, he was the son of John Elphinstone, the 11th Lord Elphinstone, and his wife Anne Ruthven.[1] He entered the Navy and by March 1794 and the age of 20 had reached the rank of commander aboard the sloop HMS Tisiphone.[1][2] He moved aboard the 26-gun HMS Tartar on 7 October 1795 and commanded her until her loss in 1797 while attempting to cut some French merchantmen out under the batteries at Puerto Plata, on Saint-Domingue.[1][3] He was then appointed to the 50-gun HMS Diomede in March 1798 which he commanded initially in the North Sea, but departing for the Cape of Good Hope on 6 December that year.[1][4] He spent the rest of the war on the East Indies station, stepping down in December 1802 following the Peace of Amiens.[1][4] He briefly entered politics during this period, having been elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of Stirlingshire on 13 January 1802.[1] He had assumed the name Fleeming on the death of his grandmother, the only surviving child of John, 6th Earl of Wigtoun, and his succeeding to the family's estates.[1]

Napoleonic Wars[edit]

With the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars in 1803 Elphinstone returned to active service, commanding the 40-gun HMS Egyptienne from April that year.[1][5] While Fleeming was in command the Egyptienne took the 16-gun Epervier on 27 July, and the 14-gun privateer Chiffonette on 30 August 1803.[5] Serving aboard the Egyptienne as a midshipman during this time was future-Admiral Charles John Napier. The two were on bad terms, that would later lead to Napier challenging Fleeming to a duel.[6] The two met at the appointed time, but were reconciled by their seconds, and did not fight. The two were not fully reconciled as friends though until some years later.[6] Fleeming and the Egyptienne supported Vice-Admiral Robert Calder's fleet at the Battle of Cape Finisterre on 22 July 1805.[1][7]

Egyptienne did not participate in the fighting herself, but while reconnoitring in advance of the fleet she captured a Danish merchant brig. After the battle she took the disabled Spanish 74-gun Firme into tow. After the battle, Admiral Robert Calder requested a court-martial to review his decision not to pursue the enemy fleet after the engagement. Fleeming was one of the witnesses. The court martial ruled that Calder's failure to pursue was an error of judgement, not a manifestation of cowardice, and severely reprimanded him.[8]

On 2 October Egyptienne captured the French brig-sloop Acteon, under Capitaine de Frégate Depoge, off Rochefort. She was armed with 16 6-pounder guns and had a crew of 126 men.[9] The navy took Acteon into service under her own name.[10] On 20 November Egyptienne captured the 12-gun Spanish letter of marque Paulina. The chase took nine hours, during which the Paulina threw eight of her guns overboard. She was out of Pasajes (Spain), on her way to cruise the West Indies.[11]

By late December Fleeming had left Egyptienne and was at Calder's court-martial. Fleeming then moved to command HMS Revenge in 1806, HMS Bulwark with the Mediterranean Fleet in 1807, and HMS Standard in 1811.[1] He was appointed a Colonel of Royal Marines on 12 August 1812, and reached flag rank with a promotion to rear-admiral on 4 December 1814.[1] He was appointed commander-in-chief at Gibraltar in 1814[1] and became the first Master of the Royal Calpe Hunt.[12]

Later life[edit]

Fleeming continued to rise through the ranks after the end of the wars with France. He was made a vice-admiral on 19 July 1821, was in command at the West Indies by 1828, and became an admiral in 1837.[1][13] He had been re-elected three times as MP for Stirlingshire before his naval career intervened, but returned to politics during his retirement from active service, regaining the seat in 1832 and holding it until 1835. Fleeming married 16-year-old Doña Cataline Paulina Alesandro de Jiminez in June 1816 in the Cathedral of Santa Cruz in Cadiz; he was 42. The marriage produced a son, John, who was born on 11 December 1819, and four daughters.[1] One daughter, Clementina, married Cornwallis Maude, 1st Earl de Montalt and became a celebrated photographer.[14] John meanwhile inherited the title of Lord Elphinstone in 1860 after the death without issue of John Elphinstone, 13th Lord Elphinstone.[15] Another daughter, Anne Elizabeth, who was born off Venezuela aboard Fleeming's flagship, HMS Barham in 1828, married William Cunningham Bontine of Gartmore and Ardoch, and had three sons, the eldest of which was the author, adventurer and politician Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham.

Fleeming was Commander-in-Chief, West Indies from 1828 to 1829,[16] Commander-in-Chief, The Nore from 1834 to 1837[17] and briefly Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth from April to November 1839.[18] He succeeded Sir Thomas Hardy as Governor of Greenwich Hospital in September 1839, holding the position until his death from influenza at Leamington on 30 October 1840 at the age of 66.[1] He was buried in Leamington parish church on 7 November.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Burke. The Annual Register. p. 173.
  2. ^ Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792. p. 359.
  3. ^ Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1793–1817. p. 219.
  4. ^ a b Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1793–1817. p. 110.
  5. ^ a b Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail 1793–1817. p. 124.
  6. ^ a b Elers Napier. The Life and Correspondence of Admiral Sir Charles Napier. pp. 112–3.
  7. ^ Fremont-Barnes. The Royal Navy: 1793-1815. p. 84.
  8. ^ Duckworth (1805).
  9. ^ The European Magazine, and London Review, p.468.
  10. ^ Colledge (2006), p.3.
  11. ^ The European magazine, and London Review, Vol. 49, p.73.
  12. ^ I. E. A. Dolby, ed. (1863). The Journal of the Household brigade for the year 1862-80. W. Clowes and Sons. pp. 93–95. Retrieved 26 December 2012.
  13. ^ Clay. The Papers of Henry Clay. p. 973.
  14. ^ Hannavy. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Photography. p. 641.
  15. ^ Lodge. The Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. p. 229.
  16. ^ Cundall, p. xx
  17. ^ William Loney RN
  18. ^ History in Portsmouth Archived 27 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine


  • Burke, Edmund (1842). The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year. 83. Longmans, Green.
  • Cundall, Frank (1915). Historic Jamaica. West India Committee.
  • Hannavy, John (2008). Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Photography. CRC Press. ISBN 0-415-97235-3.
  • Clay, Henry (1982). The Papers of Henry Clay. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-0056-9.
  • Fremont-Barnes, Gregory (2007). The Royal Navy: 1793-1815. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-138-0.
  • Elers Napier, Edward Hungerford D (1862). The Life and Correspondence of Admiral Sir Charles Napier. Hurst and Blackett.
  • Lodge, Edmund (1861). The Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. London: Hurst and Blackett.
  • Winfield, Rif (2007). British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1-86176-295-X.
  • Winfield, Rif (2007). British Warships of the Age of Sail 1794–1817: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1-86176-246-1.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir George Keith Elphinstone
Member of Parliament for Stirlingshire
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Edmonstone
Preceded by
William Ramsay Ramsay
Member of Parliament for Stirlingshire
Succeeded by
William Forbes
Military offices
Preceded by
Lawrence Halsted
Commander-in-Chief, West Indies
Succeeded by
Post merged with
C-in-C, North American Station
Preceded by
Sir Richard King
Commander-in-Chief, The Nore
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Otway
Preceded by
Sir Philip Durham
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth
April 1839 – November 1839
Succeeded by
Sir Edward Codrington