John Elphinstone

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For other people named John Elphinstone, see John Elphinstone (disambiguation).

John Elphinstone, also known as John Elphinston (1722 – 1785, aged 63), was a senior British naval officer who worked closely with the Russian Navy after 1770, with approval from the Admiralty, during the period of naval reform under Russian Empress Catherine II. Together with the Scottish-born Samuel Greig, or Samuil Karlovich Greig (Самуил Карлович Грейг), as he was known in Russia, and Admiral Sir Charles Knowles, Elphinstone was a member of the naval staff, headed by Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov, which though it lacked naval experience, was able to defeat the Turkish fleet in Chesma Bay, near Chios Island, in the far western coast of Izmir, Turkey on 6 July 1770, at the Battle of Chesma.

Catherine II of Russia drew on the experience of British naval personnel through the networking in London of the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg from 1769 to 1771, Lieutenant-General Charles Cathcart, 9th Lord Cathcart. He was married to Jane Hamilton, but Jane's death in Saint Petersburg during an outbreak of the plague, prompted his return to Britain.

The vanity of Count Orlov, who having no experience at naval warfare, tried to minimise the importance of the support of the British admirals led him to resign his post, and he returned home at the end of the war against the Turks. Russian naval history, however, tells that he did not resign by his own choice but rather was put out of command after his ship-of-line, Svyatoslav, sat on the reef and was subsequently burned after six-days efforts to move her. The pilot for this unhappy and not approved by Orlov raid was British and Elphinstone's protegee, court-martialled and sentenced to death later, but somehow managed to escape and flee. Elphinstone himself never was sentenced, but was dismissed from the service and had to return home. His memoirs were understandably biased after that and met with harsh reprimand from Yekaterina The Great, who went even to calling him a madman.

Later, John Elphinstone held several further commands, including the 74-gun HMS Magnificent during Admiral Sir George Rodney's West Indian Campaign of 1779-80. There is no mention of his role in the catching of La Havane in 1762.


  • John Elphinston Papers Relating to the Russo-Turkish War, 1769-1850 (bulk 1769-1771): Finding Aid at Princeton University
  • "Scottish Influences in Russian History"
  • Bartlett, Roger and Hughes, Lindsey, Dr. (eds.). Russian Society and Culture and the Long Eighteenth Century: Esays in Honour of Anthony G. Cross. Paperback, Lit Verlag, 2005. ISBN 978-3-8258-7771-2; ISBN 3-8258-7771-X.
  • Anthony G. Cross. By the Banks of the Neva: Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the British in Eighteenth-Century Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. (Anthony Cross was Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of Cambridge from 1985 to 2004. Previously, he was Reader in Russian at the University of East Anglia and Roberts Professor of Russian at the University of Leeds. He was elected to the British Academy in 1989 and to the Russian Academy of the Humanities in 1996.)
  • Schop Soler, Ana María. Un siglo de relaciones diplomáticas y comerciales entre España y Rusia : 1733-1833 Madrid: Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Dirección General de Relaciones Culturales, D.L. (1984), 520 pages; 24 cm. In Spanish.
  • Schop Soler, Ana María. Las relaciones entre España y Rusia en la época de Fernando VII (1808-1833), Barcelona, Universidad de Barcelona, (1975). In Spanish.
  • Schop Soler, Ana María. Las relaciones entre España y Rusia en la época de Carlos IV Ana María, Schop Soler; prólogo de Carlos Seco Serrano. Editor: Barcelona: Cátedra de Historia General de España, 1971. xvii +196 pages; 21 cm. In Spanish. German Edition: Die Spanische-Russischen Beziehungen im 18. Jahrhundert. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, (1970).

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