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Significant Scots
George Augustus Elliot


ELLIOT, GEORGE AUGUSTUS, lord Heathfield, a distinguished military officer, was the ninth son of Sir Gilbert Elliot of Stobbs in Roxburghshire, and born about the year 1718. He received his education, first at home under the charge of a family tutor, and afterwards at Leyden, where he acquired a perfect and colloquial knowledge of the French and German languages. Being destined for the army, he was placed at the military school of La Fere, in Picardy, which was the most celebrated in Europe, and conducted at that time by Vauban, the famous engineer. He afterwards served for some time as a volunteer in the Prussian army, which was then considered the best practical school of war. Returning in his seventeenth year, he was introduced by his father to lieutenant-colonel Peers of the 23d foot or royal Welsh Fusileers, which was then lying at Edinburgh. Sir Gilbert presented him as a youth anxious to bear arms for his king and country; and he accordingly entered the regiment as a volunteer. Having served for upwards of a twelvemonth, during which he displayed an uncommon zeal in his profession, he was removed to the engineer corps at Woolwich, and was making great progress in the studies requisite for that branch of service, when his uncle, colonel Elliot, introduced him as adjutant of the 2d troop of horse grenadiers. His exertions in this situation laid the foundation of a discipline, which afterwards rendered the two troops of horse grenadiers the finest corps of heavy cavalry in Europe. In the war, which ended in 1748, he served with his regiment in many actions—among the rest, the battle of Dettingen, in which he was wounded. After successively purchasing the captaincy, majority, and lieutenant colonelcy, of his regiment, he resigned his place in the engineer corps, notwithstanding that he had already studied gunnery and other matters connected with the service, to a degree which few have ever attained. He was now distinguished so highly for his zeal and acquirements, that George II. appointed him one of his aides-de-camp. In 1759, he quitted the second regiment of horse grenadiers, having been selected to raise, form, and discipline the first regiment of light horse, called after him, Elliot’s. This regiment was brought by him to such a pitch of activity and discipline, as to be held up as a pattern to all the other dragoon regiments raised for many years afterwards. Colonel Elliot, indeed, may be described as a perfect military enthusiast. His habits of life were as rigorous as those of a religious ascetic. His food was vegetables, his drink water. He neither indulged himself in animal food nor wine. He never slept more than four hours at a time, so that he was up later and earlier than moat other men. It was his constant endeavour to make his men as abstemious, hardy, and vigilant as himself; and it is stated that habit at last rendered them so, without their feeling it to be a hardship. It might have been expected, from such a character, that he would also be a stern and unscrupulous soldier; but the reverse was the case. He was sincerely anxious, by acts of humanity, to soften the horrors of war. In the expedition to the coast of France, which took place near the close of the seven years’ war, he had the command of the cavalry, with the rank of brigadier-general. In the memorable expedition against the Havannah, he was second in command. After a desperate siege of nearly two months, during which the British suffered dreadfully from the climate, the city, which was considered as the key to all the Spanish dominions in the West Indies, was taken by storm. The Spanish general, Lewis de Velasco, had displayed infinite firmness in his defence of this fortress, as well as the most devoted bravery at its conclusion, having fallen amidst heaps of slain, while vainly endeavouring to repel the final attack. Elliot appears to have been forcibly struck by the gallant conduct of Velasco, and to have resolved upon rendering it a model for his own conduct under similar circumstances. After the peace his regiment was reviewed by the king (George III.) in Hyde Park, when they presented to his majesty the standards taken from the enemy. The king, gratified with their high character, asked general Elliot what mark of his favour he could bestow on his regiment equal to their merits. He answered that his regiment would be proud, if his majesty should think that, by their services, they were entitled to the distinction of royals. It was accordingly made a royal regiment, with this flattering title – "The 15th or king’s royal regiment of light dragoons." At the same time the king expressed a desire to confer a mark of his favour on the brave general; but he declared that the honour and satisfaction of his majesty’s approbation were his best reward.

During the peace between 1763 and 1775, general Elliot served for a time as commander of the forces in Ireland. Being recalled from this difficult post on his own solicitation, he was, in an hour fortunate for his country, appointed the command of Gibraltar. In the ensuing war, which finally involved both the French and Spaniards, the latter instituted a most determined siege round his fortress, which lasted for three years, and was only unsuccessful through the extraordinary exertions, and, it may be added, the extraordinary qualifications of general Elliot. Both himself and his garrison, having been previously inured to every degree of abstinence and discipline, were fitted in a peculiar manner to endure the hardships of the siege, while at the same time military and engineering movements were governed by such a clear judgment and skill, as to bathe the utmost efforts of the enemy. Collected within himself, he in no instance destroyed by premature attacks, the labours which would cost the enemy time, patience, and expense to complete; he deliberately observed their approaches, and, with the keenest perception, seized on the proper moment in which to make his attack with success. He never spent his ammunition in useless parade, or in unimportant attacks. He never relaxed from his discipline by the appearance of security, nor hazarded the lives of his garrison by wild experiments. By a cool and temperate demeanour, with a mere handful of men, he maintained his station for three years of constant investment, in which all the powers of Spain were employed. All the eyes of Europe were upon his conduct, and his final triumph was universally allowed to be among the most brilliant military transactions of modern times.

On his return to England, general Elliot received the thanks of parliament, was honoured by his sovereign, June 14, 1787, with a peerage, under the title of lord Heathfield and baron Gibraltar, besides being elected a knight of the Bath. His lordship died at Aix-la-Chapelle, July 6, 1790, of a second stroke of palsy, while endeavouring to reach Gibraltar, where he was anxious to close his life. He left, by his wife Anne, daughter of Sir Francis Drake, a son who succeeded him in the peerage.


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