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St Vincent, John Jervis, Earl Of

ST VINCENT, JOHN JERVIS, EARL OF (1735-1823), British admiral, was the second son of Swynfen Jervis, solicitor to the admiralty, and treasurer of Greenwich hospital. He was born at Meaford in Staffordshire on the 9th of January 1735, and entered the navy on the 4th of January 1749. He became lieutenant on the 19th of February 1755, and served in that rank till 1759, taking part in the conquest of Quebec. He was made commander of the " Scorpion " sloop in 1759, and postcaptain in 1 760. During the peace he commanded the " Alarm " 32 in the Mediterranean, and when he was put on half pay he travelled widely in Europe, taking professional notes everywhere. While the War of American Independence lasted, he commanded the " Fourroyant " (80) in the Channel, taking part in the battle of Ushant on the 27th of July 1778 (see KEPPEL, VISCOUNT) and in the various reliefs of Gibraltar. His most signal service was the capture of the French " Pegase " (74) after a long chase on the 1Qth of April 1782, for which he was made K.B. In 1783 he entered parliament as member for Launceston, and in the general election of 1784 as member for Yarmouth. In politics he was a strong Whig. On the 24th of September 1787 he attained flag rank, and was promoted vice-admiral in 1793. From 1793 till 1795 he was in the West Indies co-operating with the army in the conquest of the French islands. On his return he was promoted admiral. In November 1795 he took command in the Mediterranean, where he maintained the blockade of Toulon, and aided the allies of Great Britain in Italy.

But in 1796 a great change was produced by the progress of the French armies on shore and the alliance of Spain with France. The occupation of Italy by the French armies closed all the ports to his ships, and Malta was not yet in the possession of Great Britain. Then the addition of the Spanish fleet to the French altered the balance of strength in the Mediterranean. The Spaniards were very inefficient, and Jervis would have held his ground, if one of his subordinates had not taken the extraordinary course of returning to England, because he thought that the dangerous state of the country required that all its forces should be concentrated at home. He was therefore obliged to act on the instructions sent to him and to retire to the Atlantic, withdrawing the garrisons from Corsica and other places. His headquarters were now on the coast of Portugal, and his chief duty was to watch the Spanish fleet at Cadiz. On the 14th of February 1797 he gained a most complete victory against heavy odds (see ST VINCENT, BATTLE OF). The determination to fight, and the admirable discipline of his squadron, which was very largely the fruit of his own care in preparation, supply the best proof that he was a commander of a high order. For this victory, which came at a very critical time, he was made an earl and was granted a pension of 3000. His qualities as a disciplinarian were soon to be put to a severe test. In 1797 the grievances of the sailors, which were of old standing, and had led to many mutinies of single ships, came to a head in the great general mutinies at Spithead and the Nore. Similar movements took place on the coast of Ireland and at the Cape of Good Hope (see the article NAVY: History). The spirit spread to the fleet under St Vincent, and there was an undoubted danger that some outbreak would take place in his command. The peril was averted by his foresight and severity. He had always taken great care of the health of his men, and was as strict with the officers as with sailors. It must in justice be added that he was peculiarly fitted for the work. We have ample evidence from his contemporaries that he found a pleasure in insulting officers whom he disliked, as well as in hanging and flogging those of his men who offended him. He carried his strictness with his officers to an extent which aroused the actual hatred of many among them, and exasperated Sir John Orde (1751- 1824) into challenging him to fight a duel. Yet he cannot be denied the honour of having raised the discipline of the navy to a higher level than it had reached before; he was always ready to promote good officers, and the efficiency of the squadron with which Nelson won the battle of the Nile was largely due to him. His health broke down under the strain of long cruising, and in June 1709 he resigned his command.

When the earl's health was restored in the following year he took the command of the Channel fleet, into which he introduced his own rigid system of discipline to the bitter anger of the captains. But his method was fully justified by the fact that he was able to maintain the blockade of Brest for 121 days with his fleet. In 1801 he became first lord and held the office till Pitt returned to power in 1803. His administration is famous in the history of the navy, for he now applied himself to the very necessary task of reforming the corruptions of the dockyaids. Naturally he was fiercely attacked in and out of parliament. His peremptory character led him to do the right thing with the maximum of dictation at Whitehall as on the quarter-deck of his flagship. He also gave an opening to his critics by devoting himself so wholly to the reform of the dockyards that he neglected the preparation of the fleet for war. He would not recognize the possibility that the peace of Amiens would not last. Pitt made himself the mouthpiece of St Vincent's enemies, mainly because he considered him as a dangerous member of the party which was weakening the position of England in the face of Napoleon. When Pitt's second ministry was formed in 1803, St Vincent refused to take the command of the Channel fleet at his request. After Pitt's death he resumed the duty with the temporary rank of admiral of the fleet in 1806, but held it only till the following year. After 1810 he retired to his house at Rochetts in Essex. The rank of admiral of the fleet was conferred on him in 1821 on the coronation of George IV., and he died on the 14th of March 1823. Lord St Vincent married his cousin Martha Parker, who died childless in 1816. There is a monument to the earl in St Paul's Cathedral, and portraits of him at different periods of his life are numerous. The earldom granted to Jervis became extinct on his death, but a viscounty, created for him in 1801, passed by special remainder to Edward Jervis Ricketts (1767-1857), the second son of his sister Mary who had married William Henry Ricketts, of Longwood, Hampshire. The 2nd viscount took the name of Jervis, and the title is still held by his descendants.

See Life by J. S. Tucker (2 vols.), whose father had been the admiral's secretary (marred by excessive eulogy). The life by Captain Brenton is rather inaccurate. The Naval Career of Admiral John Markham contains an account of the reforms in the navy. His administrations produced a swarm of pamphlets. Many mentions of him will be found in the correspondence of Nelson.

(D. H.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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