John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

General John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, KG, PC (9 October 1756 – 24 September 1835) was a British soldier and politician. He is best known for commanding the disastrous Walcheren Campaign of 1809.

Chatham was the eldest son of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. He was two and a half years older than his famous brother William Pitt the Younger, the future prime minister.

The Earl of Chatham

Earl of Chatham (Colourised)
John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham
after John Hoppner, 1799
Lord President of the Council
In office
21 September 1796 – 30 July 1801
MonarchGeorge III
Prime MinisterWilliam Pitt the Younger
Preceded byThe Earl of Mansfield
Succeeded byThe Duke of Portland
Personal details
Born9 October 1756[1]
Hayes, Kent, England
Died24 September 1835 (aged 78)
London, England
AwardsOrder of the Garter
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/service British Army
Years of service1774–1835
Shield of arms of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, KG, PC
Shield of arms of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, KG, PC
Arms: Sable, a fess chequy argent and azure between three bezants.

Early career

Chatham joined the army as an ensign in the 47th Regiment of Foot on 14 March 1774.[1] He served as aide-de-camp to General Guy Carleton in Quebec, but resigned his commission in 1776 in protest against the war with America, to which his father was vehemently opposed.[2]:421-422 He only returned to the army in March 1778, this time as a lieutenant in the 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot.[2]:511 He was due to sail to Gibraltar as aide-de-camp to the lieutenant governor, Colonel Robert Boyd, when his father collapsed mid-speech in the House of Lords and died shortly after.

Having succeeded to the earldom, Chatham spent the following year in Gibraltar before transferring to the West Indies with a newly raised regiment, the 86th Foot. By the end of 1781 he was back in Britain and in 1782 obtained a captaincy in the London-based 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards. Although he was appointed colonel in October 1793 and major-general in February 1795, Chatham does not appear to have undertaken any military duties for nearly fifteen years after the end of the War of American Independence in 1783.[3]

Political career

For much of the 1780s and 1790s Chatham focused on a political career. His brother, William Pitt the Younger, became prime minister in December 1783, and in July 1788 offered Chatham the cabinet post of First Lord of the Admiralty. 'I have had my doubts whether the public may not think this too much like monopoly,' Pitt confessed, 'but that doubt is not sufficient to counterbalance the personal comfort which will result from it and the general advantage to the whole of our system'.[4] Pitt's cousin William Wyndham Grenville explained the reason for the appointment in more detail: Chatham would connect 'the department of the Admiralty with the rest of the administration, which has never yet been the case under Pitt's government, even in the smallest degree'.[5]

Chatham's tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty was not especially distinguished. Important reforms were shelved and Chatham soon acquired a reputation for disorganisation and laziness.[6] Contemporaries noted 'the inconvenience attending his laying in bed till the day is advanced, as officers &c were kept waiting'.[7] During the first major campaign of the French Revolutionary Wars Chatham's Admiralty was blamed in part for the failure of the 1793 siege of Dunkirk. Due to miscommunication between the Board of Ordnance and the Admiralty, the ships carrying siege weaponry and supplies for the besieging forces arrived two weeks late. Although in this instance Chatham does not seem to have been guilty of any neglect, his reputation was fatally compromised.[8] It was around this time that he earned his nickname of 'the late Lord Chatham' due to his unpunctuality.[9]

Chatham nevertheless hung onto his office until the following December, when Pitt finally responded to pressure and moved his brother to the less responsible post of Lord Privy Seal.[10] Two years later Chatham was promoted to Lord President of the Council.[11] Here he stayed, remaining in office after Pitt's resignation under Henry Addington, until a cabinet reshuffle in June 1801 moved him to the post of Master-General of the Ordnance.[12] He continued in this post until May 1810, with only a short interval out of office in 1806-7. He became the General Officer in Command of the Eastern District in 1806.[13]

Later military career and Walcheren

In 1798 Chatham returned to the army. He was appointed to command a brigade in the Helder campaign in 1799.[14] He was wounded by a spent ball at the Battle of Castricum on 6 October.[15] After this he served as commander of various military districts, but for some reason was passed over in favour of Arthur Wellesley for a command in the Peninsular War.[16]:27

In May 1809 the Secretary of State for War, Lord Castlereagh, offered Chatham the command of an amphibious assault aimed at destroying the French fleet and fortifications around Antwerp and the island of Walcheren.[17] Chatham commanded the largest expeditionary force Britain had yet fielded in the war.[18] Despite early success in taking the town of Flushing, the campaign was an unmitigated disaster. The army made slow headway and the French immediately withdrew their fleet to Antwerp, a tactic that should have been foreseen by the politicians, admirals and generals planning the campaign from the start.[19] While Chatham quarrelled with the naval commander, Sir Richard Strachan, as many as 8000 British troops succumbed to malaria.[16]:201

Chatham was recalled in disgrace. His appearance before a parliamentary enquiry did him no favours, particularly when it emerged that he had presented the King with a private memorandum which ought to have gone to the Secretary of State for War first.[20] Spencer Perceval's government withdrew its support from Chatham and he was forced to resign from the Ordnance in May 1810.

Chatham's political and military reputation was ruined. A poem circulated making fun of his inactivity and the lack of co-operation between the army and navy:

The Earl of Chatham, with his sword drawn,
Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;
Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,
Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham.[16]:217

Later life

Chatham did not serve actively again, but was promoted to full General in January 1812.[3] He continued to hold various ceremonial positions: he had been appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jersey and High Steward of Colchester in 1807, and in 1820 succeeded the Duke of Kent as Governor of Gibraltar.[1]

He died at his house in Charles Street, London, on 24 September 1835, aged 78.[21]


Chatham married The Hon. Mary Elizabeth Townshend, daughter of the 1st Baron Sydney, on 10 July 1783.[4]:126 The couple had no children. Lady Chatham died on 21 May 1821.[22] Chatham did not remarry and, following his death, the Earldom of Chatham became extinct.

Titles from birth to death

  • Master John Pitt (1756–1761)
  • The Honourable John Pitt (1761–1766)
  • Viscount Pitt (1766–1778)
  • The Right Honourable The Earl of Chatham (1778–1789)
  • The Right Honourable The Earl of Chatham, PC (1789–1790)
  • The Right Honourable The Earl of Chatham, KG, PC (1790–1835)


  1. ^ a b c Doorne, Christopher. "Pitt, John, second earl of Chatham (1756–1835)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/22330. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b Taylor and Pringle (1839). Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Vol. 4. John Murray.
  3. ^ a b Philippart, J. (1820). The royal military calendar. Vol. 1. T. Egerton. pp. 375–6.
  4. ^ a b Earl Stanhope, Philip Henry (1861). Life of the Rt. Hon. William Pitt. Vol. 1. J. Murray. p. 376.
  5. ^ Rodger, N.A.M. (2004). The command of the ocean. Allen Lane. p. 363.
  6. ^ Ehrman, John (1969). The Younger Pitt: the years of acclaim. Dutton. pp. 316–7.
  7. ^ Greig, James (1922). The diary of Joseph Farington. Vol. 1. Hutchinson & Co. p. 54.
  8. ^ Duffy, Michael (July 1976). "'A Particular Service': The British Government and the Dunkirk Expedition of 1793". English Historical Review. Oxford University Press. 91 (360): 529–54, 552–4. JSTOR 566625.
  9. ^ Wraxall, Sir Nathaniel (1836). Posthumous memoirs of my own time. Vol. 3. R. Bentley. p. 130.
  10. ^ Ashbourne, Lord (1898). Pitt: some chapters of his life and times. Longmans, Green & Co. pp. 172–3.
  11. ^ Hague, William (2004). William Pitt the Younger. HarperCollins. pp. 382–3.
  12. ^ Pellew, George (1847). The life of Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth. Vol. 1. J. Murray. p. 410.
  13. ^ "Lord Chatham's aides-de-camp at Walcheren, 1809". Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  14. ^ Ehrman, John (1996). The Younger Pitt: the consuming struggle. Constable. p. 253.
  15. ^ Earl Stanhope, Philip Henry (1862). The life of the Rt. Hon. William Pitt. Vol. 3. J. Murray. p. 198.
  16. ^ a b c Howard, Martin R. (2012). Walcheren 1809: the scandalous destruction of a British army. Pen and Sword.
  17. ^ Marquis of Londonderry, Charles William Vane (1851). Memoirs and correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd series. Vol. 6. William Shoberl. p. 256.
  18. ^ Howard, M. R (1999). "Walcheren 1809: a medical catastrophe". BMJ. 319 (7225): 1642–1645. doi:10.1136/bmj.319.7225.1642. ISSN 0959-8138.
  19. ^ Christie, Carl A. (1981). "The Royal Navy and the Walcheren campaign of 1809". In Symonds, Craig L. New Aspects of Naval History. Naval Institute Press. pp. 190–200.
  20. ^ Gray, Denis (1963). Spencer Perceval: the Evangelical prime minister. Manchester University Press. p. 299.
  21. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, volume 4 (1835), p. 546.
  22. ^ Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, volume IX (April–August 1821), p. 364.
Political offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Howe
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Earl Spencer
Preceded by
The Earl Spencer
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Earl of Westmorland
Preceded by
The Earl of Mansfield
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
The Duke of Portland
Military offices
Preceded by
The Marquess Cornwallis
Master-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by
The Earl of Moira
Preceded by
Lord George Lennox
Governor of Plymouth
Succeeded by
The Viscount Lake
Preceded by
The Earl of Moira
Master-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by
The Lord Mulgrave
Preceded by
George Morrison
Colonel of the 4th (The King's Own) Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
John Hodgson
Government offices
Preceded by
The Marquess Townshend
Governor of Jersey
Succeeded by
The Viscount Beresford
Preceded by
Sir George Don
Governor of Gibraltar
Succeeded by
Sir George Don
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
William Pitt
Earl of Chatham
Viscount Pitt

Preceded by
Hester Pitt
Baron Chatham
Andrew Snape Douglas

Sir Andrew Snape Douglas (8 October 1761 – 4 June 1797) was a distinguished Scottish sea captain in the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence and French Revolutionary Wars.

Cathedral Square, Gibraltar

Cathedral Square is a square within the city centre of the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. It is the location of the Church of England Cathedral of the Holy Trinity which stands to the eastern end of the square. Other features at the square include Duke of Kent House home to the Gibraltar Tourist Board, the Bristol Hotel a children's play park and Sir Herbert Miles Promenade, which is a boulevard lined with nine cannon overlooking the harbour.The open space here was once a street called Columbine Street which was named after lieutenant-general Francis Columbine who was a deputy governor. The Moorish looking Cathedral dates from 1839 when the Church of the Holy Trinity was redefined. It had been designed by a military engineer for John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham as a church in 1825.

Chatham Sound

Chatham Sound is a sound on the North Coast of British Columbia, Canada, bordering on Alaska, United States. It is located between Dundas and Stephens Islands and the Tsimpsean Peninsula near Prince Rupert. It is part of the Inside Passage and extends from Portland Inlet in the north to Porcher Island in the south.It may have been named in 1788 by British Captain Charles Duncan after John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, who was First Lord of the Admiralty at that time.

Chatham Strait

Chatham Strait, or Shee ya xhaak in the Tlingit language, is a narrow passage of the Alexander Archipelago in the southeastern region of the U.S. state of Alaska. It separates Chichagof Island and Baranof Island to its west from Admiralty Island and Kuiu Island on its east.

It is 150 miles (240 km) long and extends southward from the junction of Icy Strait and Lynn Canal to the open sea. The strait is deep and 5–16 km (3–10 miles) wide.

Earl of Chatham

Earl of Chatham, in the County of Kent, was a title in the Peerage of Great Britain. It was created in 1766 for William Pitt the Elder on his appointment as Lord Privy Seal, along with the subsidiary title Viscount Pitt, of Burton Pynsent in the County of Somerset, also in the Peerage of Great Britain.

The first Earl's wife, the former Lady Hester Grenville, daughter of the 1st Countess Temple, had earlier been created Baroness Chatham, of Chatham in the County of Kent, also in the Peerage of Great Britain, in 1761, as at that stage her husband had wished to remain a member of the House of Commons.

Their second son was William Pitt the Younger, who became the country's youngest Prime Minister in 1783, at the age of 24.

Their eldest son, John Pitt, inherited the earldom and viscountcy in 1778 and the barony in 1803. Upon his death in 1835, all three titles became extinct.

Elizabeth Townshend, Viscountess Sydney

Elizabeth Townshend, Viscountess Sydney (7 April 1736 – 1 May 1826) was the wife of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney.She was the daughter of Richard Powys, MP, and his wife, the former Lady Mary Brudenell, daughter of George Brudenell, 3rd Earl of Cardigan. Elizabeth's sister Mary married James Stopford, 2nd Earl of Courtown. Following their father's death in 1743, their mother remarried, her second husband being Thomas Bowlby, MP.Elizabeth herself married the viscount on 19 May 1760. They had twelve children in all, several of whom died in infancy. They included:

Hon. Georgiana Townshend (1761-1835)

Hon. Mary Elizabeth Townshend (1762-1821), who married General John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

John Thomas Townshend, 2nd Viscount Sydney of St. Leonards (1764-1831)

Albinia Ann (1765-1770)

Horatio George Townshend (1766-1773)

Frederick Roger (1770-1782)

Hon. Frances Townshend (1772-1854)

Hon. Henrietta Catherine Townshend (1773-1814) who married Charles Montagu-Scott, 4th Duke of Buccleuch, and had children

Sophia Charlotte (1777)

William Augustus Townshend (1776-1816)From 1791 to 1818, she was a Lady of the Bedchamber to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, queen consort of King George III of the United Kingdom.The viscount died in June 1800, aged 67, and was succeeded in his titles by his son, John Thomas. Viscountess Sydney died in May 1826, aged 90.

George Morrison (British Army officer)

General George Morrison (1703 – 26 November 1799) was Quartermaster-General to the Forces.

High Steward of Colchester

The High Steward of Colchester is a ceremonial office awarded by Colchester Borough Council, Essex, England.

The stewardship was established by royal charter of Charles I dated 9 July 1635. The charter, naming all the officials and councillors of the Council, stipulated that:

"henceforth for ever there may be and shall be in the borough a High Steward to advise and direct the Mayor and Commonality in the chief business touching that borough which High Steward shall continue in the office of High Steward during his natural life."The 1835 Municipal Corporation Act abolished most High Stewards and only allowed Colchester’s petition to retain a High Steward on condition that the wording of the Charter "...advise and direct..." be reduced to merely "...advise..."

The office was held by Professor Ivor Crewe until his resignation in July 2009 and remained vacant from 2009 to 2015.Following his defeat at the 2015 UK General Election, former Colchester MP, Sir Bob Russell, was appointed to the position, which he currently holds. He held the seat for the Liberal Democrats for 18 years, from 1997 to 2015.

John Hodgson (British Army officer)

General John Studholme Hodgson (1757 – 10 January 1846) was a British Army officer who served as colonel of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment of Foot.

Lieutenant Governor of Jersey

The Lieutenant Governor of Jersey is the representative of the British monarch in the Bailiwick of Jersey, a Crown dependency of the British Crown.

The Lieutenant Governor has his own flag in Jersey, the Union Flag defaced with the Bailiwick's coat of arms. The Lieutenant Governor's official residence (Government House) in St. Saviour was depicted on the Jersey £50 note 1989–2010.

List of Governors of Plymouth

The Governor of Plymouth was the military Captain or Governor of the Fortress of Plymouth. The Governorship was abolished in 1842. The Lieutenant Governorship was vested in the General Officer Commanding Western District from 1793 to 1903, and in the Officer Commanding Plymouth Garrison from 1903 until that post was abolished.

Louisa Stanhope, Countess Stanhope

Louisa Stanhope, Countess Stanhope (28 July 1758 – 7 March 1829), formerly Louisa Grenville, was the second wife of Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope. Some sources have suggested her to be the same person as the contemporary novelist Louisa Sidney Stanhope, but there is no evidence for this other than the fact that the countess is known to have been a great reader.Louisa was the daughter and sole heiress of Henry Grenville, a diplomat and politician, and his wife, the former Margaret Eleanor Banks. Grenville was a younger brother of Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple, and of George Grenville, a British prime minister. She married the future earl on 19 March 1781, less than a year after the death of his first wife, Hester, who had been Louisa's first cousin, her grandmother, Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham, being Henry Grenville's sister. There were three surviving daughters from Stanhope's first marriage, including Lady Hester Stanhope, who was later sent to live with her grandmother.Stanhope inherited the earldom in 1786, making his wife a countess.

The couple had three sons:

Philip Henry Stanhope, 4th Earl Stanhope (1781–1855), who inherited the earldom

Maj. Hon. Charles Banks Stanhope (1785-1809), who was aide-de-camp to Sir John Moore and was killed at the Battle of Corunna

Lt Col Hon. James Hamilton Stanhope (1788–1825) captain and lieutenant-colonel of the 1st Foot Guards. He married married Frederica-Louisa William, daughter of the 3rd Earl Mansfield, and had one childIn 1806 Joseph Farington recorded that "Lord Stanhopes behaviour to his wife Lady Stanhope has caused her to obtain a separate maintenance." He went on to state that the earl had settled £1500 a year on his wife in order to escape the threat of being openly accused of adultery. Mrs Walburga Lackner, who had been taken on by the countess to give music lessons to her children, was left money in the earl's will. Louisa died at her London home in Clarges Street, aged 70, after a long illness. John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, wrote to her eldest son on 10 March 1829 to express his condolences.

Master-General of the Ordnance

The Master-General of the Ordnance (MGO) was a very senior British military position from 1415 to 2013 (except 1855-1895 and 1939-1958) with some changes to the name, usually held by a serving general. The Master-General of the Ordnance was responsible for all British artillery, engineers, fortifications, military supplies, transport, field hospitals and much else, and was not subordinate to the commander-in chief of the British military. In March 2013 the holder was titled as "Director Land Capability and Transformation", but still sat on the Army Board as Master-General of the Ordnance; in September 2013 the post was eliminated.

Pitt family

The Pitt family were an English aristocratic family whose members included the Earls of Chatham, the Earls of Londonderry and the Barons Camelford. The family produced two British Prime Ministers: William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, and his son William Pitt the Younger.

Robert Hawgood Crew

Robert Hawgood Crew (23 August 1762 – 16 September 1839) was an English civil servant who served as Secretary to the Board of Ordnance during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. His department was a major contributor to the naval and military successes of the United Kingdom and its allies.

Sir William Curtis, 1st Baronet

Sir William Curtis (25 January 1752 – 18 January 1829) was an English businessman, banker and politician. Although he had a long political and business career (the two significantly intertwined), he was probably best known for the banquets he hosted.

Walcheren Campaign

The Walcheren Campaign was an unsuccessful British expedition to the Netherlands in 1809 intended to open another front in the Austrian Empire's struggle with France during the War of the Fifth Coalition. Around 40,000 soldiers, 15,000 horses together with field artillery and two siege trains crossed the North Sea and landed at Walcheren on 30 July. This was the largest British expedition of that year, larger than the army serving in the Peninsular War in Portugal. The Walcheren Campaign involved little fighting, but heavy losses from the sickness popularly dubbed "Walcheren Fever". Although more than 4,000 British troops died during the expedition, only 106 died in combat; the survivors withdrew on 9 December.

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