View Full Version : The man who defended Gibraltar

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006, 03:31 PM
A Gibraltar stamp showing George Eliott leading the siege.

The man who defended Gibraltar

George Augustus Eliott, 1717-1790


Outside of Britain, more than 70 Scots have been honoured by being commemorated on the postage stamps of more than 100 nations. This is one in a series of portraits of some of these Scottish postage heroes.

SIEGES are not the most exciting of military activities, but it was a siege that got George Eliott on to a set of Gibraltar stamps in 1976.
To be fair, this wasn't any old siege; it was a super-siege. The Spaniards, having lost the Rock in 1704, were determined to get it back so, in 1779, aided by mercenaries from France, Italy, Belgium, Ireland and Malta, they set out to evict the British forces garrisoned there.
They might have done so but for the fact that two years earlier the defence of an increasingly rundown and neglected British outcrop was put in the hands of a 60-year-old Scot.

Had they known something of Eliott's background they would have been prepared for a long siege.

A second Gibraltar stamp showing Eliott preparing to defend British soil.

Eliott was born near Stob Castle in Roxburghshire in 1717. He was educated at the University of Leiden in Holland and La Fere in France. He began his army career and soon built up a track record on the battlefield. In the 1740s, he fought in the War of the Austrian Succession at Dettingen and Fontenoy alongside the Hanoverian king (with the names George and Augustus his sympathies were clear from birth). He may even have been back home in time for Culloden.

George II took a shine to the single-minded Borderer and asked him to set up Britain's first new-style mobile unit based on the Prussian hussars. As a leader, Eliott was into discipline. He was a teetotal vegetarian, preoccupied with health, fitness and exercise.

He was involved in the German campaign of 1759-1761 and crossed the Atlantic for the capture of Havana. On his return to Britain in 1763 he received 25,000 for his role in the successful operation and used the prize money to purchase an estate in Sussex.

By now a hardened veteran, who took warfare seriously, he was appointed Governor of Gibraltar in 1777. He was in this position when the 1779 Spanish force approached the rock with 100,000 men, 48 ships and 450 canons.

But Eliot knew exactly how to deal with the besieging forces. His band of defenders dug up road surfaces to prevent ricochets, took down the towers and even spires to minimise falling masonry.

He led by example, showing his men that he could live off four ounces of rice a day. He did not miss a trick, even if it meant offending the officers by banning their use of flour on their wigs or taking away their cabaret the military bands and putting them on siege duty. But he was not short of imagination either, using red-hot cannonballs to counter the Spaniards' floating batteries and ordering regular sorties, often led by him, to relieve the boredom of his troops.

After 43 months, the rather motley band of attackers went home - and so did Eliott to receive the plaudits of a grateful nation.

Later in 1787 whilst travelling back through Germany towards Gibraltar, Eliott took up residence in the Schloss Kalkofen. He died there in July 1790 apparently of a stroke brought on by drinking too much mineral water. Initially he was buried in Germany before being disinterred and reburied in Devon.

If you enjoyed reading this, you may want to read: Memories of a border battle far away (http://heritage.scotsman.com/people.cfm?id=1158112006)

Source (http://heritage.scotsman.com/people.cfm?id=1624092006)