George Keith Elphinstone, Lord Keith (1746-1823) was a Scottish naval officer who entered the navy as a penurious midshipman towards the end of the Seven Years War. He had a long career at sea, during which he missed taking part in any major battle, but held major commands throughout the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (except 1807-1812).
He is chiefly known for his skill in commanding very large fleets, often spread over a very wide area, and for the consequent prize money which made him the richest naval officer of his day. He also gained a reputation for being very keen on acquring it. These three volumes only represent a small fraction of the documents in Keith’s very large personal collection of letter and order books and loose documents in the National Maritime Museum, which occupies 124 foot of shelf space.
The first document in this volume is dated 1771, and the first half covers Keith’s career as a promising captain in the American Revolutionary War. He took part in the operations off Florida in 1778 and at the capture of Charleston in 1780 in which he distinguished himself by his navigational skill, and by good relations with the army, which was to mark the rest of his career.
The second part of the volume deals with Keith’s role in the occupation of Toulon in 1793, a small section of Lord Howe’s tactical memoranda in 1793-4, but the greater part is devoted to the operation which first bought Keith to the attention of the British public, the capture of the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch in 1795-6.