Elliot, Charles (1801–1875)

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1995

Charles Elliot, British knight, admiral, and chargé d'affaires in Texas, the son of Hugh and Margaret Elliot, was born in 1801, probably in Dresden, Saxony, where his father was serving as British minister. In 1815 he entered the Royal Navy for service in the East Indies and on the African coast. He retired from the navy in 1828 to enter the colonial service. In 1830 he was appointed protector of slaves in Guiana, where he became an abolitionist. In 1834 he became secretary to trade commissioners in China, and after 1835 was made trade superintendent and plenipotentiary at Canton. He was thus in charge of English trade relations at a time when Chinese authorities began efforts to stop the illegal opium traffic conducted by British merchants and was largely responsible for the outbreak of the Opium War in 1840. After attacking Chinese forts in January 1841 he and the Chinese plenipotentiary signed an agreement, the Convention of Chuenpee, that proved unacceptable to both governments. After being censured for inadequately representing British mercantile interests, Elliot was relieved of his duties by Henry Pottinger, but not before further hostilities and a threatened assault forced Chinese authorities to ransom the city of Canton. Elliot was reassigned and, on August 6, 1842, arrived at Galveston, Texas, as British chargé d'affaires of the Republic of Texas. In this post Elliot advocated the abolition of slavery in Texas, worked for the establishment of free trade, and emphasized the importance of securing peace with Mexico. He became a personal and trusted friend of Sam Houston and Anson Jones. Supposedly at the behest of Houston, he worked with the British minister in Mexico City for an armistice between Texas and Mexico in 1843 and was instrumental in securing the release of some of the prisoners of the Mier expedition.

Because of the advantage to Great Britain of a free and independent Texas, Elliot worked actively against the annexation of Texas to the United States. In 1845, with the approval of President Jones, he went to Mexico to secure a treaty guaranteeing Texas independence on condition that Texas not be annexed. He brought the treaty back to Texas, but Texans voted for annexation in preference to independence recognized by Mexico and guaranteed by England. Elliot, called "the man in the white hat" in the press, was the subject of much newspaper comment during the annexation controversy. He was ordered to return to England after the formalities of annexation were concluded.

He was governor of Bermuda from 1846 to 1854, of Trinidad from 1854 to 1856, and of St. Helena from 1863 to 1869. In 1856 he was nominated for a civil KCB, and his honorary promotions in the navy took him to the rank of admiral in September 1865. Elliot was married and had at least one child. He died at Witteycombe, Exeter, England, on September 9, 1875.

Ephraim Douglass Adams, British Interests and Activities in Texas, 1836–1846 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1910). Gertrude Clagette Blake, Charles Elliot, R.N. (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1953). Gertrude Clagette Blake, Charles Elliot, R.N., 1801–1875: A Servant of Britain Overseas (London: Cleaver-Hume Press, 1960). Dictionary of National Biography. Herbert Gambrell, Anson Jones: The Last President of Texas (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1948). Frederick Merk, Slavery and the Annexation of Texas (New York: Knopf, 1972). Justin Harvey Smith, The Annexation of Texas (New York: Baker and Taylor, 1911; 2d ed., New York: Macmillan, 1919; 3d ed., New York: Barnes and Noble, 1941; 4th ed., New York: AMS Press, 1971). Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).
  • Peoples
  • English
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Military
  • Soldiers
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Elliot, Charles,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/elliot-charles.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995