uncomplimentary remark

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford (February 19, 1775 - March 10, 1804) was a British peer, naval officer and wastrel, best known for bedevilling George Vancouver during and after the latter's great voyage of exploration.

Early life

Pitt was born at Boconnoc, Cornwall, the only son of Thomas Pitt, 1st Baron Camelford and Anne Wilkinson (Lady Camelford). He had a sister, Anne. His early years were spent in Switzerland; he was later educated at Charterhouse School. In the autumn of 1781, while he was under seven years of age, his name was borne on the books of HMS Tobago, but he mostly likely entered the navy in actuality some years later. Pitt was on HMS Guardian in 1789-90 when she struck an ice field near the Cape of Good Hope; most of the crew deserted her, but Pitt and a few others brought her into Table Bay.

The Vancouver Expedition

On March 13, 1791, Pitt came aboard HMS Discovery to partake in the Vancouver Expedition of diplomacy and exploration. All officer berths having been filled, he signed on as an able seaman. A friend of the family, Lt. Zachary Mudge, was informally requested to watch over the unruly 16-year-old.

When the expedition reached Tahiti, Pitt was flogged for trading an item of ships' stores for the romantic favours of an island woman. Vancouver had given strict orders against romancing the natives, since such escapades had played a major role in the Mutiny on the Bounty; in addition, any captain must punish pilferage. Pitt was flogged again for unauthorized trade with Indians at Port Stewart and then again for breaking the binnacle glass while skylarking with another gentleman. Finally he was placed in irons for being found sleeping on watch, and served this sentence with common seamen.

No-one on the expedition could have known that Pitt was a member of the House of Lords, since his father had died on June 19, 1793, but his subsequent conduct leaves no doubt that he resented being disciplined by the low-born Vancouver. When HMS Daedelus left the expedition to return home in 1793, Vancouver sent Pitt with her, along with a letter to Evan Nepean complaining of his conduct.

Pitt left Daedelus in Hawai'i, found his way to Malacca and joined HMS Resistance as an able seaman on December 8, 1794. He was soon appointed acting lieutenant, but on November 24, 1795 was summarily discharged and left to find his own way home. He took passage in the Union, which was cast away on the coast of Ceylon. He eventually made his way to Europe, roistering and enjoying himself.

Meanwhile, Vancouver had completed his expedition and returned to England in 1795. Pitt's allies, including his cousin, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, treated Vancouver badly enough. However Pitt took a more direct role; on August 29, 1796 he sent Vancouver a letter heaping many insults on the head of his former captain, and challenging him to a duel. Vancouver gravely replied that he was unable to "in a private capacity to answer for his Public Conduct in his official duty" and offered instead to submit to formal examination by Flag Officers. Pitt chose instead to stalk Vancouver, ultimately assaulting him on a London streetcorner. The terms of their legal dispute required Vancouver to keep the peace, but nothing stopped his civilian brother Charles from interposing and giving Pitt blow for blow until onlookers restrained the attacker. Charges and counter-charges flew in the press, with the wealthy Camelford faction having the greater firepower until Vancouver, ailing from his long naval service, died.

Later life

Camelford was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on April 7, 1797 and was appointed acting commander of the aptly-named HMS Favorite over the head of First Lieutenant Charles Peterson, who was his senior. Peterson transferred to HMS Perdrix; one day these two ships were alone in the same port and the young commanders quarreled over rank. Peterson drew up his men to resist, but Camelford walked up to him, and on Peterson's thrice refusing to obey his orders, shot him dead. Camelford was court-martialed but, probably because England was currently in a panic over naval mutinies, acquitted.

In October 1798, Pitt was appointed to the HMS Charon. He decided to go to France to get French charts and was captured. He was eventually freed but the Admiralty disapproved his conduct. Angered, Pitt quit the Navy and returned to London.

There, Pitt seems not to have moderated his conduct. On May 17, 1799 he was fined 50 pounds for knocking a man downstairs in a quarrel. When he refused to illuminate his house to celebrate the peace with France, an angry mob smashed his darkened windows; he fought the mob until subdued.

Pitt's life came to an end when he quarreled with his friend Best over a report that Best had made an uncomplimentary remark about Camelford to a lady. They dueled; Camelford missed; Best didn't.

Pitt having no known heir, the title became extinct. The attitude of the public toward this violent and unrestrained man may be shown by the quip of the day. His will had directed that his body be buried in Switzerland at a place dear to his childhood, but the war delayed this. The body was put into storage and lost. This became the object of humor, with wits merrily quipping "What has become of Lord Camelford's body ?"


External links

  • Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford, illustrations in the National Portrait Gallery
  • The half-mad lord: Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford by Nikolai Tolstoy, ISBN 003047261X

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