ELPHINSTONE, Hon. George Keith (1746-1823).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



14 Feb. 1781 - 1790
1796 - 15 Dec. 1801

Family and Education

b. 7 Jan. 1746, 3rd surv. s. of Charles, 10th Lord Elphinstone [S] by Lady Clementina Fleming, da. and h. of John, 6th Earl of Wigtown [S] and niece of George Keith, 9th Earl Marischal [S]. m. (1) 10 Apr. 1787, Jane (d. 13 Dec. 1789), da. and coh. of William Mercer (formerly Nairn) of Aldie, Kinross, 1da., (2) 10 Jan. 1808, Hester Maria, da. and coh. of Henry Thrale, 1da.  K.B. 13 Apr. 1794; cr. Baron Keith of Stonehaven Marischal [I] 16 Mar. 1797 and [GB] 15 Dec. 1801; Baron Keith of Banheath (with sp. rem. to his elder da.) 17 Sept. 1803; Visct. Keith 1 June 1814.

Offices Held

Entered R.N. 1761; discharged 1766; acting lt. R.N. 1769; lt. 1770; cdr. 1772; capt. 1775; half-pay Jan. 1783-Jan. 1793; r.-adm. 1794; v.-adm. 1795; adm. 1801.

Sec., chamberlain and keeper of the signet of the principality of Scotland June 1783; treasurer and comptroller of household of Duke of Clarence 1789.


Elphinstone’s parents, though owning great estates in Stirlingshire, Dunbartonshire and Lanarkshire, were harassed by debt and could make little provision for their numerous children. ‘To acquire his education and business together and without expense’, Elphinstone entered the navy as an able seaman,1 serving until December 1766 when, discharged at his own request, he shipped as third mate on the Triton, East Indiaman, commanded by his elder brother William. He returned home in 1768, after profitable trading ventures in India and China, and obtained a commission in the fleet commanded by Sir John Lindsay bound for the East Indies. Invalided home from India in 1771, he was subsequently posted to the Mediterranean, where in April 1774 he was deputed to negotiate with the Dey of Algiers.2

While on leave in October 1774 he unsuccessfully contested Dunbartonshire, with the support of Sir Lawrence Dundas, against Sir Archibald Edmonstone. Before his petition was heard he was sent to sea, and despite the efforts of his agent and friends the House, on a division, refused an extension of the time limit for receiving it. After serving on convoy duty and in American waters, he was sent by Howe in 1778 to defend East Florida, and distinguished himself in the operations leading to the capture of Charleston in May 1780, after which his ship was ordered home.

During his absence his brother William, Sir Lawrence Dundas, and the Marquess of Graham had concerted plans to support his candidature for Dunbartonshire against the Argyll interest.3 A violent contest developed with Lord Frederick Campbell, and Elphinstone was returned on petition. He was then about to sail with a convoy for America, where at the end of 1781 Prince William Henry was placed in his care. In September 1782 Elphinstone fell ill and returned home.

Arriving in November 1782, he joined his brother-in-law William Adam in opposition to Shelburne and voted against the peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. He became a favourite of the Prince of Wales, who in June appointed him to succeed Sir John Gordon as his Scottish secretary. In December 1783 he followed his friends into opposition, but was a member of the St. Alban’s Tavern group favouring a union of parties. Henry Dundas believed that at the general election in 1784 Elphinstone would ‘certainly be turned out and a friend brought in’,4 but by agreement between his brother Lord Elphinstone, and Lord Graham, both Pittites, it was arranged that he should retain his seat for one Parliament only and thereafter withdraw in favour of a Graham candidate.

His only recorded speech in this Parliament was on 11 June 1788 when, during the trial of Warren Hastings, he protested against the closing of certain passages giving access to Westminster Hall.5His close connexion with the royal princes was confirmed in June 1789 when his former shipmate William, Duke of Clarence, appointed him comptroller of his household.

He died 10 Mar. 1823.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Sir W. Fraser, Elphinstone Fam. Bk. i. 270.
  • 2. For his naval career see Keith Pprs. (Navy Rec. Soc.) and Alex. Allardyce, Mems. of Elphinstone.
  • 3. Duke of Argyll, Intimate Society Letters of 18th Cent. ii. 438.
  • 4. Laprade, 100.
  • 5. Stockdale, xv. 169, 170.