Elliot Warburton was the pen name of lawyer, writer and philanthropist Bartholomew Elliott George Warburton. The first child of Major George Warburton (circa 1786 – 1845) and Anne Maria Acton, Elliot was born in 1810 near the town of Tullamore, King’s County – now County Offaly – Ireland. His father was Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary for Aughrim in County Galway.
Elliot’s early education occurred under a private tutor at Wakefield in Yorkshire, England. On 8 Dec 1828, he entered Queen’s College at Cambridge, before transferring to Trinity College on 23 February 1830.
Shortly after relocating to Trinity, Warburton took part in the Cambridge Dramatic Club production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing alongside Monckton Milnes 1st Baron Houghton, Edward Ellice the younger, the poet Arthur Hallam and others. Baron Houghton along with AW Kinglake, author of Eothen, became lifelong friends of the young Warburton.
Warburton graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in May 1833 and received his Master’s degree in 1837. He was called to the Irish Bar the same year. However, he quit his practice as a barrister to devote his life to his love of travel and literature.
In 1843 Warburton undertook a grand tour through Greece, Turkey, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. He recounted his travels in the Dublin University Magazine in October 1843, January and February 1844 entitled Episodes of Eastern Travel. The magazine’s editor, Charles Lever, convinced Warburton to write a book based on the articles.
The Crescent and the Cross: or Romance and Realities of Eastern Travel was released in two volumes in 1844, despite being dated 1845. At the time there was great interest in the East in England, and the book’s spirited narrative of Warburton’s adventures abroad, together with picturesque sketches of life in the lands he visited ensured the success of his work. The Crescent and the Cross was so well received, that it reached a total of eighteen editions.
In 1847, Warburton wrote Zoë: an episode of the Greek War. The work was based on a story that Warburton had heard during his visit to the Greek Archipelago. He donated all proceeds from the sale of Zoë to the Great Famine that devastated Ireland between 1845 and 1849.
Warburton married Matilda Jane Grove (1819 – 1861) on 11 January 1848 at Saint James’s in Piccadilly. Sources vary as to the number of children the couple had. The Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 records that the Warburtons had two sons:
- George Hartopp Eliot Warburton – 1848 – 1922
- Piers Egerton Warburton – 1850 – 1927
Elliot Warburton lived a nomadic life. At the time of eldest son George’s birth (October 1848), he was in Devonshire, England. By January 1849, Warburton was residing in a Swiss château. The northern summer of 1851 was spent on the Tweed and Yarrow Rivers of Scotland.
In 1849, Warburton wrote Memoir of Prince Rupert and the Cavaliers. Enriched with original documents and eloquently written, the three-volume work was his most substantial. 1850 saw the release of the novel Reginald Hastings, set in the period of the English Civil Wars. It was followed a year later by another historical novel, Darien – or the Merchant Prince.
Warburton was also editor of The Gentleman’s Magazine and edited Robert Folkestone Williams’ Memoirs of Horace Walpole and his Contemporaries. He was planning a history on the poor of Ireland. On his last visit to his homeland, Warburton visited the slums and poorer neighbourhoods of Dublin.
In 1852, the Atlantic and Pacific Junction Company commissioned Warburton to explore the Isthmus of Darién (modern-day Panama) and establish amicable relations with the local Indigenous tribes on their behalf.
On 2 January 1852, Warburton was among fifty passengers who departed Southampton aboard the RMS Amazon bound for the Caribbean. Owned by the Royal Mails Steam Packet Company, the Amazon was making her maiden voyage.
At 12.40 on 4 January, having entered the Bay of Biscay, smoke was seen rising from a hatch near the forward of her five funnels. The Amazon’s Captain William Symons and his chief officer were quickly on deck and organised crew with buckets and a hose to bring the fire under control. Crew members moved hay away from the fire, but it was too late. All but two caught alight.
Captain Symons ordered a full halt, and boats be launched. Twenty-five were lowered in the mail boat. The Amazon was still underway, as the out of control fire made it impossible to reach the engine room. This, combined with heavy seas resulted in the mail boat being swamped. All twenty-five aboard were lost.
Symons turned the ship, putting the wind at her stern. While this helped to slow the spread of the flames towards the stern, it increased the speed of the Amazon and the difficulty in launching her lifeboats. During the attempt to lower the ship’s pinnace, it was swung around by the heavy conditions before the occupants were able to unfasten the forward tackle. All aboard were thrown into the water. A second cutter was also lowered but met the same fate. Only two of those aboard survived.
Only the starboard lifeboat and a dinghy were successfully launched, carrying sixteen and five people, respectively.
At 5.00am the magazine exploded, bringing down the mizzen mast and collapsing the deck. Within an hour, the Amazon sank 180 kilometres (110 miles) west-south-west of the Isles of Scilly.
Of the one hundred and sixty-two passengers and crew who had departed Southampton less than days earlier, one hundred and eleven were lost.
Among them was Bartholomew George Elliot Warburton. He was forty-one years of age.
The Works of Elliot Warburton:
- Zoë – an episode of the Greek War 1847.
- Reginald Hastings. London: Henry Colburn 1850.
- Darien – Or, The Merchant Prince. Henry Colburn 1852.
- The Crescent and the Cross: or Romance and Realities of Eastern Travel. London: Henry Colburn 1844
- Hochelaga: Or, England in the New World. London: Henry Colburn 1847. (with George Warburton)
- Memoirs of Prince Rupert and the Cavaliers. London: Richard Bentley 1849.
- Memoirs of Horace Walpole and his Contemporaries (editor). London: Colburn & Co. 1852.
- A Memoir of Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough and Monmouth. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans 1853. (Posthumous; with George Warburton).