Charles B. Elliott, first general manager of the Cape Government Railways, was the son of Reverend William Elliott* and his wife Georgina Johanna Caldwell. He was educated at the Boys' Mission School in London and then at the South African College, Cape Town, during 1857-1858. In February the next year he began his career in the Cape Civil Service as a clerk to Mr Justice Cloete and for the next sixteen years filled various administrative positions of increasing seniority, including chief clerk to the attorney-general and acting resident magistrate of Cape Town. Meanwhile he continued his studies and in 1863 obtained the First Class Certificate in Literature and Science of the Board of Public Examiners - a qualification meant to be equivalent to a masters degree. He became a member of this board, and one of its three public examiners in science, in 1869, serving also as its secretary from 1871. In 1873 the functions of the board were taken over by the newly established University of the Cape of Good Hope - an examining institution and the only university in southern Africa for many years. Elliott was appointed by the governor of the Cape Colony as a member of the university's first council, serving in this position from 1873 to 1878. In 1875 he was awarded the degree Bachelor of Laws (LLB) by the university and that same year became an advocate of the Supreme Court.
During the period 1875-1880 Elliott served as one of the university's examiners and set papers for the BA examination in geometry, algebra, arithmetic, light and heat, and chemistry. His most advanced contribution was as an examiner in trigonometry and geometry for H.J.L. du Toit*, the first candidate for the university's MA degree in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, in 1875.
After a brief spell as acting superintendent-general of education in 1876 Elliott was appointed assistant commissioner of crown lands and public works, in which position he was in charge of the Department of Public Works. In a different context he compiled a Report on the mortality experience of the Mutual Life Insurance Society of the Cape of Good Hope, during the period from 27th May, 1845, to 31st December, 1879, which was published in Cape Town in 1881. In December 1880 he was appointed as the first General Manager of the Cape Government Railways. During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) he reorganised railway services to facilitate British troop movements and as a result was honoured as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1901. He retired that same year, but for the next two years was an actuary to the South African Mutual Insurance Society. He also served as special railway commissioner from 1901and visited Britain and the United States during 1901-1902. In 1865 he married Julia Charlotte Horne, who died in 1895. In 1905 he married Ida Gertrude Brune. Two of his sons, G.G. Elliott* and H.H. Elliott*, became engineers on the railways.