Thomas Williams (Royal Navy officer)

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Sir Thomas Williams
Bornc. 1761/62
Died8 October 1841
Burwood House, Weybridge, Surrey
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Service/branch Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
Years of service1768 to 1814
Rank Admiral
Commands held Nore Command
Portsmouth Command
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War
Battle of Sullivan's Island
Battle of St. Lucia
Battle of Grenada
Battle of Cape Henry
French Revolutionary War
Action of 8 June 1796
Napoleonic Wars
Awards Knight Bachelor, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

Admiral Sir Thomas Williams GCB (c. 1761/62 8 October 1841) was a senior British Royal Navy officer of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, who served in numerous theatres during the American Revolutionary War, French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. As a young officer he fought at a number of battles in the Caribbean and as a frigate captain he was knighted for his actions at the Action of 8 June 1796 in which two French frigates were captured without a single man killed or wounded on Williams' ship HMS Unicorn. Later in his career, Williams commanded squadrons blockading the European coast and assisting the supply of the British Army during the Peninsula War.

Admiral (Royal Navy) senior rank of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom

Admiral is a senior rank of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, which equates to the NATO rank code OF-9, outranked only by the rank of admiral of the fleet. Royal Navy officers holding the ranks of rear admiral, vice admiral and admiral of the fleet are sometimes considered generically to be admirals. The rank of admiral is currently the highest rank to which a serving officer in the Royal Navy can be promoted, admiral of the fleet being in abeyance except for honorary promotions of retired officers and members of the Royal Family.

Order of the Bath series of awards of an order of chivalry of the United Kingdom

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as "Knights of the Bath". George I "erected the Knights of the Bath into a regular Military Order". He did not revive the Order of the Bath, since it had never previously existed as an Order, in the sense of a body of knights who were governed by a set of statutes and whose numbers were replenished when vacancies occurred.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.



Williams was born in 1761 or 1762, the son of Naval Captain William Williams. Aged only 7, Thomas Williams was entered as a servant on his father's ship HMS Peggy, although it is likely that he did not spend much time aboard. He is reported to have followed his father through various commands (although many of these commissions were on paper only) until 1776, when he was certainly present at the Battle of Sullivan's Island, aboard the brig HMS Active. The following year he moved to HMS Prince of Wales, flagship of Rear-Admiral Samuel Barrington in the Caribbean. Prince of Wales was subsequently engaged at the Battle of St. Lucia in 1778 and the Battle of Grenada in 1779. Having gained the requisite seniority, Williams was promoted to lieutenant in December 1779 and served on HMS America, part of the fleet that captured a Spanish convoy from Caracas in 1780. Returning briefly to Britain, Williams returned to the Americas the following year with Vice-Admiral Marriott Arbuthnot and fought at the Battle of Cape Henry. [1]

Battle of Sullivans Island Battle of the American Revolutionary War

The Battle of Sullivan's Island or the Battle of Fort Sullivan was fought on June 28, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. It took place near Charleston, South Carolina, during the first British attempt to capture the city from American forces. It is also sometimes referred to as the First Siege of Charleston, owing to a more successful British siege in 1780.

Brig sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts

A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and maneuverable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Brigs fell out of use with the arrival of the steam ship because they required a relatively large crew for their small size and were difficult to sail into the wind. Their rigging differs from that of a brigantine which has a gaff-rigged mainsail, while a brig has a square mainsail with an additional gaff-rigged spanker behind the mainsail.

HMS <i>Prince of Wales</i> (1765)

HMS Prince of Wales was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched on 4 June 1765 at Milford Haven. She was part of the Ramillies class of ships of the line designed by Sir Thomas Slade.

The same year, Williams became first lieutenant and temporary commander of the frigate HMS Assurance, becoming a commander in 1783 in charge of HMS Rhinoceros. In reserve from 1784, Williams returned to service in command of HMS Otter in 1789, becoming a post captain in November 1790 and taking command of the frigate HMS Lizard, followed shortly afterwards by HMS Daedalus. Operating in the North Sea, Williams was commended with his service during the winter of 1794 and moved to HMS Unicorn, operating from Cork in Ireland. In June 1796, Unicorn and another frigate encountered two French frigates: the French ships divided and the British ships followed them, Unicorn chasing and engaging the Tribune. After a running fight, Tribune was captured, Williams achieving his victory without a single casualty. For his services in the action, Williams was knighted by King George III. During the winter of 1796, Unicorn formed part the squadron operating against the French Expédition d'Irlande and was present at the capture of the transport Ville de Lorient. [1]

Frigate Type of warship

A frigate is a type of warship, having various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.

HMS <i>Lizard</i> (1757)

HMS Lizard was a 28-gun Coventry-class sixth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy, in service from 1757 to 1828. Named after the Lizard, a peninsula in southern Cornwall, she was a broad-beamed and sturdy vessel designed for lengthy periods at sea. Her crewing complement was 200 and, when fully equipped, she was armed with 24 nine-pounder cannons, supported by four three-pounders and twelve ​12-pounder swivel guns. Despite her sturdy build, she was plagued with maintenance problems and had to be repeatedly removed from service for repair.

HMS Daedalus was a 32-gun fifth rate frigate of the Royal Navy, launched in 1780 from the yards of John Fisher, of Liverpool. She went on to serve in the American War of Independence, as well as the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

In March 1797, Williams became commander of the new frigate HMS Endymion and in October joined the North Sea fleet with orders to pursue the scattered Dutch ships in the aftermath of the Battle of Camperdown. With hours, Endymion encountered the ship of the line Brutus close inshore, but the protected anchorage prevented Williams from successfully attacking the Dutch ship and she was able to escape. For the next three years, Williams was employed off Ireland and on convoy to the island of St Helena. In 1801, Williams took command of the 74-gun third-rate ship of the line HMS Vanguard) and operated in the Baltic Sea and off Cadiz. In 1804 he moved to HMS Neptune and in 1805 commanded a unit of Sea Fencibles at Gosport, returning to Neptune in 1807. In 1809, Williams was promoted to rear-admiral and sailed in HMS Venerable and HMS Hannibal in the Channel Fleet and then at Lisbon. In 1811 he returned to Britain and took command of HMS Royal George and became Commander-in-Chief, The Nore. He remained in that position until 1814, retiring as a vice-admiral and establishing the Naval Female School as his final act, donating £1,000 to the school's endowment (the equivalent of £68,700 as of 2019). [2] [1]

HMS <i>Endymion</i> (1797) ship

HMS Endymion was a 40-gun fifth rate that served in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and during the First Opium War. She was built to the lines of the French prize Pomone captured in 1794. Due to her exceptional handling and sailing properties, the Severn class frigates were built to her lines, although the gunports were rearranged to mount an extra pair of guns per side, the ships were made of softwood and were not built until nearly the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Battle of Camperdown major naval action fought on 11 October 1797

The Battle of Camperdown was a major naval action fought on 11 October 1797, between the British North Sea Fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan and a Batavian Navy (Dutch) fleet under Vice-Admiral Jan de Winter. The battle was the most significant action between British and Dutch forces during the French Revolutionary Wars and resulted in a complete victory for the British, who captured eleven Dutch ships without losing any of their own. In 1795, the Dutch Republic had been overrun by the army of the French Republic and had been reorganised into the Batavian Republic, a French client state. In early 1797, after the French Atlantic Fleet had suffered heavy losses in a disastrous winter campaign, the Dutch fleet was ordered to reinforce the French at Brest. The rendezvous never occurred; the continental allies failed to capitalise on the Spithead and Nore mutinies that paralysed the British Channel forces and North Sea fleets during the spring of 1797.

Third-rate type of ship of the line

In the rating system of the British Royal Navy, a third rate was a ship of the line which from the 1720s mounted between 64 and 80 guns, typically built with two gun decks. Years of experience proved that the third rate ships embodied the best compromise between sailing ability, firepower, and cost. So, while first rates and second rates were both larger and more powerful, the third-rate ships were in a real sense the optimal configuration.

In his personal life, Williams was married three times. First he married in 1792 Jane Cooper, who died in a carriage accident in 1798 on the Isle of Wight. (Jane Cooper was a cousin of the novelist Jane Austen). In 1800 he married secondly a Miss Whapshare, who died in 1824. He married thirdly in April 1825 Mary Anne Mallory. It is said he re-married as he had had such a happy first marriage.

Isle of Wight County and island of England

The Isle of Wight is a county and the largest and second-most populous island in England. It is in the English Channel, between 2 and 5 miles off the coast of Hampshire, separated by the Solent. The island has resorts that have been holiday destinations since Victorian times, and is known for its mild climate, coastal scenery, and verdant landscape of fields, downland and chines.

Jane Austen English novelist

Jane Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen's plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism. Her use of biting irony, along with her realism, humour, and social commentary, have long earned her acclaim among critics, scholars, and popular audiences alike.

During his retirement, Williams lived at Burwood House near Weybridge, Surrey and was promoted to admiral and advanced to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. He held the post of Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth from 1833 to 1836 [3] and died in October 1841. [1]

Weybridge town in the Elmbridge district of Surrey, England

Weybridge is a town by the River Wey in the Elmbridge district of Surrey. It is bounded to the north by the River Thames at the mouth of the Wey, from which it gets its name. It is an outlying suburban town within the Greater London Urban Area, situated 7 miles northeast of Woking and 16 miles southwest of central London. Real estate prices are well above the national average: as of 2008, six of the ten most expensive streets in South East England were in Weybridge.

Surrey County of England

Surrey is a county in South East England which borders Kent to the east, West Sussex to the south, Hampshire to the west, Berkshire to the northwest, and Greater London to the northeast.

Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth former operational commander of the Royal Navy

The Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth was a senior commander of the Royal Navy for hundreds of years. Portsmouth Command was a name given to the units, establishments, and staff operating under the post. The commanders-in-chief were based at premises in High Street, Portsmouth from the 1790s until the end of Sir Thomas Williams's tenure, his successor, Sir Philip Durham, being the first to move into Admiralty House at the Royal Navy Dockyard, where subsequent holders of the office were based until 1969. Prior to World War One the officer holder was sometimes referred to in official dispatches as the Commander-in-Chief, Spithead.


  1. 1 2 3 4 Williams, Sir Thomas, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , J. K. Laughton, (subscription required), Retrieved 12 April 2009
  2. UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  3. History in Portsmouth Archived 27 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine

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Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Henry Stanhope
Commander-in-Chief, The Nore
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Rowley
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Foley
Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth
Succeeded by
Sir Philip Durham