Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fairfax, William George

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FAIRFAX, Sir WILLIAM GEORGE (1739–1813), vice-admiral, of a family settled in Warwickshire since the time of Edward III, possibly an offshoot of the Yorkshire family of the same name, was born on 8 March 1738–9, in the neighbourhood of London, his father being an office in the horse guards. He entered the navy in 1750, and, after serving under Keppel and Arbuthnot, was promoted to be lieutenant on 20 Dec. 1757. In 1759 he was a lieutenant of the Eurus with Captain John Elphinston [q. v.] in the operations in the St. Lawrence, and continued actively serving till August 1760. He had no further employment till June 1766, when he was appointed to the Greyhound, and from June 1769 to September 1776 he was again on half-pay as a lieutenant. In May 1778 he was promoted to the command of the Alert cutter, and in her, while attached to the grand fleet under Keppel, and in company with the Arethusa, captured, after a sharp engagement, the French lugger Coureur, at the same time that the Arethusa was beaten off in her celebrated fight with the Belle Poule. A few months later the Alert was herself captured by the Junon frigate of 40 guns, and Fairfax was detained a prisoner during the greater part of the war. In January 1782 he was promoted to post rank, and appointed to the Tartar frigate, which he commanded till the peace. In 1793 he was appointed to the Sheerness, in which and in the Repulse he remained till 1796, when he was appointed flag-captain to Admiral Duncan, the commander-in-chief in the North Sea [see Duncan, Adam, Lord]. In the Venerable with Duncan he shared in the difficulties of the mutiny and the glories of Camperdown, his services on which occasion were rewarded by his being made a knight banneret (United Service Gazette, 12 Jan. 1829). He continued in command of the Venerable till 7 Jan. 1801, when he was promoted to flag rank. He had no further service; was advanced to be a vice-admiral on 13 Dec. 1806; and died in Edinburgh on 7 Nov. 1813. He was twice married: first, in 1767, to Hannah, daughter of the Rev. Robert Spears of Burntisland; she died without issue in 1770: secondly, to Margaret, daughter of Mr. Samuel Charters, and cousin of the Russian admiral, Sir Samuel Greig [q. v.]; by her he had a son, Henry, created a baronet in 1836, and, with other issue, a daughter, Mary, afterwards Mrs. Somerville [q. v.]

[Ralfe's Naval Biog. iv. 485; Naval Chronicle (with an engraved portrait), v. 465; Foster's Baronetage; Official Documents in the Public Record Office; information communicated by Sir W. G. H. T. Ramsay-Fairfax, bart., in whose possession is the portrait by Sir Martin Shee, engraved for the Naval Chronicle.]

J. K. L.