Rowley, William (1690?-1768) (DNB00)

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ROWLEY, Sir WILLIAM (1690?–1768), admiral of the fleet, born about 1690, of an old family of Worfield, Shropshire, was son of William Rowley of Whitehall, a court official under William III and Anne. He entered the navy in 1704 as a volunteer per order in the Orford, with Captain (afterwards Sir John) Norris. He passed his examination on 15 Sept. 1708, and in December was promoted lieutenant of the Somerset, in which he served, mostly in the Mediterranean, till May 1713. Early in 1716 he was in Paris on a special errand for George I, and on 26 June was promoted to command the Bideford, from which date he took post. For the next two years the Bideford was at Gibraltar, and cruising against the Sallee pirates. She was paid off in February 1718–19. In September 1719 Rowley was appointed to the Lively, a small frigate employed on the coast of Ireland, mostly between Dublin and Carrickfergus, for preventing piracy and smuggling, and for raising men, with occasional visits to Bristol, Plymouth, or Portsmouth. He continued on this service for nearly nine years, and when the Lively was paid off in June 1728 he went on half-pay, and so remained for many years. In September 1739 he was appointed to the Ripon, but wrote from Dublin to say that he had a lawsuit pending, which involved the possible loss of 22,000l., and begged therefore to be allowed to stay on shore.

Early in 1741 he was appointed to the Barfleur, in which he joined the fleet under Rear-admiral Nicholas Haddock [q. v.] in the Mediterranean, remaining there under Admiral Thomas Mathews, and hoisting his flag in the Barfleur on his promotion, on 7 Dec. 1743, to be rear-admiral of the white. In that capacity, as junior flag-officer, he commanded the van in the notorious engagement off Toulon on 11 Feb. 1743–4 [see Mathews, Thomas; Lestock, Richard], and was one of the few concerned whose conduct was not called in question. On 19 June 1744 he was advanced to be vice-admiral of the blue, and in the following August succeeded to the chief command of the fleet. The enemy had no force remaining in those seas, and the work to be done was principally in concert with the allied army; but in July 1745 he was summarily ordered by the secretary of state, the Duke of Newcastle, to return to England. This order was due to a resolution of the House of Commons (30 April 1745) censuring the proceedings of the court-martial on Captain Richard Norris, over which Rowley presided, as ‘arbitrary, partial, and illegal’ (Parl. Hist. vol. xiii. col. 1300). The lords of the admiralty wrote that Rowley, owing to his behaviour as president of this court-martial, was not a proper person to enforce the discipline of a great fleet (Lords of the Admiralty to the Lords Justices, 29 May 1745, in Home Office Records, Admiralty, vol. cvii.).

Rowley had no further employment at sea; but, considering the circumstances of his recall from the Mediterranean, it seems extraordinary that not only was he promoted to be admiral of the blue on 15 July 1747, on 12 May 1748 to be admiral of the white, and on 11 July 1747 to be rear-admiral of Great Britain, but on 22 June 1751 was appointed one of the lords of the admiralty, and in 1753 was nominated a K.B. He remained at the admiralty till November 1756, was again appointed to it in April 1757, but finally quitted it in the following July. On the death of Anson, who, though his junior as a flag officer, had been preferred before him, he was promoted on 17 Dec. 1762 to be admiral of the fleet and commander-in-chief. He died on 1 Jan. 1768. He married Arabella, daughter and heir of Captain George Dawson of co. Derry, by whom he had issue three sons, of whom Joshua [q. v.], like his grandson Josias [q. v.], is separately noticed. Horace Walpole has a story (Correspondence, ed. Cunningham, v. 79) of his having left the bulk of his property, 6,000l. a year, to his great-grandson, in the intention of forming a vast accumulation; but, at the time of Rowley's death, his eldest grandson was only seven years old.

A portrait of Rowley painted in 1743, by Arnulphy, was engraved by Faber in 1745; another was engraved by J. Brooks.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. iv. 63; Naval Chronicle, with a portrait after Arnulphy, xxii. 441; Official Letters, &c., in the Public Record Office. The minutes of the court-martial on Richard Norris have been printed.]

J. K. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.240
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
365 ii 21f.e. Rowley, Sir William: for of an old Essex family read of an old family of Warfield, Shropshire, being son of William Rowley of Whitehall, a court official under William III and Anne,