Williams, William Peere (1742-1832) (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, afterwards WILLIAMS-FREEMAN, WILLIAM PEERE (1742–1832), admiral of the fleet, grandson of William Peere Williams [q. v.], and son of Frederick Williams, D.D. (d. 1746), prebendary of Peterborough, was born at Peterborough on 6 Jan. 1741–2. His mother was a daughter of Robert Clavering [q. v.], bishop of Peterborough, by Mary, sister of John Cook Freeman of Fawley Court, Buckinghamshire. In June 1757 his name was entered on the books of the Royal Sovereign, guardship at Spithead, but he appears to have first gone to sea in August 1759 with Lord Howe in the Magnanime, which had a distinguished part in the battle of Quiberon Bay, 20 Nov. 1759 [see Howe, Richard, Earl]. In September 1762 Williams followed Howe to the Princess Amelia, and in August 1763 joined the Romney with Lord Colville on the Halifax station. On 18 Sept. 1764 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Rainbow on the Virginia station, and remained in her till she paid off in October 1766. On 26 May 1768 he was promoted to be commander, and without having served in that rank was posted on 10 Jan. 1771. In the following December he was appointed to the Active, going out to the West Indies; but in July 1773, his health having given way, he had sufficient interest to get the ship sent to Newfoundland. His health, however, did not improve, and in November he exchanged into the Lively, which he brought home and paid off in 1774. In March 1777 he commissioned the Venus, in which he joined Lord Howe on the North America station, and was with the fleet off Rhode Island on 10 Aug. 1778. In April 1780 he commissioned the Flora, a new and large 36-gun frigate, carrying 18-pounders on her main-deck, and an experimental addition of six 18-pounder carronades to her establishment. When, on 10 Aug. 1780, she met the French 32-gun frigate Nymphe, her victory was easy. The Nymphe lost sixty-three men killed and seventy-three wounded; the Flora had nine killed and twenty-seven wounded. Such a decisive result ought to have given Williams full confidence in his novel armament, but it does not seem to have done so.

In March 1781 the Flora was with the fleet under Vice-admiral Darby at the second relief of Gibraltar, and was afterwards sent on to Minorca, in company with the 28-gun frigate Crescent, in charge of some victuallers. As they were returning through the Straits on 30 May they met two Dutch frigates of 36 guns, the Castor and the Briel. After a sharp action the Flora captured the Castor, but the Briel had meantime compelled the Crescent to strike her flag; the Flora hastened to her consort's assistance, and the Briel made her escape. Afterwards, on 19 June, as the two frigates and their prize were broad off Cape Finisterre they fell in with two French 32-gun frigates, Friponne and Gloire. The Crescent and Castor had been dismasted in the former engagement and were jury-rigged in a very make-shift manner; the Castor had only a prize crew on board, and those unable to leave the pumps. Williams made the signal to separate, and left the Crescent and Castor easy prizes to the two Frenchmen. His conduct was not blamed; was not even called in question; but when we consider that the Flora's broadside was nearly as heavy as those of the Friponne and Gloire together, it is impossible to avoid thinking that Williams did not understand the novel conditions in his favour. In April 1782 Williams went on half-pay, and had no further service, though he became in due course rear-admiral on 12 April 1794; vice-admiral on 1 June 1795; admiral on 1 Jan. 1801. In November 1821, on succeeding to the Fawley Court estate, he took the additional name of Freeman. On 28 June 1830, three days after the accession of William IV, he was promoted to the high rank of admiral of the fleet, the king sending him, as a special compliment, a baton which had been presented to himself by George IV. He died at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, on 11 Feb. 1832. He was buried in the family vault at Broxbourne. He married, 20 June 1771, Henrietta Wilts, who died at Hoddesdon in 1819. By her he had two sons, who both predeceased their father, the second in 1830, leaving issue. After Williams's death his grandson applied to know the king's pleasure as to the return of the baton. The king desired that it should be retained by the family as 'a memorial of the late admiral's long services and the high professional rank he had attained, and in proof of the estimation in which his character was held by his sovereign and brother officers.'

[Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biogr. i. 33; Ralfe's Naval Biogr. i. 420; Gent. Mag. 1832, i. 364; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1898. i. 651; Service-book in the Public Record Office; Beatson's Naval and Military Memoirs, v. 237; James's Naval Hist. i. 39.]

J. K. L.