Sir William George Fairfax
1739-1813. Born on 8 March 1739 at Bagshot, Surrey, he was the son of Joseph Fairfax, an officer in the Horse Guards who originated from a Yorkshire family, and of his wife Mary Anne.
Fairfax entered the navy in 1750 and initially served in the Mediterranean under Captain Hon. Augustus Keppel aboard the Centurion 60. His next employment was with the Mars 64, Captain John Amherst, and from 1754 he served on the Garland 24 commanded by Captain Marriot Arbuthnot.
During the Seven Years War he was commissioned lieutenant of Rear-Admiral Henry Harrison’s Plymouth-based flagship Duke 90, Captain Thomas Hanway, on 20 December 1757, and from 1758-60 he was aboard the Eurus 20, Captain John Elphinston, which took part in the St. Lawrence operations and the reduction of Quebec.
He was unemployed from August 1760 until June 1766 and from June 1769 until September 1776, the three-year interim being spent in command of the cutter Greyhound 4, serving off his new wife’s home town of Burntisland, Fifeshire.
During 1777 he had the command of the small sloop Hazard 8, sailing in the early part of the year from Sheerness for Fifeshire. On 13 May 1778, he was one of the beneficiaries of their Majesties’ review of the fleet, being promoted commander out of Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel’s flagship Prince George 90, Captain Jonathon Faulknor, to the cutter Alert 14, which was attached to the Channel fleet. During the campaign which resulted in the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778 he defeated the lugger Coureur 14 in a brisk action in view of the fleet on 17 June. A month later on 17 July his command was captured in the Channel by the Junon 40, and having been detained as a prisoner of war he returned to England some time before the spring of 1780.
Fairfax briefly commanded the Belle Poule 36 in a temporary capacity for Captain Philip Patton during 1781 before being posted to the frigate Tartar 28 on 12 January 1782, in which he went out to Jamaica from Ireland in April. He remained with the Tartar until the peace, sailing to North America with Admiral Hugh Pigot’s Leeward Islands fleet and driving the rebel privateer Count de Grasse ashore on 7 August. He failed however to assist Captain Horatio Nelson in his abortive attempt to retake Turk’s Island in the spring of 1783, sailing away without apparent reason, and the Tartar was paid off in November.
His next employment was not until 1793 when he joined the Sheerness 44, which became flagship to Rear-Admiral Henry Harvey in the North Sea during 1794. From March 1795 he commanded the Repulse 64 in home waters, capturing the privateer Petit Pearen 6 off the coast of Holland on 3 December.
In October 1796 Fairfax became flag-captain to Admiral Adam Duncan aboard the Venerable 74 in the North Sea squadron. Following the misery of the mutiny that broke out on 27 May 1797 he fought at the Battle of Camperdown on 11 October where his ship suffered casualties of fifteen men killed and sixty-two wounded. For these services he was knighted, and on 14 February 1799 he was appointed a colonel of marines. In the meantime the badly damaged Venerable remained under repair until the spring of 1799, whereupon he recommissioned her and rejoined the Channel fleet.
Following the Brest fleet’s breakout on 25 April 1799 the Venerable was attached to Rear-Admiral Charles Pole’s squadron which blockaded five Spanish sail of the line from Ferrol in the Aix Roads. He remained with her until being promoted rear-admiral on 1 January 1801, and after this advancement he saw no further service.
Fairfax was promoted vice-admiral on 13 December 1806 as a result of the Admiralty’s determination to have his junior on the list, Sir James Saumarez, raised to that rank, and he died at Edinburgh on 7 November 1813.
He married Hannah Spears, daughter of the Reverend Spears of Burntisland, Fife, on 23 July 1767 by whom he had a daughter prior to his wife’s death in 1770. In April 1772 he married Margaret Charters, cousin of Admiral Sir Samuel Grieg of the Russian service, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. His youngest son Henry later became a baronet, whilst his second daughter, Mary Somerville, was a celebrated science writer, mathematician and astronomer.
His residence was in Burntisland, Fifeshire.