William Peere Williams-Freeman
1742-1832. He was born on 6 January 1742 in the Episcopal Palace at Peterborough, the son of Rev Dr Frederick Williams, prebendary of Peterborough, and the grandson of William Peere Williams, a law-reporter of repute and a politician. His mother, Mary Clavering, was the daughter of the Bishop of Peterborough, and he became the uncle of Admiral Christopher Nesham.
After attending schools at Stamford and Eton, Williams was educated at the Royal Academy at Portsmouth from 1757 whilst being included on the books of the Royal Sovereign 100. He first went to sea aboard the Magnanime 74, Captain Lord Howe, in which vessel he was present at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in November 1759. Remaining with Howe until the peace of 1763, he served briefly in the Princess Amelia 80 when that officer became flag captain to Rear-Admiral Prince Edward, the Duke of York.
In August 1763 he joined the Romney 50, Captain Lord Colville, in which he served on the Halifax station, and upon being promoted lieutenant on 18 September 1764 he moved to the Rainbow 44, Captain Walter Stirling, which was employed in North American waters and returned to England in October 1766.
He was promoted commander of the bomb-ketch Thunder on 26 May 1768, and posted captain on 10 January 1771, being one of fourteen officers including his namesake William Williams who were advanced. After recommissioning the frigate Active 28 in March he sailed for the West Indies in September to supplement Rear-Admiral Robert Man’s squadron, and he also saw service in the Leeward Islands in 1772. During this period a house in which he and his wife were living was reportedly destroyed in a hurricane. Having been taken ill in the Caribbean he obtained a transfer to the Newfoundland station in 1773, but here the harsh climate decimated his already fragile health and he exchanged into the Lively 20, Captain George Talbot, which vessel returned to England at the end of the year and was paid off shortly afterwards.
By March 1777 Williams was fit enough to serve again, and he was appointed to the swift frigate Venus 36, going out with a convoy to join Vice-Admiral Lord Howe and being present at the defence of New York in July 1778 and in the action with the French off Rhode Island in August. He then exchanged with Captain Ferguson into Brune 32, and he returned home with the peace commissioners whilst the Venus sailed south with Commodore Hotham to reinforce the Leeward Islands.
In April 1780 he commissioned the impressive and heavily-armed new Flora 36 for service in the Channel, and off Ushant on 10 August 1780 he captured the Nymphe 32 which was manned by a larger complement of men, and where his excellent first lieutenant, Edward Thornbrough, led his boarders. He afterwards served at Vice-Admiral George Darby’s relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781, but after being despatched with thirteen supply ships to Minorca, and being in company with the Crescent 28, Captain Hon. Thomas Pakenham, he fell in with a Spanish squadron near Gibraltar on 23 May. Faced with overwhelming odds the British frigates fled, and with Williams providing valuable support to his slower consort they lost their pursuers overnight and got into Gibraltar on the 29th.
Having appraised the governor at Gibraltar of the Spanish presence, the Flora and Crescent went in search of two Dutch frigates and brought them to action the next day. After a two and a half hour engagement Williams forced the surrender of the Castor 36, sustaining forty-one casualties in the process, and he then re-took the Crescent which had already struck her colours to the other Dutchman, the Briel 36. Unfortunately, after driving the Breil off and getting all three ships into some state of repair, Williams had the mortification to lose the Castor and Crescent to the French frigates Friponne 32 and Gloire 32 on 19 June. Some historians later claimed that he could have achieved a better outcome against the French if he had employed his powerful frigate to the best of her ability.
After spending a short time with the Channel fleet Williams returned to England towards the end of the year and was never re-employed, possibly because his political leanings were unfavourable to the Pitt administration. Thereafter he profited on land through his rich connections, with the estate of Yew House, Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, coming into his hands in 1784, and adding to his ownership of Remenham Manor near Henley-on-Thames. In November 1821 he assumed the additional name of Freeman upon inheriting the estate of Fawley Court near Henley-on-Thames
In the meantime he had been promoted rear-admiral on 12 April 1794, vice-admiral on 1 June 1795 and admiral on 1 January 1801. He became admiral of the fleet on 28 June 1830 at the instigation of the newly crowned King William IV, and he died at Hoddesdon on 11 February 1832, being interred in the family vault at St. Augustine’s Church, Broxbourne.
Williams married Henrietta Wills on 20 June 1771 and had four children, none of whom survived him. A son, Frederick, died at Edinburgh University aged 18 in 1798, and a further son, William, died in 1830. His wife died on 3 September 1819 at Hoddesdon, and he was succeeded in his estates by two grandsons who had yet to reach their majority.
Williams’ years of unemployment were compensated by the inherited wealth that enabled him to live in great comfort, and to bestow great hospitality and benevolence on his friends and family. He appears to have been in far better health after his enforced retirement than he was before it.