Biography

Birth date: 20 July 1852
Birth place: Gibraltar
Death date: 20 April 1933
Final rank: Vice Admiral
Conflict: China, 1900-1901 (Boxer Uprising)
First World War, 1914-1918
Unit: Royal Australian Navy

William Creswell, a senior naval officer and the driving force behind the establishment of the RAN, was born at Gibraltar on 20 July 1852. He was 13 years old in 1865 when he began his naval career as a cadet on the Royal Navy's training ship Britannia. He was promoted to mid-shipman in 1867and in 1871 became a sub-lieutenant.

Having already served in the Channel Fleet, Creswell was transferred to the China Station. In 1873 he was shot in the hip during a skirmish with pirates off Malaya but remained at his post. His bravery won him promotion to lieutenant but his wound meant returning to England to recuperate. Creswell's next sea-going appointment, to the East India Station, was followed by a period in Zanzibar, where he commanded a flotilla involved in suppressing the slave trade. Illness, however, again forced his return to England.

Creswell retired from the Royal Navy in 1878 and, seeking to become a pastoralist, he emigrated to Australia in 1879. A stint in the Northern Territory, however, convinced Creswell that he was ill-suited to outback life. During a visit to Adelaide in 1885 he met a former naval colleague and was convinced to take up an appointment as First Lieutenant on South Australia's only naval vessel, HMCS Protector, a posting he very much enjoyed.

Creswell soon began agitating for the establishment of an Australian naval force to supplement the Royal Navy squadron based in Sydney. In mid-1895 he reached the rank of captain; by 1899 he was arguing strongly for an Australian navy. On 1 May 1900 he was appointed Commandant of the Queensland naval forces but was soon released to command Protector on its deployment to China to assist in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion.

After Federation, Creswell's lobbying for an Australian navy gained momentum. He was regarded by many as Australia's chief spokesman on naval matters, hence his appointment in February 1904 to the new position of Naval Officer Commanding the Commonwealth Naval Forces. He had retained his position in Queensland and accepted the role of Naval Commandant in Victoria but his energies were primarily focused on the national navy.

Alarmed at Germany's growing naval might by 1909, Australia's admiralty sought to dramatically increase Australia's naval strength. Creswell was promoted to rear admiral in the service of the newly created Royal Australian Navy.

The fact that Australia's navy was ready for service when the First World War began was largely the result of Creswell's hard work and lobbying. During the war he was involved as an administrator in ship construction, the development of shore support, and the arranging of convoys. After the war he worked on developing a defence program for Australia, focussing mainly on ensuring the continued strengthening of the RAN.

Considered the father of the RAN, Creswell retired with the rank of vice admiral and took up farming in Victoria. He died on 20 April 1933.

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Rolls and Awards

  • Rank: Captain
  • Conflict: China, 1900-1901 (Boxer Uprising)
  • Awarded: Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
  • Unit: Royal Australian Navy
  • Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

Collection Items

Timeline

Date of birth 1852-07-20 Gibraltar.
Other 1865 Began cadetship on the Royal Navy's Training ship Britannia.
Date promoted 1867 Promoted to midshipman.
Date promoted 1871 Promoted to sub-lieutenant.
Date wounded 1873 Shot in a skirmish with pirates off Malaya. Promoted to lieutenant.
Date of discharge 1878 Creswell retired from the Royal Navy.
Other 1879 Emigrated to Australia.
Date and unit at appointment (Officers) 1885 Appointed as first lieutenant on South Australia's HMCS Protector.
Date promoted 1895 Appointed captain.
Date promoted 1900-05-01 He was appointed commandant of the Queensland Naval Forces.
Date of embarkation 1900-08-06
Date of return 1901-01-06
Date promoted 1904-02 Appointed to position of naval officer commanding Commonwealth naval forces.
Date promoted 1909 Appointed rear admiral in the new created Royal Australian Navy.
Date of death 1933-04-20