William Rooke Creswell

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Sir William Rooke Creswell
William Rooke Creswell.jpeg
Rear Admiral Sir William Creswell in 1918
Born(1852-07-20)20 July 1852
Died20 April 1933(1933-04-20) (aged 80)
Armadale, Victoria
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Navy (1865–78)
Naval Defence Force of the Colony of South Australia (1885–01)
Royal Australian Navy (1901–19)
Years of service1865–1879
RankVice Admiral
Commands heldFirst Naval Member Australian Commonwealth Naval Board (1904–19)
Naval Commandant Queensland (1900–04)
HMCS Protector (1900–01)
Naval Commandant South Australia (1893–00)
HMS Lion (1878)
Battles/warsBoxer Rebellion
First World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Creswell in 1880

Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell, KCMG, KBE (20 July 1852 – 20 April 1933) was an Australian naval officer, commonly considered to be the 'father' of the Royal Australian Navy.

Early life and family[edit]

Creswell was born in Gibraltar, son of Edmund Creswell (head of the postal service at Gibraltar and for the Mediterranean), and Margaret Mary Ward, née Fraser. He was educated at Gibraltar and Eastman's Royal Naval Academy, Southsea.[1]

Creswell's brother Edmund (1849–1931) played for the Royal Engineers in the first FA Cup Final in 1872.[2] Another brother, Frederic (1866–1948) was a Labour Party politician in South Africa, who was Minister of Defence from 1924 to 1933.[3]

Naval career[edit]

Beginning his naval career at the age of 13 as a cadet on the Royal Navy's training ship Britannia, Creswell was promoted to midshipman in 1867 and on 20 October 1871 became a sub-lieutenant.[1]

Having already served in the Channel Fleet, Creswell was transferred to the China Station. In 1873 while serving on the gunboat HMS Midge he was shot in the hip during a skirmish with pirates from the Laroot River, Penang Malaya but remained at his post. His bravery won him promotion to lieutenant[4] but his wound meant returning to England to recuperate. Creswell's next seagoing 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.[citation needed]

Creswell retired from the Royal Navy in 1878[5] 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.[citation needed]

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 Maritime Defence Force, 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 (the amalgamation of the various colonial navies). 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. In company with Colonel Justin F. G. Foxton, Creswell attended the Imperial Conference, which resulted in the Naval Defence Act of 1910 being passed which created the Australian navy. In 1911, Creswell was promoted to rear admiral in the service of the Royal Australian Navy.[1] As part of his coronation honours, the King made him Knight Commander of the order of St Michael and St George.[6]

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.

Late life and legacy[edit]

Considered the father of the RAN, Creswell retired in 1919 and took up farming in Victoria; in the same year he was created KBE. He was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1922. He died on 20 April 1933 and was survived by his wife Adelaide Elizabeth née Stow (daughter of Justice Randolph Stow) two sons and a daughter.[1]

Two sons were killed during the First World War. Captain Randolph William Creswell (1890–1917) served in the 3rd Anzac Camel Battalion, AIF and was killed in action on 6 November 1917 at Tel el Khuweifle, Palestine.[7][8] He is buried at Beersheba War Cemetery.[9] His twin brother, Lieutenant Edmund Lindsay Creswell was wounded at Bullecourt, but survived the war.[8] Lieutenant Colin Fraser Creswell (1894–1917) was lost in the sinking of submarine E47 off the Dutch coast on 20 August 1917.[10][11][12]

Creswell has been honoured with the naming of the naval base, HMAS Creswell, the site of the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Percival Serle (1949). "Creswell, William Rooke". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  2. ^ "1872 FA Cup Final: Wanderers vs Royal Engineers". www.fa-cupfinals.co.uk. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  3. ^ Nöthling, C.J.; Meyers, E.M. (1982). "Leaders through the years (1912–1982)" (PDF). Scientaria Militaria (in Afrikaans). 12 (2): 91. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  4. ^ "No. 24042". The London Gazette. 5 December 1873. p. 5722.
  5. ^ "No. 24623". The London Gazette. 10 September 1878. p. 5081.
  6. ^ "No. 28505". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 June 1911. p. 4593.
  7. ^ "Creswell, Randolph William (Captain)". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Creswell, Randolph William (1890–1917)". Obituaries Australia. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  9. ^ "Creswell, Randolph William". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  10. ^ "Colin Fraser Creswell". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  11. ^ "Colin Francis Creswell 1894–1917 and HMS Implacable and Sub E-47". ahoy.tk-jk.net. Ahoy – Mac's Web Log. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  12. ^ "Creswell, Colin Fraser (1894–1917)". Obituaries Australia. Retrieved 28 January 2015.
  13. ^ Macdougall 1991, p. 23.


External links[edit]

Military offices
New command Director, Commonwealth Naval Forces
Replaced by First Naval Member, Australian Commonwealth Naval Board
New command
Replaced Director, Commonwealth Naval Forces
First Naval Member, Australian Commonwealth Naval Board
Succeeded by
Rear Admiral Sir Percy Grant