William Rooke Creswell

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Sir William Rooke Creswell
Born 20 July 1852
Died 20 April 1933
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Navy
Naval Defence Force of the Colony of South Australia
Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Australian Navy
Years of service 1865 - 1919 (54 years)
Rank Generic-Navy-O10.svg Vice Admiral
Commands held First Naval Member
Commonwealth Naval Forces
Battles/wars Boxer Rebellion
World War I
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire

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

Early life[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]


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[2] 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[3] 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.[4]

The fact that Australia's navy was ready for service when the World War I 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]

Creswell has been honoured with the naming of the naval base, HMAS Creswell, the site of the Royal Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d Percival Serle (1949). "Creswell, William Rooke". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 24042. p. 5722. 5 December 1873.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 24623. p. 5081. 10 September 1878.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28505. p. 4593. 19 June 1911.
  5. ^ Macdougall 1991, p. 23.
Military offices
Preceded by
New creation
Director, Commonwealth Naval Forces
25 February 1904 – 28 February 1911
Succeeded by
Position replaced by First Naval Member, Australian Commonwealth Naval Board
Preceded by
New creation
Replaced Director, Commonwealth Naval Forces
First Naval Member, Australian Commonwealth Naval Board
1 March 1911 – 9 June 1919
Succeeded by
Rear Admiral Sir Percy Grant