Falconer was the son of a barber in Edinburgh, where he was born, became a sailor, and was thus thoroughly competent to describe the management of the storm-tossed vessel, the career and fate of which are described in his poem, The Shipwreck (1762), a work of genuine, though unequal, talent. The efforts which Falconer made to improve the poem in the subsequent edition which followed the first were not entirely successful. The work gained for him the patronage of the Duke of York, through whose influence he obtained the position of purser on various warships.
Falconer was one of the three survivors of a trading ship on voyage from Alexandria to Venice and in 1751 he wrote and published a poem on the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales. He had also contributed poems to the Gentleman's Magazine. The poem The Shipwreck was dedicated to the then rear-admiral the Duke of York where the poem states:
- From regions where Peruvian billows roar,
To the bleak coasts of savage Labrador.
Falconer was a midshipman on the Royal George for a short period of time and then in 1763 became purser of the frigate Glory aboard which he wrote the political satire Demagogue. In 1767 he was purser of the Swiftsure. In 1769 he published An Universal Dictionary of the Marine. Falconer was purser on the frigate Aurora when it was lost after rounding the Cape of Good Hope on a voyage when it left from London on 20 September 1769.
- With living colours give my verse to glow:
The sad memorial of a tale of woe!
(from The Shipwreck, Canto I) were used as a motto for Tafereel van de overwintering der Hollanders op Nova Zembla in de jaren 1596 en 1597 (1820) by the Dutch poet Hendrik Tollens (1780–1856).
- Gutenberg.org, The Poetical Works of Beattie, Blair and Falconer in Library Edition of the British Poets edited by the Rev. George Gilfillan
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource
- Quotations related to William Falconer at Wikiquote
- Works related to William Falconer at Wikisource
- William Falconer's Dictionary of the Marine (National Library of Australia)
- Works by William Falconer at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about William Falconer at Internet Archive
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