Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Williams House - Part 2

Yesterday I started the story of the Williams House on St. Anthony Street in Annapolis Royal. Despite its early origins, the Williams House is best known as the birthplace of one of Annapolis Royal's most famous sons. In 1800, William Fenwick Williams was the fifth child born to Thomas and Ann (Amherst) Williams. At this time, Thomas Williams was employed as the Barracks Master at Fort Anne. Young William began his studies in Annapolis Royal but he moved on the Royal Military College in Woolwich, England.

To go on with this story I should first address a bit of local lore. Anyone who has seen a performance of the Annapolis Heritage Society's play Washing Soldiers 1797 will have heard some of the mythology of the origins of William Fenwick Williams. A rumor has persisted through the years that young William was actually fathered by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent. This would have made Williams the half brother to Queen Victoria. While this is a good story, one which could easily explain the advancement of Williams, the dates do not seem to add up. Interestingly, while this story did persist during Williams life he never made any efforts to confirm or refute it. Perhaps there was some advantage to life in the British aristocracy if you were thought to be an illegitimate Royal rather than the son of an unknown colonial officer.

After graduation from military college in 1821, he entered the Royal Artillery as a Second Lieutenant in 1825. During the Crimean War Williams distinguished himself at the defence of Kars where his Turkish and British troops repulsed several Russian attacks in September 1855. During the Siege of Kars they successfully held off another Russian advance. By the end of November the garrison at Kars decided to surrender to General Muravyov to avoid further hardships, cold and cholera. After spending the winter of 1855-56 as a prisoner in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Williams was hailed as the "Hero of Kars" on his return to London. For his valiant service he was promoted to Major General, given a Baronetcy with a pension for life, made a Knight Commander of the Order of Bath (KCB), given an honourary degree from Oxford, the Freedom of the City of London as well as other honours.

From 1856 to 1859 he represented the Borough of Calne as a Member of Parliament. From 1860 to 1865 Sir William was the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America. This was not an insignificant position as the American Civil War was raging at this time. There was a great worry in British North America that at the end of the conflict the victorious forces could decide to march north. An invasion by a seasoned army would have posed a great problem to the British forces.

In 1865 he was appointed Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia. One of the important reasons behind this appointment was that he was to help sway public opinion in favour of Canadian confederation. After guiding Nova Scotia successfully into Confederation, Sir William was appointed Governor of Gibraltar from 1870 to 1876, and Constable of the Tower of London in 1881.

My, I am almost fatigued just writing about Sir William's accomplishments and honours. Not bad for a man born in a humble shingle clad building in Annapolis Royal (no matter who his father was).

All for now,
RGS

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