Rear Admiral Sir William Symonds

Rear Admiral Sir William Symonds
Edward Morton, 1850: after Henry Wyndham Phillips (Public Domain)

Rear Admiral Sir William Symonds was the most important of the brothers of Mrs M A T Whitby in spite of not being promoted to Post Captain until 1827 when he was 45 years of age.

Indeed, his naval career was quite undistinguished; perhaps the most noteworthy event was contracting smallpox in 1796 and thereby not sailing under his step brother’s command in a ship which sank with all hands. His significance arose from an interest in engineering rather than the pursuit of a career, and the outcome was his appointment in 1832 as Surveyor of the Navy, the first naval officer ever to hold this position.

Ship Design

He had previously, in 1821, used a legacy from Admiral Cornwallis to build an experimental ship, and this led to his redesigning ships’ hull. His responsibilities as Surveyor involved the oversight of ship design, and he was noted in the Navy of the post-Napoleonic wars for hulls which out-sailed those of all other navies. He was essentially a sail man, and his extended career did not fit well with later developments in steam propulsion. Nonetheless, he oversaw the completion of over 200 vessels and remains a significant figure in naval history.


His achievement of flag rank in 1854 arose from the system of automatic promotion, but the system had been changed by that date and his continued half pay was that of a Captain, to which was added an annuity of five hundred pounds per annum when he retired in 1847. Other honours were Fellowship of the Royal Society (1835), a knighthood (1836) and Companion of the Bath (1848). He was appointed Naval Aide-de-Camp to the Queen in June 1853.


He married three times: Elizabeth Saunders Luscombe, daughter of Matthew Luscombe Esq. of Stonehouse, Elizabeth Mary Carteret, the eldest daughter of the late Rear Admiral Carteret, and Susan Briggs, the niece of Admiral Sir Charles Ekins. Of these, only the first lived in Milford, their home being Aubrey, which was owned by Admiral Cornwallis. They had four sons – an Admiral of the Fleet, two army officers and a land judge. Their daughter, Aubrina, married Daniel Smith Bockett, solicitor of Lincoln’s Inn, who acted for all the members of the Symonds and Whitby family in Milford.


Barry Jolly, Mrs Whitby’s Locket, 2011, Milford-on-Sea Historical Record Society.

Barry Jolly, The Family of Captain Thomas Symonds at Milford in Milford-on-Sea Historical Record Society Occasional Magazine 2016.

James Sharp, A Memoir of the life and services of Rear Admiral Sir William Symonds….. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts 1858. [NB Unreliable in respect of his early years]


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