Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Earle, William (1833-1885)

EARLE, WILLIAM (1833–1885), major-general, third son of Sir Hardman Earle of Allerton Tower, Lancashire, the head of an old Liverpool family, who was created a baronet in 1869, by Mary, daughter of William Langton of Kirkham, Lancashire, was born on 18 May 1833. He was educated at Winchester, and entered the army as an ensign in the 49th regiment on 17 Oct. 1851. He was promoted lieutenant on 6 June 1854, and in that year accompanied his regiment to the Crimea, where it formed part of Pennefather's brigade in the 2nd division under Sir De Lacy Evans. He served with that regiment throughout the Crimean war, and was present at the battle of the Alma, the repulse of the Russian sortie on 26 Oct., the battle of Inkerman, and the attack on the Redan on 18 June 1855. For his services he received the Crimean medal with three clasps, the Sardinian and Turkish medals, and the fifth class of the order of the Medjidie. During the campaign, on 16 Feb. 1855, he had been promoted captain, and on its conclusion in 1856 he exchanged into the Grenadier guards as lieutenant and captain. On 28 April 1863 he was promoted captain and lieutenant-colonel, and on 21 July of the following year he married Mary, second daughter of General Sir William John Codrington [q. v.] He found no difficulty in getting plenty of staff employment, and was assistant military secretary to General Sir W. J. Codrington, governor of Gibraltar, from 1859 to 1860. He was brigade-major in Nova Scotia in 1862 and 1863, and military secretary to General Sir C. H. Doyle, commanding in North America, from 1865 to 1872. On 20 May 1868 he was promoted colonel, and in 1872 he accompanied Lord Northbrook to India as a military secretary, and remained in that capacity until 1876, when he returned with his chief, and was made a C.S.I. In 1878 he became a major in the Grenadier guards, and on 31 Oct. 1880 was promoted major-general, and at once appointed to the command at Shorncliffe, from which he was transferred in 1881 to the command of the 2nd infantry brigade at Aldershot. In 1882 he was sent to Egypt, and placed in command of the garrison of Alexandria, and remained during Lord Wolseley's campaign of Tel-el-Kebir in that position. For his services in the defence of Alexandria he was made a C.B., and he was also rewarded by the khedive with the second class of the order of the Medjidie. Earle remained at Alexandria in command from 1882 till the end of 1884, when Lord Wolseley selected him to accompany the force intended to go up the Nile to the rescue of General Gordon at Khartoum. After the army had concentrated at Korti, Lord Wolseley despatched the column, known as the Desert Column, under the command of Sir Herbert Stewart across the desert towards Khartoum, while he sent another division of his forces up the Nile under the command of Earle, with Colonel Henry Brackenbury as his chief of the staff. Earle's column was not expected to reach Khartoum until some time after Stewart's, and one of the principal reasons of its despatch was to punish the tribes which had murdered Colonel J. D. H. Stewart and Frank Power when on their way from Khartoum in the previous year. This was successfully accomplished, and the village of the murderers burnt. A few days later in his upward progress Earle attacked a powerful body of Arabs in their entrenchments, at Kirbekan, on 10 Feb. 1885. The enemy's positions were carried successfully; but while leading on his troops Earle was shot in the forehead and killed on the spot. The news of the fall of Khartoum made it necessary for Colonel Brackenbury, who had succeeded Earle, to bring back his column, and he also brought back the body of Earle, which was sent to England and buried at Allerton. An excellent statue of Earle has been made by C. B. Birch, A.R.A., and erected at Liverpool, his native place.

[Hart's Army List; obituary notice in the Times, 16 Feb. 1885; and for his operations on the Nile, The River Column, by Major-General Henry Brackenbury, C.B.]

H. M. S.