Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Peel, William
PEEL, Sir WILLIAM (1824–1858), captain in the navy, third son of Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850) [q. v.], the statesman, was born on 2 Nov. 1824. He entered the navy in April 1838 on board the Princess Charlotte, carrying the flag of Sir Robert Stopford [q. v.] as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean; and in her was present at the several operations on the coast of Syria in 1840. He was afterwards in the Monarch with Captain Chambers, and in the Cambrian in China with Captain Henry Ducie Chads [q. v.], returning to England in the Belleisle troopship, with Captain John Kingcome, in September 1843. In November he joined the Excellent gunnery-ship at Portsmouth, and in May 1844 passed his examination with ‘a brilliance that called forth a public eulogium from Sir Thomas Hastings [q. v.], and a very flattering notice from Sir Charles Napier in the House of Commons’ (O'Byrne; Hansard, 16 May). On 13 May Peel was promoted to be lieutenant of the Winchester, flagship of Rear-admiral Josceline Percy [q. v.] at the Cape of Good Hope. It does not appear that he joined the Winchester, being appointed in June to the Cormorant in the Pacific. From her he was moved to the Thalia, and afterwards to the America, from which he was sent with despatches overland from San Blas to Vera Cruz, and thence to England. In February 1846 he was appointed to the Devastation at Woolwich; in May to the Constance at Plymouth; and on 27 June 1846 he was promoted to the rank of commander. In 1847– 1848 he commanded the Daring on the North American and West Indies station, and on 10 Jan. 1849 was promoted to be captain.
As he was likely to be on half-pay for some time he resolved to explore the interior of Africa, with the hope of doing something to ameliorate the condition of the negro. By way of preparation he devoted himself for some months to the study of Arabic, under the tuition of Joseph Churi, a Maronite educated at Rome, and in September 1850 proposed to Churi to make a short tour to Egypt, Mount Sinai, Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Syria. They left England on 20 Oct., and were back by 20 Feb. 1851. On 20 Aug. following they left on the longer and more serious journey. They went up the Nile, across the desert to Khartoum, and on to El Obeid, where both the travellers had a severe attack of fever and ague. Peel returned to England early in January. He shortly afterwards published an account of the journey, under the title of ‘A Ride through the Nubian Desert’ (8vo, 1852).
In October 1853 Peel commissioned the Diamond frigate, attached to the fleet in the Mediterranean, and afterwards in the Black Sea. When the naval brigade was landed for the siege of Sebastopol, under the command of Captain Stephen Lushington (1803–1877) [q. v.], Peel was landed with it. In the operations that followed Peel repeatedly distinguished himself by his bravery. On 18 Oct. 1854 he threw a live shell, the fuse still burning, over the parapet of his battery. On 5 Nov., in the battle of Inkerman, he joined the officers of the grenadier guards, and assisted in defending the colours of the regiment. On 18 June 1855 he led the ladder party at the assault on the Redan, himself carrying the first ladder, until severely wounded. For these services he was nominated a C.B. on 5 July, and on the institution of the Victoria Cross he was one of the first to whom it was awarded.
On 13 Sept. 1856 he commissioned the Shannon, a powerful 50-gun steam-frigate, for service in China. She did not sail till the following March. At Singapore she was met by the news of the sepoy mutiny, and, taking Lord Elgin up to Hong Kong, where she arrived on 2 July, sailed again for Calcutta, with Elgin on board, on the 16th. She took also a detachment of marines and soldiers. At Calcutta Peel formed a naval brigade. On 14 Aug. he left the ship with 450 men and ten 8-inch guns. At Allahabad, on 20 Oct., he was reinforced by a party of 120 men; and from that time was present in all the principal operations of the army. The coolness of his bravery was everywhere remarkable, and his formidable battery rendered most efficient service. The huge guns were, under his orders, manœuvred and worked as though they had been light field-pieces. He was nominated a K.C.B. on 21 Jan. 1858. In the second relief of Lucknow on 9 March 1858 he was severely wounded in the thigh by a musket-bullet, which was cut out from the opposite side of the leg. Still very weak, he reached Cawnpore on his way to England, and there, on 20 April, he was attacked by confluent smallpox, of which he died on the 27th.
In announcing his death, the ‘Gazette,’ published at Allahabad on the 30th, said: ‘Sir William Peel's services in the field during the last seven months are well known in India and in England; but it is not so well known how great the value of his presence and example has been wherever during this eventful period his duty has led him.’ ‘He was successful,’ wrote Colonel Malleson, ‘because he was really great; and, dying early, he left a reputation without spot, the best inheritance he could bequeath to his countrymen.’ His portrait, by John Lucas [q. v.], is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich. A white marble statue to his memory is in the Eden Gardens at Calcutta.
[Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 86; Times, 16 July 1858; Navy Lists; Churi's Sea Nile, the Desert, and Nigritia; Kinglake's Crimean War; O'Byrne's Victoria Cross; Verney's Shannon Brigade in India; Kaye and Malleson's Hist. of the Mutiny.]