Willes, George Ommanney (DNB12)

WILLES, Sir GEORGE OMMANNEY (1823–1901), admiral, son of Capt. George Wickens Willes, R.N., by Anne Elizabeth, second daughter of Sir Edmund Lacon, first baronet, M.P., was born at Hythe, Hampshire, on 19 June 1823, was entered at the R.N. College, Portsmouth, in Feb. 1836, and went to sea in 1838. He passed his examination in Sept. 1842, and as mate served first in the Cornwallis, flagship of Sir William Parker [q.v.] , and afterwards in the Childers, brig, on the East Indies and China station. He received his commission as lieutenant on 11 Dec. 1844, and in March following was appointed to the Hibernia, again with Sir William Parker, then commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. Three years later he was given the command of the Spitfire, steamer, on the same station. In August 1850 he was appointed first lieutenant of the Retribution, paddle frigate, in the Mediterranean, and was still in her at the bombardment of Odessa on 22 April 1854. Shortly afterwards he received his promotion to commander, dated 17 April, and on 1 June was moved into the flagship Britannia, in which he served during the remainder of the campaign, and especially at the bombardment of Fort Constantine, Sevastopol, on 17 Oct. He received the Crimean and Turkish medals, the clasp for Sevastopol, and the 5th class of the Mejidie, and was made a knight of the Legion of Honour. In the Baltic campaign of 1855 he served on board the flagship Duke of Wellington, and received the medal. He was promoted to captain on 10 May 1856.

In Feb. 1859 he was appointed to the Chesapeake as flag-captain to Rear-admiral James Hope [q.v.] , commander-in-chief on the East Indies and China station, and in May 1861 followed his chief into the Impérieuse. Willes saw much active service during this commission. On 24 June 1859 he was in charge of the party sent to cut the boom across the Peiho river at the time of the unsuccessful attack, and in August 1860 he was in command of the rocket boats at the attack on the Peiho forts. For these services he received the China medal with the Taku clasp, and in July 1861 was awarded the C.B. In 1862 he was employed in investigating the creeks preliminary to operations against the Taiping, near Shanghai, and in July of that year was relieved and came home. He was next appointed, in Jan. 1864, to command the Prince Consort, ironclad, in the Channel squadron, and on leaving her in April 1866 became captain of the reserve at Devonport, where he remained until called to the Admiralty in Jan. 1869. The duties there assigned to him were similar to those afterwards discharged by the admiral superintendent of naval reserves, and he was confirmed in his appointment in Oct. 1870 with the title of chief of the staff. There was at this date no second sea lord, and the duties of the chief of the staff included a large share in the business of manning the fleet; he also commanded the reserve squadron on its annual cruise (see Sir Vesey Hamilton, Naval Administration, pp. 102–3). Willes remained at Whitehall for three years, and on 11 June 1874 reached flag rank. From April 1870 until his promotion he was an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria.

In May 1876 he became admiral superintendent at Devonport, and on 1 Feb. 1879 was advanced to vice-admiral. For three years from Jan. 1881 he was commander-in-chief in China with his flag in the Iron Duke, and in May 1884 was awarded the K.C.B. He was promoted to admiral on 27 March 1885, and in November following was appointed commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, and was thus in command of the fleet at Spithead on the occasion of the Jubilee review of 1887. He struck his flag on retirement on 19 June 1888. In 1892 he was raised to the G.C.B. He was nominated a J.P. for Middlesex in 1884, and for many years, as a member of its council, took an active part in the affairs of the Royal United Service Institution. He died in Cadogan Square, London, on 18 Feb. 1901.

Willes married, on 16 May 1855, Matilda Georgiana Josephine, daughter of William Joseph Lockwood of Dews Hall, Essex. Admiral Sir George Lambart Atkinson, his nephew, took the additional surname of Willes in 1901 under the terms of his will.

[The Times, 19 Feb. 1901; R.N. List; an engraved portrait was published by Messrs. Walton of Shaftesbury Avenue.]

L. G. C. L.