Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Williams, Charles (1838-1904)

WILLIAMS, CHARLES (1838–1904), war correspondent, was born at Coleraine on 4 May 1838. On his father's side he was descended from Worcestershire yeomen (of Tenbury and Mamble), on his mother's from Scottish settlers in Ulster. Educated at Belfast Academy under Reuben Bryce and at a private school in Greenwich, he went for his health to the southern states of America, where he took part in a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua, saw some hard fighting, and won the reputation of a daring blockade-runner. On his return to England he became a zealous volunteer, and was engaged as leader-writer for the London ‘Evening Herald.’ In October 1859 he began a connection with the ‘Standard,’ which lasted till 1884. He conducted the ‘Evening Standard’ as its first editor for three years, and he was first editor of the ‘Evening News’ from 1881 to 1884.

Williams did his best work as war correspondent. For the ‘Standard’ he accompanied the headquarters of the French army of the Loire at the beginning of the second phase of the Franco-German war (1870), and was one of the first two correspondents in Strasburg after its fall. In the summer and autumn of 1877 he was correspondent on the staff of Ahmed Mukhtar Pasha, commanding the Turkish forces in Armenia. Williams remained almost constantly at the front, and his letters were the only continuous series which reached England. He published them in a revised and somewhat extended form in 1878 as ‘The Armenian Campaign.’ Though written from a pro-Turkish standpoint, the narrative was a faithful record of events. Williams followed Mukhtar to European Turkey, and described his defence of the lines of Constantinople against the Russians. He was with the headquarters of Skobeleff when the treaty of San Stefano was signed; and he subsequently recorded the phases of the Berlin Congress of 1878. At the end of that year he was in Afghanistan, and in 1879 published ‘Notes on the Operations in Lower Afghanistan, 1878–9, with Special Reference to Transport.’ Williams accompanied the Nile expedition for the relief of General Gordon [q. v.] in the autumn of 1884. In an article in the ‘Fortnightly Review,’ May 1885 (‘How we lost Gordon’), he ascribed to Sir Charles Wilson's delay and want of nerve the failure to relieve Gordon.

After leaving the ‘Standard’ in 1884, Williams was for some time connected with the ‘Morning Advertiser,’ but soon became war correspondent of the ‘Daily Chronicle.’ He was the only English correspondent with the Bulgarian army in the brief war with Servia in 1885. In the Greco-Turkish war of 1897 he was attached to the Greek army in Thessaly. In a contribution to the ‘Fortnightly,’ June 1897, he attributed the defeat of the Greeks to the disastrous influence of politics. Williams's last service in the field was in Kitchener's Soudanese campaign of 1898. He accompanied General Gatacre up the Nile on his way to join the British brigade in January, and supplied the ‘Daily Chronicle’ with a vivid account of the battle of Omdurman and the recapture of Khartoum in Sept. 1898. The state of his health did not permit of his going to South Africa, but he wrote in London a diary of the Boer War for the ‘Morning Leader.’ He published in 1902 a vigorous pamphlet entitled ‘Hushed Up,’ protesting against the limited scope of the official inquiry into the management of the Boer war.

Williams was a strong adherent of Lord Wolseley's military views and policy, and had an intimate knowledge of military detail. On these subjects he wrote much in the ‘United Service Magazine,’ the ‘National Review,’ and other periodicals. In 1892 he published a somewhat controversial ‘Life of Sir H. Evelyn Wood,’ independently vindicating Sir Evelyn's action after Majuba Hill in 1881 (cf. Sir H. E. Wood, From Midshipman to Field-Marshal, ch. 37). Williams also tried his hand at fiction, and wrote some ‘Songs for Soldiers.’ He was a zealous churchman, and presented to Bishop Creighton as a thank-offering for his safe return from Khartoum an ivory and gold mitre designed by himself. Williams vainly contested West Leeds in the conservative interest in 1886, against Mr. Herbert (now Viscount) Gladstone. Although of irascible temper, he was chairman of the London district of the Institute of Journalists in 1893–4, and was president in 1896–7 of the Press Club, of which he was founder. He died at lodgings in Brixton on 9 Feb. 1904.

[Men of the Time, 1899; Daily Chronicle, 10 Feb. 1904 (with portrait and memoir by Mr. H. W. Nevinson); The Times, and Standard, 10 Feb.; United Service Gazette, and Athenæum, 13 Feb.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Allibone's Dict. Suppl.]

G. Le G. N.