Tag Archives: William Lewis

A Welsh Admiral in Catherine the Great’s Navy (Part 2)

I recently received a response from Trish Newman to my original post under this title. Trish generously pointed me towards Anthony Cross’s book By the Banks of the Neva: Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the British in Eighteenth Century Russia (Cambridge, 1997), which sheds further light on the career of William Lewis. The following is a summary of Cross’s account.

Lewis arrived in Russia in 1714 as an ‘under-lieutenant’ (podporuchik) and eventually rose to be ‘captain of the rank of colonel’ in January 1733. He was often given positions of special responsibility, such as escorting Peter the Great’s daughter Anna to Holstein following her marriage to its duke, or going to London in 1733 to recruit shipbuilders (a mission mentioned in my first post about him). In the reign of the (by then) Empress Anna (1730-40), he was dismissed the service and exiled from Russia ‘for not more than two days…for daring to petition personally the empress for the restoration of pay’, but he was swiftly pardoned and returned to command. During the 1740s he was successively commander at Archangel, Kronstadt and Reval. In 1743 he commanded the White Sea squadron that attempted to leave Archangel to join the fleet moving against the Swedes; the fleet was dispersed in a storm and he was court-martialled, but acquitted. He commanded the Reval squadron that took part in the capture of Memel in 1757, but the arrival of a British fleet in the Baltic led to him being given permission to reside ashore at Memel until the conflict between Russia and Britain was over. In addition to making him a full admiral, Catherine the Great also bestowed on him the prestigious Order of Alexander Nevskii, but he retired in 1764 and continued to live in St Petersburg on a full pension until his death in March 1769.

Despite being quite evidently one of the most important Welsh naval officers of the entire age of sail, William Lewis remains frustratingly obscure. I’ll keep trying to track down his origins, and would be very grateful to hear from anybody with further information about him!

Displays relating to the Russian navy during the era of William Lewis and Catherine the Great: Russian naval museum, St Petersburg

Displays relating to the Russian navy during the era of William Lewis and Catherine the Great: Russian naval museum, St Petersburg, photographed January 2003

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