General Sir William Fenwick Williams, 1st Baronet(4 December 1800 – 26 July 1883) was a Nova Scotian and renowned military leader for the British during the Victorian era.
He is remembered for his gallant defence of the town of Kars during the Crimean War. He with other British officers inspired the poorly equipped Turkish soldiers to repel Russian attacks by General Murav’ev on the besieged town for three months causing 6,000 Russian casualties. They were forced to surrender due to starvation, disease and shortage of ammunition. However they surrendered on their own terms with the officers being allowed to retain their swords. Williams was imprisoned at Ryazan but he was treated very well and released at the end of the Crimean War in 1856. Before returning home he was introduced to Czar Alexander II. Many other honours were bestowed upon Sir William and it was particularly fitting that in 1865-7, he was appointed the first Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, where he had been born at the turn of the 19th century. The portrait by William Gush was painted for the Parliament House, Halifax, Nova Scotia and hangs to this day in Province House, Halifax.
He was born in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, the second son of Commissary-General Thomas Williams, barrack-master at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He was however widely rumoured to be the natural son of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn; this would make him Queen Victoria’s half-brother. Williams never denied this but it is not thought to be true.
Williamse was educated at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. He entered the Royal Artillery as second lieutenant in 1825. His services were lent to Turkey in 1841, and he was employed as a captain in the arsenal at Constantinople. He was British commissioner in the conferences preceding the treaty of Erzerum in 1847, and again in the settlement of the Ottoman-Iranian boundary in 1848 (brevet majority and lieutenant-colonelcy and CB).
Promoted colonel, he was British commissioner with the Turkish army in Anatolia in the Crimean War (Russian War) of 1854–56, and, having been made a pasha (general/governor/lord) with the degree of ferik (major-general), he practically commanded the Turks during the defence of Kars, repulsing several Russian attacks by the Russian general Muravyov. Muravyov initially had planned a direct assault on the city but due to the ferocity of the Turkish soldiers decided to limit Russian losses by changing his strategy into the siege of Kars (not to be confused with the Battle of Kars). The siege lasted five months. Cold, cholera, famine and hopelessness of succour from without, however, compelled Williams to make an honourable capitulation on 28 November 1855.
Williams had put up such an honorable defence of the city that Count Muravyov stated “General Williams, you have made yourself a name in history, and posterity will stand amazed at the endurance, courage and the discipline which the siege has called forth in the remains of the army.”
A baronetcy with pension for life, the KCB, the grand cross of the Legion of Honour and of the Turkish Medjidie, the freedom of the City of London with a sword of honour, and the honorary degree of DCL of Oxford University, were the distinctions conferred upon him for his valour.
Promoted major-general in November 1855 on his return from captivity in Russia, he held the Woolwich command, and represented the borough of Calne in parliament from 1856 to 1859.
In the lead up to the American Civil War, from 1859 to 1864, he held the position of Commander in Chief, North America, and was responsible for preparations for war with the United States in the case that relations broke down. The most severe strain in relations occurring during the Trent Affair.
He became lieutenant-general and colonel-commandant Royal Artillery in 1864, general in 1868, commanded the forces in Canada from 1859 to 1865.
He held the governorship of Nova Scotia 1865–1867. Post Canadian Confederation in 1867, Williams was reappointed as the first Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia and the governorship of Gibraltar from September 1870 to 1876. He was made GCB in 1871, and Constable of the Tower of London in 1881.