January 22, 2014

An amiable young man – Provo Wallis

Born in April 1791 in Halifax, Sir Provo William Parry Wallis earned many distinctions in his lifetime. Wallis was the longest serving member of the Royal Navy and the last surviving British veteran of the War of 1812.

The Wallis family had a long tradition of Royal Navy service and it was Provo’s father who wanted him to have a naval career.  Provo’s father used his connections to have his son registered in 1795 as an able seaman at the age of four.  Wallis eventually went to England where he recalled starting his ‘real’ naval career in October 1804 serving on the Cleopatra.  Wallis served on a number of vessels before being transferred to the Shannon as a second lieutenant in January 1812. The Shannon’s captain, Philip Bowes Vere Broke, said that Wallis “seems an amiable young man.”
Sir Provo Wallis

The Shannon patrolled the U.S. coast during the War of 1812 and on June 1, 1813 the Shannon was patrolling Boston Harbor when it engaged the American frigate Chesapeake. In a short, fierce engagement the Shannon disabled the Chesapeake and boarded the vessel as the Chesapeake captain, James Lawrence, exclaimed “Don’t give up the ship!” Shortly thereafter the Chesapeake struck her colours and surrendered. During the engagement, the Shannon’s first lieutenant was killed and its captain was badly wounded, leaving Wallis in command of both vessels in hostile waters. Both ships were repaired at sea and preceded to Halifax Harbour, and for his actions Wallis was promoted to commander. 

After the war, Wallis altered between sea duty and periods of inactivity. By 1857 Wallis was in command of the Cumberland as Commander-in-Chief off the coast of South America before being recalled as he was promoted to vice-admiral. This proved to be his last service at sea at the age of 70.

Wallis later served as vice-admiral of the United Kingdom before being promoted to admiral of the fleet. In 1870 the Admiralty introduced a new retirement system that allowed for any officer to remain on the active service list if he commanded a ship during the Napoleonic Wars. Upon reaching his nineties the admiralty encouraged Wallis to retire but he refused saying that he would be glad to go to sea again. Wallis remained on the active service list of the navy receiving full pay until his death in 1892 in Funtington, England at the age of 100. Upon his death many in the Royal Navy were able to finally be promoted.

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