William Henry Drake

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Drake Stories◄ ● ► After Portugal


When I tell people about the life of my great-great-great-grandfather, William Henry Drake, they catch their breath when I give them a whirlwind tour of his life.

PORTUGAL – 1812
He was born in September 1812 at Coimbra, Portugal, where his father, then Deputy Commissary-General John Drake, was serving with Wellington’s army during the Peninsula War.

BARBADOS – 1828
At age 15, in February 1828, he started work with the Barbados Customs Department, where his father was serving in the commissariat.

SWAN RIVER COLONY – 1831
In July 1831, when he was 18, he was working as a Treasury Clerk in the Commissariat Department, and was sent out to the struggling Swan River Colony (Western Australia), arriving on 28 December 1831. This is where he met and married Louisa Purkis in 1833, and where he was promoted to a Deputy-Assistant Commissary-General in April 1835, and to Assistant Commissary-General in December 1845. In 1847, his 12-year-old son, John, left Perth, probably to go to school in England. As far as I am aware, he did not live with his parents again.

HOBART – 1848
Henry was posted to Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), in May 1848, staying there for just short of two years.

LONDON AND CANADA – 1850
In 1850 he visited London before going on to Canada, where he was stationed at Saint John, New Brunswick. Here, his 8-year-old daughter, Emily Caroline, died of scarlet fever in October 1853.

CRIMEA – 1854
As tensions were brewing with Russia in the Crimea in 1854, he returned to London, and was immediately sent to serve with the “Eastern Army”. During the Crimean War, he was stationed at Piræus, Varna, and Balaklava. He also took part in expeditions to Kertch. While stationed at Balaklava, in January 1855, he was promoted to Deputy Commissary-General. His wife, Louisa, and eldest daughter, Louisa Maria, joined him at Balaklava in mid-1855. His daughters, Charlotte and Laura, stayed in England with their grandparents to attend school.

Henry received a few honours after his service in the Crimean War. He was elevated to Companion of the Bath (C.B.) in May 1856, and received the Crimean War medal with three clasps for Balaklava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol. He also became a Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honor (France), an Officer of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus (Sardinia), and a member of the 4thClass of the Order of Medjidie, and received a Turkish Medal.

LONDON – 1856
After hostilities ended, Henry, Louisa, and Louisa Maria travelled back to London via Paris, arriving home in August 1856.

GIBRALTAR AND GRAHAMSTOWN – 1858
After a period of half pay in London, Henry was sent to Gibraltar in April 1858, then on to Grahamstown, South Africa, in late 1859, shortly after his promotion to Commissary-General in June 1859. It was here that his wife of nearly 30 years, Louisa, died in October 1862, and where he married 21-year-old Elizabeth Lucy Wood in September 1863, much to the chagrin of his daughters who were about the same age as Elizabeth.

AUCKLAND – 1864 (Briefly)
In May 1864, he was posted to Auckland, New Zealand, where the first child of his second family, Ella, was born in September. A month before that he had been ordered back to London. The family left Auckland on 25 October 1864, and travelled to England via Melbourne, landing at Gravesend on 30 January 1865.

DUBLIN – 1867
After another period on half pay, Henry was sent to Dublin, Ireland, where he served from March 1867 until October 1869.

LONDON – 1869
The family then returned to London, where Henry retired in December 1877, having served as Director of Supplies and Transport from September 1871. In July 1871 Henry had received the honour of Knighthood, being elevated as Knight Commander of the Bath (K.C.B.).

He died at his home at 10 Clanricarde Gardens, Bayswater, on 28 January 1882. He had four surviving adult children by his first wife, Louisa, and five young children by his second, Elizabeth.

He and his family certainly moved around a lot.


In April 2005 I was fortunate enough to buy a photograph of Sir William Henry Drake, K.C.B., on eBay for £24.00. What a self-assured and impressive-looking man he was. Just imagine him with a full red beard before he turned grey, and you get a better feel of what he looked like. This is how he described himself to his wife, Louisa, on 12 October 1854:

For myself, if you should ever be taking a morning Stroll on the Wharf at Balaklava & meet a tolerably stout person in Silver Specs, with long red beard very thick & fierce moustache, in fact hair only cut away, just to leave room for soup, blue old Coat (no Straps on Shoulder) 1  & Wt coat & Blk pants, blue forage Cap walking & talking very fast, that is your hub: I found in getting into my dress Coat the other day that I was rather thinner than when I wore it last which is rather an improvement.

1. In this, Henry seemed to be pre-empting a decision about commissariat uniforms, taken in December 1854. “THE ARMY. DUBLIN, FRIDAY MORNING. The new commissariat uniform dispenses with epaulettes.” [“Multiple News Items.”Standard [London, England] 23 Dec. 1854: n.p.British Library Newspapers. Web. 18 Apr. 2018.]

WH Drake Front WH Drake Back
Sir William Henry Drake, c 1871
©Megan Stevens
Verso of photograph
©Megan Stevens

Just where this photo had come from, I don’t know, but the handwriting, in the main, is that of my late great-aunt, Amy Goss. I don’t know who wrote “The Marshall side”, but it seems likely that it was another Ayliff relative. It felt odd to me to be buying a photograph which had obviously been in my family before, but there you go.


Drake Stories◄ ● ► After Portugal


See also:

Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Wikipedia – William Henry Drake

©Megan Stevens 2018

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