Navy’s founding father honoured

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Ryan Zerbe (author), Lois Comeadow (photographer)

Location(s): Brighton Cemetery, Melbourne

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History

Assembled representatives from Navy and a number of Vice Admiral William Creswell’s descendants stand by his newly restored grave.  (photo: Lois Comeadow)
Assembled representatives from Navy and a number of Vice Admiral William Creswell’s descendants stand by his newly restored grave.

Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell, considered the ‘Father’ of the Royal Australian Navy, has been honoured with a small ceremony at Brighton Cemetery in Melbourne.

VADM Creswell’s family grave was restored and a plaque unveiled in front of his descendants and assembled officers and sailors, following a reading by Navy Chaplain Kate Lord and with musical accompaniment by the RAN Band.

CMDR John Goss supported the restoration of VADM Creswell’s grave, securing funding for the project and volunteering his own time to ensure it was done appropriately.

“I’ve worked closely with the Southern Metropolitan Cemetery Trust, Naval historian John Perryman and VADM Creswell’s descendants to navigate the approval process to have the gravesite restored,” CMDR Goss said.

“VADM Creswell’s military service spanned key periods in history when the world changed dramatically and Australia needed exceptional people; this project has been a labour of respect for his contribution.”

Born in Gibraltar in 1852, VADM Creswell studied at Eastman’s Naval Academy in Southsea, England before joining the Royal Navy aged thirteen and going on to serve at sea as a young Lieutenant in China, the Malay Coast, where he was shot during a skirmish with pirates, and Zanzibar, supporting efforts to stop slave trading.

In 1879 VADM Creswell migrated to Australia as a pastoralist and in 1885 joined the Royal Navy’s Australian Squadron as a Lieutenant Commander.

He spent more than 20 years advocating for Australia to have its own navy and supporting the expansion of the Australian Squadron’s fleets.

VADM Creswell’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Savior, unveiled the restored grave and said she was proud of his legacy as the first head of Australia’s own naval force.

“He was the only Admiral in the British Empire in charge of three navies, located in Victoria, New South Wales and Australia,” she said.

“It was hard for him to convince Australian Prime Ministers and public leaders in Great Britain of how important an Australian navy was.”

Ms Savior often visited the grave as a child in the 1940s and was glad to see it restored.

“I think it looks lovely and I appreciate the Navy doing this for us and for him,” she said.

VADM Creswell eventually became the Senior Naval Officer in Australia and was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in June 1911, just a month before King George granted the title of Royal Australian Navy to Commonwealth naval forces under Creswell’s command.

VADM Creswell’s efforts meant the Royal Australian Navy was ready for conflict during the First World War and he put lessons from the war into building a post-war defence programme.

He retired to Silvan, near Melbourne and passed away in 1933.

HMAS Creswell, home of the Royal Australian Naval College, is named after him.