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Lieutenant General
William Francis Drummond Jervois, G.C.M.G., C.B.
Colonel Commandant, Royal Engineers
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 2000.

An original steel engraving of Jervois
as a Lieutenant Colonel, circa 1862

I. Personal Data [1]

William Francis Drummond Jervois was born on the 10th of September 1821 at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, a small seaport village 9 miles west-southwest of Portsmouth. He was the eldest son of Sir William Jervois, K.H. [2].

Jervois was educated at the Royal Military Academy Gosport and the Royal Military Academy Woolwich prior to being commissioned in the Royal Engineers.

In 1850 he married Lucy Nosworthy, daughter of William Nosworthy. Lucy Nosworthy died in 1894.

II. Military Service

  1. Promotions [3]

Rank Promoted to:

Dates of Rank

Regimental Ranks

Army Ranks

Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant

19 March 1839


8 October 1841

2nd Captain

13 December 1847


29 September 1854


20 October 1854

Lieutenant Colonel  

13 February 1861

Lieutenant Colonel

1 April 1862


1 April 1867


27 January 1872

Major General  

1 October 1877

Lieutenant General  

7 April 1882

Colonel Commandant R.E.

28 Jun 1893


B. Assignments

Shortly after he was commissioned, Lieutenant Jervois was posted to South Africa. In 1842 he served as Brigade-Major in a British force under the command of Sir Harry Smith. This force marched against the newly formed Boer Republic of Natal and occupied Durban. The British dismantled the Boer Republic and three years later formally annexed Natal to the British Empire [4]. Jervois was still in South Africa when this annexation occurred.

In April of 1846 an expedition was mounted against the Gaika Kaffirs who were then under the leadership of Chief Sandilli [5]. Lieutenant Jervois took part in this expedition which lasted until October of 1847. During that time he produced military sketches of 2,000 square miles of Kaffirland (Kaffraria) and actually survey 1,100 square miles of the area [6]. For his service during the war, Jervois was awarded the South Africa 1934-1853 Medal [7]. This would be the only significant war service he would see during his long and illustrious military career.

Jervois returned to England after the war against the Gaika Kaffirs and was assigned to the London District. In September of 1847 he was assigned the job of designing the powder magazine at Fort Glamorgan in East London [8]. In addition to this work, he was also assigned the task of drawing some of the earliest maps of East London [9].

Following his promotion to 2nd Captain, Jervois was given command of 11th Company, Royal Engineers at Woolwich. On the 30th of June 1852 he and his company arrived at Alderney, the northernmost of the Channel Islands. There, on that 4.5 mile long, 3 square mile island in the Guernsey bailiwick, the 11th Company was employed on the construction of defensive works for the island.

Jervois left the Channel Islands in 1855 and was assigned as the Commander Royal Engineers (C.R.E.) for the London District. In the following year he was assigned to the War Office as Advisor to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Palmerston. His job at the War Office was to advise Lord Palmerston on the state of the fortifications of Portsmouth, Plymouth, Pembroke, Portland, Cork, The Thames and The Medway. While only 35 years of age, Major Jervois had apparently gained the reputation as an expert in fortifications. This reputation would guide his postings around the world for about the next 20 years.

In 1859 Major Jervois was assigned to duties as the secretary to the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom. While serving in this capacity, he submitted proposals to the Commission for the construction of a ring of forts, some 53 miles long, around London. These proposals were considered to be the first serious attempt to provide fixed defences for the London area. Jervois’ proposals included a line of forts 800 yards apart, with about 25 guns and 250 men in each fort. He also put forth an alternate proposal, in the event that his primary proposal was rejected, that called for a smaller protective perimeter of defence around the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. Both proposals were rejected by the Commission because of their high costs.

Jervois was persistence in advancing his plan for the defence of London. Beanse and Gill [10] describe his further actions:

"At the time the only maps available of the area were 1 inch Ordnance Survey Maps and Sir Henry Stokes (Secretary for Military Correspondence) recommended that a detachment of Royal Engineers under Jervois’ control should make a survey and produce more detailed maps. These maps covered an area from Chatham via Reigate and Guildford to Reading at a scale of 6 inches to 1 mile. They contained a wealth of topographical detail and were doubtless used later when planning the London Defence Scheme. Permission was later given to extend work to Essex and subsequently the earlier maps were revised."

"Once the maps were made, Jervois requested the use of a Royal Engineers Officer and two Draughtsmen to prepare plans for extemporised works to be constructed in event of an invasion, these plans to be held as a confidential documents at the War Office. This request was approved on the 22nd November 1870, although two junior officers were substituted for the two draughtsmen."

"It would seem that Jervois had not given up on the idea of a ring of permanent works either as a map of London, marked on the back Plan to accompany Report on Proposed Line for Permanent Defences around London. Wm. J. Drummond-Jervois 6th April 1875, would indicate. This showed a total of 89 sites for works indicated along the 93-mile length of the line. There was also a reduced perimeter shown with 34 sites along its length."

While his scheme for the defences of London was in the making, Lieutenant Colonel Jervois was undertaking other duties associated with fortifications. In 1863 he was sent on a special mission to advise on the fortifications of Canada and Bermuda. While in Canada Jervois was of the opinion that the United States would invade the country and that there was an urgent need to set up a stronger network of defence. He felt that if British troops were forced to retreat before an advancing American army in the Province of Quebec, then the port of Quebec would be their last refuge. Based on his recommendations, the British Parliament voted to provide funds for the construction of a network of detached forts that would fend off the enemy to the south and complement the defensive system on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River [11].

Jervois spent the years 1864 and 1865 in Canada working on the fortification schemes. He then returned to England where he again took up the plans for the defences of London as describe above. During this period he also served on the Special Committee on Spithead Defences [12].

Again in the role of advisor on fortifications, Colonel Jervois was sent to India where he spent the years 1871 and 1872. Following the completion of his work in India he returned home and was posted to Ireland to work on the defences of Cork Harbour. In February of 1874 he reported to the Defence Committee that all the required work at Cork had been completed successfully.

At this point, Jervois’ career took a different turn. In 1875 he left behind the world of fortifications and was appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements. The Straits Settlements were a British crown colony on the south and west coast of the Malay Peninsula including adjacent islands, comprising Singapore, Penang and the Melaka settlements. During his stint as Governor, he convinced the colonists in the settlements to form a local defence force and was instrumental in quelling an uprising in Malaya [13].

Following the termination of his term as Governor of the Straits Settlements in 1877, Jervois was sent to Australasia as an advisor to the Australasian governments in matters of defence. Australasia was the term used at that time to define the region of the Southern Hemisphere that included Australia, New Zealand and their dependencies, and other nearby South Pacific islands. He was to continue to serve in this advisory position until 1889, even while serving as the Governor of South Australia and as Governor of New Zealand. It would appear that the vast amount of experience he had in the field of fortifications was considered by the British government to be crucial to the successful defence of Australasia.

On the 2nd of October 1877, the day following his promotion to the rank of Major General, Jervois was appointed Governor of South Australia. Relatives of Jervois had preceded him to Australia in 1862. The Snow family, cousins of Jervois, lived in the Cleve House on the Eyre Peninsula in Southern Australia. His cousin Thomas Snow was subsequently appointed as his secretary, and in 1878 Jervois would name Snowtown in South Australia after his cousin to perpetuate his name.

While Jervois spent most of his time in the capital city of Adelaide, he did have a summer home at Heathfield Estate in Port Elliot, south of the capital city [14]. During his time as Governor of South Australia, Jervois was much involved with the development of the country. Many new railway lines were being constructed in South Australia. On the 22nd of November 1881, Governor Jervois presided over the opening of the railway line from Adelaide to Orroroo [15].

III. Diplomatic Service

Jervois appears to have liked the life in Australasia. Following his retirement from the Army as a Lieutenant General on the 7th of April 1882, Jervois remained in Australia. He left on the 9th of January 1883 to take up the position as Governor of New Zealand.

His duties in Auckland were many and varied, and Jervois seemed to involve himself in many different aspects of his job. On the 21st of May 1883 he presided at the formal opening of the Auckland University College. The ceremony took place in the Choral Hall, then the largest hall in Auckland. At the ceremony, Sir William announced that the College was to be a thoroughly democratic institution, open to all, women as well as men, and to all classes [16].

His desire for equality also manifested itself in the honours bestowed on women. In 1883 Sir William invested the first woman with an honour in New Zealand. Miss A. Crisp was presented the Royal Red Cross by Governor Jervois in recognition of her nursing services with British troops in Zululand and in Egypt [17].

In 1883 Sir William also completed a report of an investigation of Tasmania’s defences and suggested an immediate start to the up-grading of seaport defences and field forces [18]. This investigation was in keeping with his advisory duties to the home government for the defences and fortifications in Austalasia, a duty with which he had been charged back in 1877.

Governor Jervois also traveled to visit the indigenous peoples of New Zealand. The New Zealand National Archives record that in 1884 he visited Kaipara, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of the northern extension of North Island. There he met a local chief by the name of Parore Te Awha, to whom he sent a letter and a flag as a memento of his visit.

On the 16th of March 1887, at the instigation of Mr. William Fitzgerald of the Star Boat Club, representatives of nine rowing clubs from Wellington, New Zealand formed the New Zealand Amateur Rowing Association. Sir William Jervois was named as the first Patron of the Association [19].

Sir William’s liberal tendencies did not extend to criminals. In late 1886 two men, John Caffrey and Henry Albert Penn, killed a settler by the name of Robert Taylor and abducted Taylor’s two daughters, intending to take the women with them on a stolen boat to America. They were apprehended, tried and convicted for murder and kidnapping. Jervois, as Governor, had the authority to extend mercy to the convicted men to prevent their execution. After reviewing a letter from C.D.R. Ward, Supreme Court Judge, in which Ward recommended against mercy, Jervois denied their appeal and the two men were executed at Mt. Eden jail on the 21st of February 1887 [20].

IV. The Final Years

In 1889 Sir William Jervois relinquished his position as Governor of New Zealand and returned to England. He was not, however, ready to go into full retirement. He was appointed by Mr. Edward Stanhope, the Secretary of State for war, to serve on the Secretary’s Commission of Military Defences. This he did from 1890 to 1891. On the 28th of June 1893, Sir William was appointed Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Engineers.

Sir William’s wife Lucy died in the year 1894. At the time of her death the Jervois were living at Merlewood, Virginia Water in Surrey. In his final years he appears to have devoted himself to his recreations of drawing, reading, riding and driving. He was also active in his many clubs including the Athenaeum, United Service and all the Australasian clubs.

Lieutenant General Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois died on the 17th of August 1897 at Bittern Court in Hampshire. The cause of his death was listed as a result of injuries suffered in a carriage accident - a tragic end to the life of an extraordinary Sapper officer.


[1] Who Was Who, 1897-1916.

[2] Sir William Jervois, K.H. 2nd Lieutenant, 7 April 1804; Lieutenant, 8 August 1804, Captain, 14 July 1808; Major, 19 December 1813; Lieutenant Colonel, 22 September 1814; Colonel, 10 January 1837; Major General, 9 November 1846; Lieutenant General, 20 June 1854. Colonel of the 76th Regiment of Foot. Source: Hart’s Annual Army List 1860, p. 8.

[3] CONNOLLY, T.W.J. Roll of Officers of the Corps of Royal Engineers From 1660 to 1898. The Royal Engineers Institute, Chatham, Kent, 1898.

[4] FARWELL, B. The Great Anglo-Boer War. Harper & Row, New York, 1976, p. 9.

[5] GORDON, L.L. British Battles and Medals. Spink & Son, Ltd., London, 1971.

[6] Hart’s Annual Army List 1895, p. 220.

[7] Jervois is wearing the ribbon for this medal in the steel engraving at the beginning of this article.

[8] TANKARD, K. The Labyrinth of East London Lore: Fort Glamorgan. www.sael.org.za/eglamorg.htm

[9] TANKARD, K. The Labyrinth of East London Lore: The Quigney. www.sael.org.za/equigney.htm

[10] BEANSE, A. and GILL, R. The London Mobilisation Centres. Palmerston Forts Society. www.argonet.co.uk/education/dmoore/redan/lmc.htm

[11] Parks Canada. National Historic Sites. Levis, A Sentinel of Quebec … and of the Empire.

[12] Spitbank Fort. Palmerston Forts Society. The Redan, No. 41, October 1997 www.argonet.co.uk/users/dmoore/redan/spit.htm

[13] Australian Imperialism. Robbers and Spoilers: Australia and Britain in the 19th Century Pacific. www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/interventions/empire.htm

[14] Today (2000), after extensive renovations by its current owner, the house is available for hire to anyone. According to the caretaker, one would not be alone in the house, as a friendly ghost is said to reside there.

[15] The Peterborough Railway Division www.ozemail.com.au/~stationmaster/sarailhist.txt

[16] The University of Auckland, New Zealand. Student Administration www.auckland.ac.nz

[17] New Zealand Royal Honours System. www.dpmc.govt.nz/honours/intro/history.html

[18] Tasmanian Gunners History. www.vision.net.au/~pwood/need.htm

[19] The History of New Zealand Rowing. www.rowingnz.org.nz/info/history.htm

[20] National Register of Archives and Manuscripts of New Zealand, NRAM Reference X2075.