Lieutenant William Rivers (1788-1856)

Head-and-shoulders classical-style marble bust on a round socle, signed on the reverse 'T.MILNES / 1857'. The associated pedestal bears the inscription: ' WILLIAM RIVERS / LIEUTENTANT R.N. / AN / AIDE DE CAMP / TO / VICE ADMIRAL / LORD VISCOUNT NELSON K. B. / AT / TRAFALGAR / FOR 27 YEARS / ADJUTANT LIEUTENANT / OF / GREENWICH HOSPITAL / BORN 30TH NOVR. 1788 / DIED 5TH DECR. 1856 / ---/ 'FAITHFUL BELOW HE DID HIS DUTY' / ---/ PRESENTED / TO GRENWICH HOSPIRTAL / BY HIS SHIPMATES AND FRIENDS / AUGUST 1857. (The quotation 'Faithful below he did his duty' is from Charles Dibdin's famous song 'Tom Bowling': it appropriately continues 'But now he's gone aloft...', as all who originally saw it would have known.)


Rivers was a veteran of the French wars, in which he was a long-serving man in the 'Victory' including at Cape St Vincent in 1797 and Trafalgar in 1805 (where his lost his left leg) before being commissioned lieutenant in 1806. Though he served to the end of the French wars in 1815, his lack of patronage meant he never gained further promotion and he thereafter had difficulty supporting a large family until appointed Warden of Woolwich Dockyard in 1824 and, finally, a lieutenant of Greenwich Hospital in April 1826. After a few years he became the Governor's Adjutant, remaining so to his death on 5 December 1856.

Rivers was highly regarded in the Hospital and on 26 August 1857 the Board read a letter from Joseph Allen, their Military Inspector of Dining Halls and Kitchens, offering this bust as a gift to the Hospital from Rivers' 'friends and shipmates', who had subscribed for it, and requesting that in consideration of his 26 years [sic] of service to the institution the Board 'allot [it] an eligible position within the walls as a tribute to his memory'. It was originally placed in the Royal Charles Ward (a public 'show' ward) and moved to the Naval Gallery in the Painted Hall later in the century. This bust is currently (2010) on display in 'Discover Greenwich', the World Heritage Site visitor centre at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

Object Details

ID: SCU0046
Collection: Sculpture
Type: Bust
Display location: Display - Sea Things Gallery
Creator: Milnes, Thomas
Date made: 1857
People: Rivers, William
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: 690 x 560 mm
Parts: Lieutenant William Rivers (1788-1856)
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