CORNWALLIS, SIR WILLIAM British admiral, was the brother of the ist Marquess Cornwallis, gover nor-general of India. He was born on Feb. 20, 1744, entered the navy as a boy of 1, and had reached post-rank when he was 2 2. In 1779 he commanded the "Lion" in the fleet of Admiral Byron. The "Lion" was very roughly handled in the battle off Grenada on July 6, 1779, and had to make her way alone to Jamaica. In March 178o he fought an action in company with two other vessels against a much superior French force off Monti Cristi, and had another encounter with them near Bermuda in June. The force he engaged was the fleet carrying the troops of Rochambeau to North America, and was too strong for his squadron of two small liners, two 50-gun ships and a frigate. After taking part in the second relief of Gibraltar, he returned to North America, and served with Hood in the actions at the Basse Terre of St. Kitts, and with Rodney in the battle of Dominica on April 12, 1782. Some very rough verses which he wrote on the action have been printed in Leyland's Brest-Papers, published for the Navy Record Society, and show that he thought very ill of Rodney's conduct of the battle. Cornwallis's papers on this and other actions are valuable in the history of the British navy. In 1788 he went to the East Indies as commodore, and had some share in the war with Tippoo Sahib, and helped to reduce Pondi cherry. His promotion to rear-admiral dates from Feb. 1, 1793, and on July 4, 1794, he became vice-admiral.
In the Revolutionary War his services were in the Channel. The most signal of them was performed on June 16, 1795, when he carried out what was always spoken of with respect as "the retreat of Cornwallis." He was cruising near Brest with four sail of the line and two frigates, when he was sighted by a French fleet of 12 sail of the line, and many large frigates commanded by Villaret Joyeuse. The odds being very great he was compelled to make off. But two of his ships were heavy sailers and fell behind. He was consequently overtaken, and attacked on both sides. The rearmost ship, the "Mars" (74), suffered severely in her rigging and was in danger of being surrounded by the French. Corn wallis turned to support her, and the enemy, impressed by a con viction that he must be relying on help within easy reach, gave up the pursuit. In 1796 he incurred a court-martial, but was prac tically acquitted. The substance of the case was that he demurred on the ground of health at being called upon to go to the West Indies, in a small frigate, and without "comfort." He became full admiral in 1799, and held the Channel command for a short in terval in 18o r and from 1803 to 1806, but saw no further service. He was made a G.C.B. in 1815, and died on July 5, 1819.
See G. Cornwallis-West, The Life and Letters of Admiral Cornwallis (1927).