Prowse, William (1751/21826), naval officer, was born in Stonehouse, Devon, and was probably raised as a child on a trading vessel. From November 1771 to February 1776 he was an able seaman in the Dublin, guardship in Hamoaze; and from November 1776 to August 1778 he was in the Albion, one of the ships which sailed for North America in June 1778, under the command of Vice-Admiral John Byron. Early in 1778 Captain George Bowyer was appointed to the Albion, and on 31 August he rated Prowse a midshipman, in which capacity, or as master's mate, he was present at the actions off Grenada on 6 July 1779, and near Martinique in April and May 1781. On 17 January 1782 he passed his examination; afterwards he served in the Atlas and Cyclops, and on 6 December 1782 he was promoted lieutenant.
Prowse continued in the Cyclops on the coast of North America until March 1784, after which, for several years, his service was intermittent, much of the time being probably spent in command of merchant ships. During the armament of 1787 he served for a couple of months in the Bellona with George Bowyer, and in 1790 he was in the Barfleur and Stately with Captain Robert Calder. From August 1791 to January 1793 he was in the Duke, carrying the flag of Lord Hood at Portsmouth; in March 1793 he joined the Prince with Bowyer, now a vice-admiral, and Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, whom in December he followed to the Barfleur. With them Prowse took part in the action of 1 June 1794. From July 1794 to October 1795 he was with Calder in the Theseus, and later he went to the Mediterranean with him in the Lively. From her he joined the Victory, carrying the flag of Sir John Jervis. On 20 October 1796 Prowse was promoted to the command of the Raven, in which he was present in the action off Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797. On 6 March he was promoted by Jervis to the command of the Salvador del Mundo, one of the prizes, which he paid off in the following November.
From August 1800 to April 1802 Prowse was flag-captain to Calder in the Prince of Wales, and in August 1802 he commissioned the frigate Sirius. For the next three years he was attached to the fleet off Brest and in the Bay of Biscay, and especially during 1804 and 1805 with Calder off Rochefort and Ferrol. After involvement in the action off Cape Finisterre on 22 July 1805, the Sirius, with Calder, joined the fleet off Cadiz, and, remaining there on Calder's return to England, was present at the battle of Trafalgar. The Sirius continued in the Mediterranean under Collingwood's command, and on 17 April 1806 attacked a flotilla of French armed vessels near Civita Vecchia, capturing the corvette Bergère. For his conduct on this occasion the patriotic fund voted Prowse a sword of the value of £100. The Sirius was paid off in May 1808, and from March 1810 to December 1813 Prowse commanded the Theseus in the North Sea; in 1813 he brought the East India Company's fleet home from St Helena, for which he received a piece of plate from the commanders. He had no further service afloat, but was nominated a CB on 4 June 1815, made colonel of marines on 12 August 1819, and promoted rear-admiral on 19 July 1821; he died on 23 March 1826, aged seventy-four, at his home, 3 Tonbridge Place, New Road, London.
Prowse was considered a worthy man, and his career offers a good example of how it was possible for someone of humble origins to rise to flag-rank through consistent, if not remarkable, service. He was apparently unmarried, and was able to leave his five sisters £2000 each.
J. K. Laughton, rev. A. W. H. Pearsall
J. Leyland, ed., Dispatches and letters relating to the blockade of Brest, 18031805, 2 vols., Navy RS, 14, 21 (18991902) · Recollections of James Anthony Gardner, ed. R. V. Hamilton and J. K. Laughton, Navy RS, 31 (1906) · T. S. Jackson, ed., Logs of the great sea fights, 17941805, 2 vols., Navy RS, 16, 18 (18991900), vol. 1, p. 199; vol. 2, p. 144 · Private papers of George, second Earl Spencer, ed. J. S. Corbett and H. W. Richmond, 2, Navy RS, 48 (1924), 91 · J. Marshall, Royal naval biography, 4/2 (1835), 182 · GM, 1st ser., 96/1 (1826), 380 · TNA: PRO, ADM 1/2344, 36/7594, 107/8, p.196
Wealth at death
over £10,000; bequeathed £2000 to each of five sisters