Captain William Henry Shakespear-The Shakespeare Family History Site

The Shakespeare Family History Site






 Captain William Henry Shakespear

A Portrait by H V F Winstone, 1976

ISBN 0 224 01194 4

The short life of William Henry Shakespear - one of the most intrepid and accomplished lone explorers that Britain produced in the heyday of her Empire - is today a legend among the tribesmen of Central Arabia. Sixty years after his heroic death, Captain Shakespear's name and deeds are virtually unknown to his fellow countrymen and his memory is lost even to his closest surviving relatives. In 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom', Lawrence mentioned the tales his guides told round the camp fire about Shakespear. Some years later, Philby recalled the great warrior king Ibn Saud speaking of his friend Shakespear. Yet the disappearance after his death of some of the most important government files relating to Shakespear, while many less important government papers of the time survive, has assured, until now, an undeserved obscurity outside Arabia to their subject.

Mr Winstone first stumbled  across Captain Shakespear's exploits by chance when he was researching a history of Kuwait. It took him two years to track down and piece together the fragments of the remarkable story he unfolds in this book. Then a stroke of luck brought Winstone into possession of the private papers and photographs which Shakespear had left to his brother in 1915, and put him in touch with the Baird family, among whose daughters Captain Shakespear found the single romance of his life.

Born in India in 1878, Shakespear, through his conventional colonial upbringing, developed, besides an athletic prowess and a not inconsiderable force, those remarkable powers of endurance, inventiveness and single-mindedness that enabled him to gain the friendship and unqualified respect of the fiercest tribes of Arabia. A pioneer motorist, he made lengthy journeys when the automobile was in its infancy, requiring careful planning of fuel supplies and spares, as well as nerve. He made six journeys of exploration in eastern Arabia in addition to his major expedition across the peninsula.

But his political influence in the area came at the wrong end of British policy before the 1914 - 18 war. In alliance with Sir Percy Cox, he fought a solitary battle when he was Political Agent in Kuwait to to gain protection for Ibn Saud, whom he considered the only desert leader able to gain the alliance of the tribes in the event of trouble with the Turks.

Pleading through the Viceroy and the India Office, however, was muted by the power of the Foreign Office under Sir Edward Grey. When war came Shakespeare was sent back to Arabia to bring the tribes over to Britain's side. But, at 36, he was tragically killed at Ibn Saud's side in battle against his pro-Turkish enemy, Ibn Rashid of  Hail.

If Shakespeare lost the political struggle during his lifetime, he won it posthumously when Britain's wartime promises to Husain, Sharif of Mecca, were coming home to roost. For, as Shakespear had forecast, his friend Ibn Saud became the ruler of nearly all Arabia and the richest king in the world, though not before Britain had set herself, needlessly as it turns out, at a disadvantage with the Arabs for decades to come.



Henry John Childe Shakespear, b. 30 Apr 1814, d. 23 Aug 1884, m. firstly Jane Blanche 18 Oct 1839 daughter of Robert Waller Poe, she died 2 Jun 1857. Married secondly Jane Boxwell 26 Jan 1863. Issue from Jane Blanche:

1.   Harry Alexander Shakespear, b. 2 Dec 1840 Died Mean Meer 11 Jul 1881. Col 5th Bengal Cavalry.

2.   George James Robert Shakespear. b. 14 Oct 1842. d. 2 Sep 1926. M. 26 Mar 1873 Lily Alice Lane daughter Maj-Gen Lane Indian Cavalry.. Retired a Maj. General 11 Oct 1899.

3.   Annie Jane Elizabeth Richmond Shakespear. b. 11 Nov 1843. d. 24 Nov 1921. M. 14 Jul 1864 Rev. Jonathan Christopher Head of County Tipperary. From them the Head family...

4.   Muirson Shakespear. b. 1845. d. 1849

5.   William Henry Sulivan Shakespear. b. 23 Sep 1849. M. 17 Jan 1878 Annie Caroline Davidson, daughter of Henry Davidson of Summer Bank, Westmoreland Jamaica. William was known as "Tiger Henry" from his tiger shooting exploits in India.


Issue of Henry John Childe Shakespear and Jane Boxwell:

1.   Frank James Shakespear, b. 17 Aug 1864. d. 13 Jun 1905. M. Violet Watney 1 Aug 1896, issue John Henry Childe Shakespear b. 7 Aug 1898.

2.   Louisa Caroline Shakespear. M. 7 June 1888 Lt. Col. Sir Srthur Leetham KCVO., C.M.G., Kt of St. John of J. No issue.

3.   Alexander Blake Shakespear, b. 27 May 1874. M. Clare O'Brien. Worked in India, awarded the C.I.E.  Through them came the Trotter line and the Childe-Pemberton line.


Now son number 5. William Henry Sulivan Shakespear who married Annie Caroline Davidson of Jamaica had issue:

1.   William Henry Irvine Shakespear. b. 29 Oct 1878. Educated at Portsmouth Grammer School and King William's College, Isle of Man. Joined R.M.C college 19 Aug 1896. 2nd Lieut 22 Jan 1898. Devonshire Regt. 17th Bengal Cavalry 1899. Learned Arabic and other languages. Asst. Political Agent Koweit (Kuwait) Persian Gulf in 1909. Various journeys into Arabia. A full account of his journeys was published by Mr. Douglas Carruthers in the 'Geographical Journal' for May and June 1922. He was killed on 24 Jan 1915 fighting with his friend the Emir Abdul Aziz ibn Saud against the Turks. In recognition of his journeys in Arabia he was awarded the C.I.E., but posthumously.

2.   George Albert Shakespear, b. 5 Mar 1880

3.   Harry Talbot Shakespear,  b. 2 May 1882.

Descendants of the 'Stepney Shakespeares'

See also:

Notes provided by David Wingate