Whitworth Porter

Birth: 1827


Whitworth Porter (1827-1892), major-general royal engineers, second son of Henry Porter, of Winslade House, South Devon, was born at Winslade, near Exeter, on 25 Sept. 1827. His mother was the daughter of Sir Henry Russell, bart., judge of the supreme court of India. Porter entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich on 14 Nov. 1842, obtained a commission as second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 18 Dec. 1845, and was promoted first lieutenant on 1 April 1846. After passing through the usual course of professional instruction at Chatham, he embarked for Dominica in the West Indies on 13 Dec. 1847, having married in the preceding October. He returned home from Dominica in March 1850, and was stationed at Limerick.

He was promoted second captain on 3 Jan. 1855. On 20 Dec. 1853 he embarked for Malta, but in February 1855 was sent on active service to the Crimea. He served in the trenches at the siege of Sebastopol until June. For his services he received the war medal, with clasp for Sebastopol, the Turkish medal, and the fifth class of the Medjidie, and on 2 Nov. 1855 he was promoted brevet-major. After serving at home for eighteen months, during which he published 'Life in the Trenches before Sebastopol' (London, 8vo, 1856), he returned to Malta in December 1856. It was during his service in the fortress on this occasion that he made a study of the history of the island, and especially of its rulers, the knights of Malta. The result of this study was a work in two volumes, entitled 'A History of the Knights of Malta' (2 vols. 8vo, London, 1858). On 2 April 1859 Porter was promoted first captain in the royal engineers, and returned to England.

Porter was employed at the war office under the inspector-general of fortifications from April 1859 until September 1862 in connection with the defense of the United Kingdom. He served on the jury for the military division of the international exhibition held in London in 1862. He was instructor in fortification at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst from 1862 to 1868, was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel on 23 Aug. 1866, and regimental lieutenant-colonel on 14 Dec. 1868.

In March 1870 Porter was again sent to Malta, where, as executive officer under the commanding royal engineer, he supervised the construction of the defenses of the new dockyard. While at Malta he was employed in connection with the eclipse expedition to Sicily in 1872, and he designed and erected observatories at Catania and Syracuse. He was promoted brevet-colonel on 14 Dec. 1873.

In February 1874 Porter was appointed commanding royal engineer at Barbados in the West Indies. He remained there for two years, returning to England in April 1876, and was stationed for a time at Chatham. He was commanding royal engineer of the western district, and stationed at Plymouth from 1877 till 1 Oct. 1881, when he retired from the service on a pension, with the honorary rank of major-general.

After his retirement he interested himself in various charitable works connected with the order of St. John of Jerusalem. He was chairman of the metropolitan district of the St. John's Ambulance Association. He also occupied himself with a revision of the 'History of the Knights of Malta' (which appeared in 1883), and with an abridged edition of the work. But the work which principally engaged his attention during the later years of his life was an elaborate 'History of the Corps of Royal Engineers,' which was published in two volumes in 1889. One of his last acts was to present the copyright of this work to the corps to which he belonged. Porter died on 27 May 1892, and was buried at St. Michael's Church, York Town, Surrey, of which he had been churchwarden for many years. He had contributed liberally towards its enlargement, and had with his own hands carved the ornamental foliage on the chancel screen.

Porter married in London, on 25 Oct. 1847, Annie Shirley da Costa, by whom he had two children: Catherine, who married Captain Crosse; and Reginald da Costa, to whose memory he erected a handsome reredos at St. Michael's Church, York Town. The son, a lieutenant in the royal engineers, won the gold medal of the Royal Engineers' Institute for a prize essay on 'Warfare against uncivilized Races, or How to Fight greatly superior Forces of an uncivilized and badly armed Enemy;' he saw service in South Africa, and having passed first into the staff college at the examination in 1880, was on his way out to Egypt, where he had volunteered for service, when he was accidentally killed by the falling of a spar during a gale of wind in 1882.

[War Office Records; Royal Engineers' Journal, No. 261, August 1892, obituary notice.]


Robert Hamilton Vetch, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46. pgs. 194-195.

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