The Longest Serving Sailor

19th May 2016

Royal Clipper

In the 21st century, we are lucky enough to be able to explore the world via a range of different methods. The rise of the jumbo-jet and cheap flights has made travel more accessible than ever before. Whilst there is no doubt that there has been a surge in popularity for fast and efficient travel, traditional methods have enjoyed a renaissance.

Star Clippers' tall ship cruises offer a unique insight into how international travel was once conducted. By sailing on board the Star Clipper, Star Flyer or Royal Clipper, you will be able to simulate the elegance of a bygone era of transportation, which peaked between the 18th and 20th centuries. During this time, the British Royal Navy was involved in many historic conflicts including the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1791, Provo William Perry Wallis was born to parents Elizabeth Wallis and Provo Featherstone Wallis, who was a clerk of the Royal Navy’s Halifax Naval Yard. His father – who was adamant his son would pursue a naval career – registered Provo William Perry Wallis as an able seaman on board the 36-gun frigate HMS Oiseau when he was just four years old. He would later receive a knighthood from Queen Victoria and provide 96 years of service, making him the longest serving sailor.

Five years later, in 1796, Provo became a volunteer on board the 40-gun frigate, Prevoyante, where he remained (on paper at least) until 1800, when he began servicing on board the 64-gun Asia, aged nine. Provo rose through the ranks steadily and was quick to adjust to a life at sea and was later promoted to midshipman on the 32-gun frigate Cleopatra.

At the age of just 18, he was commissioned as a lieutenant on the Curieux and later provided service on board four more ships. In January 1812, aged 20, he was appointed second lieutenant of the 38-gun frigate Shannon. The Shannon fought with the USS Chesapeake off Boston in 1813, a battle during which the captain was badly wounded and the first lieutenant was killed. Provo Wallis thus had to captain the Shannon as she sailed to Nova Scotia with the captured Chesapeake.

For this achievement, Wallis was promoted to commander and served for the rest of the war in command of the 12-gun sloop Snipe and was later promoted to captain in 1819, aged 27. Continually in service, he became naval ‘aide-de-campe’ to Queen Victoria in 1847. In 1851, he became a rear-admiral, and successfully a vice admiral, admiral, and eventually admiral of the fleet, aged 86.

From 1870, the retirement scheme for admirals allowed those who had commanded a ship during the Napoleonic Wars to remain on the active list until death. He died aged 100 and therefore accumulated an unbelievable total of 96 years in service. Provo was both the last surviving commanding officer from the Napoleonic Wars and the last veteran of the wars to serve as Admiral of the Fleet.


Whilst it is unlikely that you will see any crew members as old as Provo on board any of the Star Clippers vessels, the passion for sailing the seas remains as prominent now as it was during the 19th century. As your ship elegantly sails across the East and West Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Far East Asia, it won’t be long before you fall in love with tall ship cruising.