From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall
William Van Wyck '47

Date of birth: June 6, 1824

Date of death: September 21, 1854

Age: 30


William was lost sometime after September 21, 1854 when USS Porpoise (1836) disappeared between Formosa and China.

He was born in, and appointed to the Naval Academy from, Maryland. He was born in 1824. (Later discovered birth record: June 6, 1824 in Baltimore.)


From researcher Kathy Franz:

William was ill with ague in July 1847 and went to the Hot Springs in Arkansas to restore his health. In September 1848, he failed the rigging examination. Devastated, he wrote a letter requesting to be sent to the Navy Yard at Gosport “where I could render an equivalent, and acquire a knowledge of matters, of which I was unfortunately deficient when before the Hon. Board.” Superintendent George P. Upshur of the Naval School sent a separate letter in agreement with William’s proposal. In September 1849, the Baltimore newspaper said that a reported duel in Bladensburg the past Monday was unfounded. A difficulty arose among William and midshipmen Jefferson McRoberts, Alexander Simmons, and Stephen Luce, but was amicably settled. William was home, and the latter three were on the ship Vandalia. In 1851, William was on the surveying schooner Madison at Woods Hole, and in July he was ordered back to Norfolk with instructions from Professor Alexander Dallas Bache. In November, William signed the letter to Congress with George Welsh and others regarding improvements to the rank of passed midshipmen. He then served on the Morris on the Coast Survey for the first six months of 1852.

William’s parents were John Charles and Sidney Van Wyck. He was christened at Saint Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Baltimore. In 1850 his father was deputy collector at the customs house. His brothers were John, who was a physician, and Sidney. Sidney was named for his mother as she died in childbirth.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 19 October, 1841. Passed Midshipman, 10 August, 1847. Lost on the Porpoise, 21 September, 1855.

A letter he wrote in 1854 is in the files of the Maryland Historical Society.


A subspecies of the Island imperial pigeon, the vanwyckii, was characterized by William and is named in honor.

Related Articles

William Van Wyck Reily '75 was named for William; William Reily's father was a classmate and shipmate of William Van Wyck.

Navy Directories & Officer Registers

The "Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps" was published annually from 1815 through at least the 1970s; it provided rank, command or station, and occasionally billet until the beginning of World War II when command/station was no longer included. Scanned copies were reviewed and data entered from the mid-1840s through 1922, when more-frequent Navy Directories were available.

The Navy Directory was a publication that provided information on the command, billet, and rank of every active and retired naval officer. Single editions have been found online from January 1915 and March 1918, and then from three to six editions per year from 1923 through 1940; the final edition is from April 1941.

The entries in both series of documents are sometimes cryptic and confusing. They are often inconsistent, even within an edition, with the name of commands; this is especially true for aviation squadrons in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Alumni listed at the same command may or may not have had significant interactions; they could have shared a stateroom or workspace, stood many hours of watch together… or, especially at the larger commands, they might not have known each other at all. The information provides the opportunity to draw connections that are otherwise invisible, though, and gives a fuller view of the professional experiences of these alumni in Memorial Hall.

September 1842
Midshipman, Frigate United States

Others at this command:
January 1843
Midshipman, Frigate United States

October 1843
Midshipman, Frigate United States

Others at this command:
January 1844
Midshipman, Frigate United States

Others at this command:
January 1846
Midshipman, Steamer Princeton

Others at this command:
January 1847
Midshipman, Store Ship Supply
January 1849
Passed Midshipman, Sloop Albany
January 1850
Passed Midshipman, Store Ship Relief
January 1851
Passed Midshipman, Store Ship Relief

Others at this command:
January 1853
Passed Midshipman, Brig Porpoise

Others at this command:
January 1854
Passed Midshipman, Brig Porpoise

Others at this command:
January 1855
Passed Midshipman, acting Lieutenant, Brig Porpoise

Class of 1847

William is one of 32 members of the Class of 1847 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of alumni in Memorial Hall.