As a young man he chose to join the militia in the first half of 1850, but was too late to serve actively in the Crimean war, which had ended by 1855.
He received his BA degree from King's College, London and after a five-year spell from 1857 as a clerk in the Privy Council Office, he took up law and was called to the bar in 1864.
It may have been his self-admitted failure as a barrister that led to his change of career. He started writing under the name of Bab, ~' with anecdotal stories in various satirical magazines including Punch and Fun in the 1860s and Bab Ballads, his collected works, were published in 1869.
By now his first successful drama, the burlesque Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack (1866) had already concluded its run, and his second equally successful play, The Palace of Truth (1870), was about to hit the London theatrical scene.
In 1907 Edward VII knighted him. Notwithstanding his many personal achievements, William Gilbert remains most famous for his collaboration with Arthur Sullivan, in which his very special skills found their ideal vehicle. The comic opera is a genre which Gilbert and Sullivan elevated into an art form all of its own.
Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan was born in Lambeth, London in 1842 to a very musical family. His father was a bandmaster at the Royal Military College, and young Arthur had mastered all of the wind instruments in his father's band before the age of 10.
By then he had already composed his own anthem, and at 14 he was the youngest participant for the first Mendelssohn Scholarship competition, which he won.
He also won various scholarships to study abroad and following the Royal Academy of Music, he studied in Leipzig, Germany where he performed his final thesis in the presence of Franz Liszt.
Whilst still in Leipzig he composed the orchestral suite to Shakespeare's The Tempest in 1861. The second performance took place on 15 April 1862 at the Crystal Palace and earned him huge acclaim.
Arthur Sullivan was now a qualified Professor of Music and spent the next decade teaching. He was regarded as the leading composer of the day,
with influential friends in every circle of society and patronised by European Royalty.
Sullivan's first venture into comic opera was in 1867, with the writer F C Burnand. Together they produced Cox and Box and The Contrabandista.
He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1883. Later in his life he spent his time in Monaco, gambling and drinking. He was also a heavy smoker.
At best he lived richly and fully, but his later years were not happy ones. From 1872 he had suffered continuous bad health and died after a long illness on 22 November, 1900.
Although their first collaboration was a success, it was their partnership with the impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte that produced the numerous dazzling operas.
The first of the string of successes, which became known as the Savoy Operas, was Trial by Jury (1875), and the triumvirate continued to collaborate over the next 20 years. The partnership was not to dissolve until the unsuccessful and last play, The Grand Duke in 1896.
In the 1870s William Gilbert participated in manoeuvres in Scotland with the Royal Aberdeenshire Highlanders, a sort of military reserve of which he was an officer, having been active for the best part of 20 years.
It was here that he was initiated into Freemasonry in Lodge St Machar No. 54, Scottish Constitution, on 12 June 1871. This ancient Lodge was constituted in March 1753 and named after a companion of St Columba of Iona, who founded a church in 589 AD, still on the site in Aberdeen.
His interest in Freemasonry continued on his return to London when, in June 1876 he became a member of Bayard Lodge No. 1615, meeting in Duke Street.
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