Alice in Wonderland Wiki
Alice in Wonderland Wiki
Father William
General Information
Alias(es) Old Father William
Gender Man
Hair color White
Occupation Minister
Relationships Wife
Other Information
Interests Standing on his head

Balancing eels on his nose

Behind The Scenes
Portrayed by Sammy Davis, Jr. (1985)

Father William, sometimes referred to as Old Father William is a character appearing in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. He is the subject of the poem, "You Are Old, Father William" which Alice recites to the Blue Caterpillar.


Father William is the subject of a poem which Alice knew in her waking world, in real-life, "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them" (1799) by Romantic poet Robert Southey. In the original poem, Father William was a Christian minister whom reassured the speaking character to retain a faith in God when called into question by the main character due to the ailments of Father William's aging.

When reciting the poem to the Caterpillar, Alice misremembers the lyrics (similarly to how she did reciting How Doth the Little Crocodile). In Alice's version, Father William is being questioned by the main character for his odd habits such as standing on his head, back-somersaulting in at the door, eating an entire goose (beak, bones and all), or balancing an eel at the end of his nose. William answers the first three questions, saying that he is sure he hasn't got a brain to damage by standing on his head, claiming he uses a (likely ineffective) ointment which he then tries to sell to the speaker, explaining he used to be a lawyer and developed a thick jaw by arguing his cases with his wife, and refusing to answer the fourth question and instead threatening to kick the boy down the stairs.

Carroll's revised version of the poem fits into the story's themes of changing with age, while also characterizing the once highly wise, calm and goodhearted minister from Southey's poem as eccentric and lively while also threatening physical violence at certain questions, and attempting to peddle goods on those seeking his guidance. It is also possibly implied that this version of the character is the actual father of the poem's main character.

Other appearances[]

  • Tweedledee and Tweedledum begin to recite the poem in the 1951 film, with Alice leaving leaving them as one of them imitates Father William standing on his head (literally; with his feet atop his skull).
  • In the 1985 Alice in Wonderland film, Old Father William is portrayed by Sammy Davis, Jr. who also portrays the Caterpillar, turning into Father William in a cloud of smoke upon having Alice recite the poem. This version of Father William dresses in 18th century clothing, is much more slim with dark hair, and recites his own poem in hip-hop verse.
  • Malice in Wonderland (2009) features a character named Old Father William.



Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Characters

Alice The Mad Hatter The White Rabbit The Queen of Hearts The King of Hearts The Caterpillar The March Hare The Knave of Hearts The Cheshire Cat The Dormouse The Lory The Eaglet The Duck The Dodo Bill the Lizard Mary Ann Dinah Alice's Sister The Duchess The Cook The Executioner Father William Frog Footman Fish Footman The Pig Baby The Gryphon The Mock Turtle Tortoise The Playing Cards The Puppy