Williams is descended on his father’s side from the yeomen of Worcestershire who grew their orchards and tilled their land in the parishes of Tenbury and Mamble. His mother’s side descended from Scottish settlers who planted Ulster in 1610. He is educated at Belfast Academy in Belfast and at a Greenwich private school. Later on, he goes to the southern United States for health purposes and takes part in a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua, where he sees some hard fighting and reportedly earns the reputation of a blockade runner. He is separated from his party and is lost in the forest for six days. Fevered, he discovers a small boat and manages to return to the nearest British settlement. He serves in the London Irish Rifles with the rank of Sergeant.
Williams returns to England in 1859, where he becomes a volunteer, and a leader writer for the London Evening Herald. In October 1859, he begins a connection with The Standard which lasts until 1884. From 1860 until 1863, he works as a first editor for the Evening Standard and from 1882 until 1884, as editor of The Evening News.
Williams is best known for being a war correspondent. For The Standard, he is at the headquarters of the Armée de la Loire, a French army, during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He is also one of the first correspondents in Strasbourg, where the French forces are defeated. In the summer and autumn of 1877, he is a correspondent to Ahmed Muhtar Pasha who commands the Turkish forces in Armenia during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78). He remains constantly at the Turkish front, and his letters are the only continuous series that reaches England. In 1878, he publishes this series in a revised and extended form as The Armenian Campaign: A Diary of the Campaign on 1877, in Armenia and Koordistan, which is a large and accurate record of the war, even though it is pro-Turkish. From Armenia, he follows Muhtar Pasha to European Turkey and describes his defence of the lines of Constantinople against the Imperial Russian Army. He is with General Mikhail Skobelev at the headquarters of the Imperial Russian Army when the Treaty of San Stefano is signed in March 1878.
At the end of 1878, Williams is in Afghanistan reporting the war, and in 1879 publishes the Notes on the Operations in Lower Afghanistan, 1878–9, with Special Reference to Transport.
In the autumn of 1884, representing the Central News Agency of London, Williams joins the Nile Expedition, a British mission to relieve Major-General Charles George Gordon in Khartoum, Sudan. His is the first dispatch to tell of the loss of Gordon. While in Sudan, he quarrels with Henry H. S. Pearse of The Daily News, who later unsuccessfully sues him. After leaving The Standard in 1884, he works with the Morning Advertiser, but later works with the Daily Chronicle as a war correspondent. He is the only British correspondent to be with the Bulgarian Land Forces under Prince Alexander of Battenberg during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in November 1885. In the Greco-Turkish War of 1897, he is attached to the Greek forces in Thessaly. His last war reporting is on Herbert Kitchener‘s Sudanese campaign of 1898.
Williams tries to run as a Conservative Party candidate for the House of Commons representative of Leeds West, a borough in Leeds, West Yorkshire, during the 1885 United Kingdom general election. He fails to win the seat against Liberal candidate Herbert Gladstone. He serves as the Chairman of the London district of the Institute of Journalists from 1893 to 1894. He founds the London Press Club where he also serves as its President from 1896 to 1897.
Williams dies in Brixton, London on February 9, 1904 and is buried in Nunhead Cemetery in London. His funeral is well attended by the press as well as members of the military including Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood.
(Pictured: Portrait of Charles Frederick Williams, London President, The Institute of Journalists, from The Illustrated London News, September 30, 1893 issue)