William Cresswell was born in Devon, England in 1818. Cresswell studied under W.E. Cooke, and Clarkson Stanfield in London, England.
He immigrated to Canada and settled near Seaforth, Ontario in 1855. Upon his arrival to Seaforth he divided his time between fishing and painting. His early works captured marine and rural landscapes in both oil and watercolour. He also conducted animal and historical studies.
Cresswell exhibited at the Upper Canada Provincial Exhibition in 1856 and would exhibit there every year for the following eleven years.
Cresswell later painted almost exclusively in watercolour, choosing Lake Huron, Georgian Bay, Grand Manan and other parts of eastern Canada as his main subject matter.
Cresswell continued to show his work at various exhibitions in Upper Canada and also in London, where he won a medal at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886.
In 1874 he was elected a member of the Ontario Society of Artists, and in 1880, he was a founding member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
He died in 1887 in Seaforth, Ontario.