Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parker, Peter (1721-1811)

PARKER, Sir PETER (1721–1811), admiral of the fleet, son of Rear-admiral Christopher Parker (d. 1765), and said, on very doubtful authority, to be descended from Matthew Parker [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, was born, probably in Ireland, in 1721. As a lad, he is said to have served under his father; afterwards he was probably in the West Indies in the fleet under Vernon; in 1743 he was in the Mediterranean, and in the summer was promoted by Mathews to be lieutenant of the Russell, from which he was moved in November to the Firedrake bomb, and in the following January to the Barfleur, flagship of Rear-admiral William Rowley [q. v.] In her he was present in the action off Toulon on 11 Feb. 1743–4, and on 19 March was appointed to the Neptune, flagship of Vice-admiral Richard Lestock [q. v.] On 6 May 1747 he was promoted to be captain of the Margate, a small frigate of 24 guns fitting out at Kinsale, where his father was then residing. In October he brought her to Plymouth, and for the next six months was employed in convoy duty in the Channel and North Sea. He was then ordered to the Mediterranean, whence he returned in April 1749. The Margate was then paid off, and Parker placed on half-pay. In March 1755 he was appointed regulating captain at Bristol, and in May commissioned the Woolwich at Portsmouth. In the summer he convoyed the trade for the Baltic to the Sound, and, returning to Yarmouth in the end of September, wrote that some men pressed from a Guinea ship just before he sailed had brought on board a malignant fever, which had run through the whole ship's company.

In 1757 the Woolwich went to the West Indies with Commodore John Moore (1718–1779) [q. v.], who in January 1759 moved Parker into the Bristol. In her he took part in the unsuccessful attack on Martinique and in the reduction of Guadeloupe. In May Moore again moved him into the Buckingham, in which he returned to England in the following year, and in 1761 took part in the reduction of Belle-Isle by Commodore Keppel. In August 1762 Parker was appointed to the Terrible, which was paid off at the peace, when Parker was put on half-pay. For the next ten years he lived, apparently, in Queen's Square, Westminster. In 1772 he was knighted; but his repeated applications for employment passed unheeded, till in October 1773 he was appointed to the Barfleur, guardship at Portsmouth, and in October 1775 to command a small squadron going out to North America.

He hoisted his broad pennant on board the Bristol of 50 guns, and sailed from Portsmouth on 26 Dec., and from Cork in the end of January; but trying the direct passage and meeting bad weather, he did not reach Cape Fear till the beginning of May. It was intended to attack Charlestown, but it was a month before the squadron could put to sea, and not till 28 June could it attempt to force the entrance of Charlestown Harbour past the batteries on Sullivan's Island. The channel between this and the mainland was reported to be fordable at low water, and it was arranged that the land forces should take the batteries in the rear while the ships engaged them in front. But the tide, banked up by the wind, did not run out sufficiently to render this possible, while, at the same time, the water in front of the forts was too shallow to permit the ships to come within effective range. The result was disastrous. Three of the frigates took the ground; one could not be got off, was set on fire and abandoned, her flag, by some gross neglect, being left to fall into the hands of the enemy. The bomb was disabled, and the burden of the attack virtually fell on the two 50-gun ships, Bristol and Experiment, which, after maintaining a stubborn fight for nearly ten hours, were obliged to draw off, with a loss of nearly two hundred men killed and wounded.

After this sanguinary repulse Parker joined Lord Howe at New York, and took part in the reduction of Long Island. In December he was detached with a small squadron for the reduction of Rhode Island, and remained there as senior officer for the next few months. On 28 April 1777 he was promoted to the rank of rear-admiral, and on 11 June was appointed commander-in-chief at Jamaica. It was some time before he received the order, and did not leave Rhode Island till November. At Jamaica he remained during the war, being promoted to be vice-admiral on 19 March 1779. He returned to England in August 1782, with his flag on board the Sandwich, carrying with him the Count de Grasse and the principal French officers who had been taken prisoners on 12 April. His services were rewarded by a baronetcy, 28 Dec. 1782; on 24 Sept. 1787 he was promoted to the rank of admiral, and in 1793 was appointed commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, in which post he continued till 16 Sept. 1799, when he was promoted to be admiral of the fleet. He died in Weymouth Street, London, on 21 Dec. 1811.

Parker is now best remembered as the early patron of Nelson; and it has been suggested that he must have had a remarkable insight into character to have discerned, in the boy-lieutenant, the future hero of the Nile and Trafalgar. But Parker was as unscrupulous as any of his contemporaries in the abuse of patronage, and merely saw in Nelson the nephew of the comptroller of the navy, an officer whose interest was in some respects more powerful than that of even the first lord of the admiralty. Afterwards he was undoubtedly fascinated by Nelson, like almost all who knew him, and Lady Parker became strongly attached to him. At Nelson's funeral Parker was chief mourner as the admiral of the fleet, the senior officer in the navy, rather than as a personal friend. His portrait, by Abbot, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

Parker married Margaret, daughter of Walter Nugent, and had issue a daughter, who married John Ellis, and a son Christopher Parker (1761–1804), born in 1761, who was made a captain by his father in March 1779, commanded the Lowestoft frigate at the capture of Omoa in the following October, served in the West Indies under Jervis and in the Channel under Howe, and died a vice-admiral in 1804, leaving two sons, Charles Christopher and Peter (1785–1804), who are separately noticed.

[Charnock's Biogr. Nav. vi. 52; Ralfe's Nav. Biogr. i. 114; Naval Chron., with a portrait, xii. 169; Gent. Mag. 1811, ii. 598; Letters, &c. in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.