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Royal Naval Biography/Parker, William

A Companion of the Most Honorable Military Order of the Bath.
[Post-Captain of 1801.]

This officer, a nephew of the late Earl of St. Vincent, served as a Midshipman on board the Orion 74, commanded by Captain John Thomas Duckworth, in the actions of May 28 and 29, and June 1, 1794. He was made a Commander, Oct. 10, 1799, and during the remainder of the war commanded the Stork of 18 guns; in which vessel he captured la Legere French packet of 14 guns and 50 men, laden with West India produce; and assisted at the capture of El Cantara Spanish privateer of 22 guns and 110 men, and a lugger mounting 10 guns[1].

Captain Parker obtained post rank Oct. 9, 1801; and in Nov. 1802, was appointed to the Amazon frigate. On the 16th July, 1803, he captured le Felix French privateer, of 16 guns and 96 men; and soon after joined the fleet under Lord Nelson, on the Mediterranean station.

On the 12th Feb. 1804, Captain Parker, when in the act of reconnoitring Toulon, saw a French frigate coming round the island of Porquerolle. At first the enemy seemed inclined to fight; but on the approach of the Amazon, she ran under a press of sail through the Grande Passe, and took shelter under fort Breganson. Several of the ships in Toulon now swayed up their top-sail-yards, and had Captain Parker overtaken the frigate, would no doubt have come out, and thereby endangered the Amazon’s safety. Lord Nelson, in relating this affair to Earl St. Vincent says, “Your nephew has very much pleased me, as indeed he always does. * * * * I admire his spirit and resolution to attack her under all the disadvantages of situation: such conduct will some happy day meet its reward.” In a subsequent letter we find the following passage: “I have sent your nephew this morning (March 17, 1804,) to see if he can lay salt upon the tail of a French frigate; I every day see new and excellent traits in him”. Towards the end of August in the same year, his Lordship, anxious lest the Amazon should miss being present in the event of an action, wrote to her commander in the following terms:

“I hope, my dear Parker, you are making haste to join me, for the day of battle cannot be far off, when I shall want every frigate; for the French have nearly one for every ship, and we may as well have a battle royal, line-of-battle ships opposed to ships of the line, and frigates to frigates. But I am satisfied with your exertions, and be assured that I am ever faithfully yours.”

The Amazon formed part of the squadron under Nelson, when that hero pursued the combined fleets of France and Spain to the West Indies[2]; and on the 12th Sept. 1805, she captured the Principe de la Paz Spanish privateer, mounting twenty-four 9-pounders and 4 brass swivels, with a complement of 160 men. A considerable sum in specie was found on board this prize, and her capture must have been regarded as a fortunate event by the mercantile community; Captain Parker having fallen in with her eighty leagues to the westward of Scilly, at a time when many of the homeward bound Jamaica fleet were beating about the chops of the Channel, without any armed vessel to protect them, they having separated from their convoy in a heavy gale of wind.

On the 13th March, 1806, Captain Parker assisted at the capture of Rear-Admiral Linois in the Marengo of 80 guns, accompanied by la Belle Poule frigate, as appears by the following letter from Sir John Borlase Warren to the Secretary of the Admiralty:

“I request you will communicate to their Lordships, that at 3h 30' A.M. on the 13th inst., H.M.S. London, which I had stationed to windward of the squadron, having wore, and made the signal for some strange sail, I directed the squadron to be put upou the larboard tack, and as daylight appeared, made the signal for a general chase. Soon afterwards the London was observed in action with a large ship and a frigate, and continued supporting a running fire with those ships, which were endeavouring to escape, until 7h 30', when the Amazon, being the advanced ship, engaged the frigate, which was attempting to bear away. The remainder of the squadron approaching fast upon the enemy, (and the action having continued from before day-light, until 9h 43' A.M.) the line-of-battle ship, bearing the flag of a Rear-Admiral, struck; and at 9h 53' the frigate also followed her example, when an officer came on board the Foudroyant with M. Linois’ sword, and informed me, that the ships which had surrendered to his Majesty’s colours were the Marengo of 80 guns, 740 men; and la Belle Poule of 40 guns, 18-pounders, and 320 men, returning to France from the East Indies; these ships being the remainder of the French squadron which had committed so much depredation upon the British commerce in the Eastern world.

“I have much satisfaction in stating the meritorious and gallant conduct of Captains Sir Harry Neale and William Parker, supported by the zeal and bravery of the officers and crews of their respective ships, who claim my warmest thanks and acknowledgments, and whose exertions, I hope, will recommend them to their Lordships’ particular notice and protection.

“I cannot, however, avoid regretting, that the force of the enemy did not afford to the officers and men of the other ships of the squadron, who shewed the most earnest desire to have closed with the enemy, an opportunity of displaying that valour and attachment to their King and Country, which I am confident they will be happy to evince upon some future and more favorable occasion[3].”

In the summer of 1809, we find Captain Parker actively employed in co-operation with the patriots of Galicia[4]. On the 23d March, 1811, he captured le Cupidon French privateer of 14 guns and 82 men. In the ensuing month of June, the boats of the Amazon, under the directions of Lieutenant Westphal, made a gallant and successful attack on an enemy’s convoy, near the Penmarks. One of the vessels having been cut off by the frigate, the remainder, eight in number, ran on shore, under the protection of a battery, notwithstanding the fire from which, and from a considerable number of troops, three were brought off, and the other five destroyed, without any loss on the part of the British.

Captain Parker was nominated a C.B. in 1815. He married, about June 1810, Frances Anne, youngest daughter of Sir Theophilus Biddulph, Bart.

Agents.– Messrs. Cooke, Halford, and Son.

  1. See pp. 307 and 308.
  2. See Vol. I, note at p. 589, et seq.
  3. The Amazon on this occasion had her first Lieutenant (R. Seymour), a marine officer, 1 seaman, and 1 marine killed, and 6 seamen wounded. The loss sustained by the London and the French ships has been stated in our memoir of Sir Harry Neale. See vol. I. p. 436.
  4. See Vol. I. p. 617, et seq.