Parker, Peter (1785-1814) (DNB00)

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PARKER, Sir PETER (1785–1814), captain in the navy, born in 1785, was the grandson of Sir Peter Parker (1721–1811) [q. v.], and eldest son of Vice-admiral Christopher Parker, by his wife Augusta, daughter of Admiral John Byron [q. v.] He was thus first cousin of George Gordon Byron, sixth lord Byron [q. v.], the poet. As early as 1793 he was borne on the books of the Blanche, then in the West Indies, and afterwards on those of the Royal William, guardship at Portsmouth from 1795 to 1799. Whether he was ever on board either of them seems very doubtful. From April 1799 to January 1801 he served as a midshipman on board the Lancaster with Sir Roger Curtis, at the Cape of Good Hope, and from January to April 1801 on board the Arethusa frigate. On 4 May 1801 he passed his examination, being certified as upwards of twenty-one. On 10 Sept. 1801 he was promoted to be lieutenant of the Alexander, and, after serving in several ships on the Mediterranean and home stations, he was appointed on 7 Oct. 1803 to the Victory, Nelson's flagship before Toulon, from which he was promoted to the rank of commander on 7 May 1804. From October 1804 to April 1805 he commanded the John, hired ship; he was then appointed to the Weazel, which in October was with the fleet before Cadiz, and stationed close in shore. On the evening of the 19th she was not more than four miles from Cadiz lighthouse. At six, on the morning of the 20th, she saw the enemy's fleet getting under way, and signalled to the Euryalus in the offing. She was then sent by Blackwood to carry the news to the ships at Gibraltar and to Rear-admiral Louis (Weazel's Log). Before she returned to the fleet the battle of Trafalgar had been fought and won; but Collingwood was so well pleased with the despatch Parker had made that he promoted him to be captain, dating from 22 Oct., the day after the battle. He was then appointed to the Melpomene frigate, and sent into the Mediterranean on a cruise.

He remained attached to the Mediterranean fleet till the summer of 1808, when he was sent to Vera Cruz to bring back a large quantity of treasure—three million dollars—for the Spanish government; this he landed safely at Cadiz. Unfortunately there were many cases of yellow fever on board the ship; she was sent to Portsmouth, and there Parker himself was dangerously ill. In the following year the Melpomene was sent to the Baltic, where Parker was compelled to invalid. On his recovery he was returned to parliament by the town of Wexford. He took his seat on 9 March 1810, and the same day made a spirited little speech in support of a grant to Portugal. In May he was appointed to the Menelaus of 38 guns, and in July was sent to St. Helena to convoy home the East India fleet. He found the island much alarmed by the news of the loss of the frigate squadron at the Mauritius [see Corbet, Robert; Pym, Sir Samuel], and undertook to go on as a reinforcement to Commodore Rowley. He sailed at once for Bourbon, and finding the fleet had left, followed, and joined it in time to take part in the reduction of Mauritius. He was then sent home with the news, and his conduct being approved by the admiralty, he was again ordered to St. Helena, whence he brought home a large convoy in August 1811.

In October he took out Lord William Bentinck as ambassador to the king of Sicily, and in January 1812 joined Sir Edward Pellew [q. v.] at Port Mahon, and remained for the greater part of the year attached to the in-shore squadron before Toulon, where Parker had more than one opportunity of distinguishing himself in a brilliant skirmish with the enemy's advanced ships. On 28 May he endeavoured to cut off the 40-gun frigate Pauline, with a 16-gun brig in company, returning from the Adriatic, and relinquished the attempt only when the Menelaus's foretopmast was almost cut in two by a shot from the batteries, and two ships of the line were standing out for the Pauline's protection (James, v. 315). On 13 Aug., having chased a brig laden with government stores into the port of San Stefano in the Bay of Orbitello, he cut her out from under the batteries, an affair which was spoken of as dashing at a time when cutting-out expeditions were not uncommon (ib. v. 348). In December the Menelaus was ordered to Malta, and sent home in charge of convoy. She arrived at Portsmouth in May, and after refitting was sent for a cruise to the westward, in company with the Superb. She returned to Portsmouth in December, and after a short interval was ordered to join Lord Keith off Brest. On 14 Feb. 1814, off Lorient, she retook a richly laden Spanish ship, a prize to the French frigates Atalante and Terpsichore, the latter of which had been captured some days before by the Majestic (ib. vi. 146). The Atalante deserted her consort and escaped. On 25 March the Menelaus fell in with her, and chased her into Concarneau Bay; and as her captain showed no intention of leaving his anchorage, Parker, on the 28th, sent him a note under a flag of truce, inviting him to come out to meet a frigate of equal force. The challenge was declined (ib.), and shortly afterwards the Menelaus was ordered to North America, where, in the latter part of August, she was sent up the Chesapeake. On the 30th Parker had information of a strong party of American militia encamped in his neighbourhood. Towards midnight he landed with 134 men, seamen and marines, and followed the enemy, who had retired to a position some four or miles off. With rash bravery Parker led on his men to the attack, but fell, mortally wounded by a buckshot, which divided the femoral artery. Forty others were killed or wounded, and the party drew back to their ship, carrying with them the body of their captain, which was afterwards sent to England and buried in St. Margaret's, Westminster. He married, in 1809, Marianne, daughter of Sir George Dallas, bart., by whom he had issue one son, who succeeded to the baronetcy. His portrait, by Hoppner, is in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

‘I have just been writing some elegiac stanzas on the death of Sir P. Parker,’ wrote Lord Byron to Moore on 7 Oct. 1814. ‘He was my first cousin, but never met since boyhood. … I am so sorry for him as one could be for one I never saw since I was a child; but should not have wept melodiously except at the request of friends.’ Parker's sister Margaret was Byron's first boyish love, and inspired his ‘first dash into poetry’ (Life, i. 52).

[Biographical Memoir (by Sir George Dallas), with an engraved portrait after Hoppner; James's Naval History; logs and other official documents in the Public Record Office.]

J. K. L.