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date: 20 October 2019

Parker, Richardfree

(1767–1797)
  • Ann Veronica Coats

Parker, Richard (1767–1797), seaman and mutineer, was born on 16 April 1767 at St Peter's churchyard, Exeter, Devon, and baptized on 24 April at St Mary Major, Exeter, the third child of Richard Parker, a successful Exeter baker and corn factor, and Sarah, 'a woman of good family and connections in that neighbourhood', who died when he was young (Althorp papers, G197). He had an older sister Sarah and an older brother John who took over the family business in 1787. 'Brought up in the fear of God' and tutored by the Revd Mr Marshall, 'Grammarian at Exeter', Parker, aged twelve, chose a naval career, and he learnt navigation from Mr Osborne, the quay master at Topsham, Devon.

On 10 April 1782, through the influence of his cousin Lieutenant Arthur, Parker joined the Mediator, a 5th rate (Captain Luttrell), as a volunteer. He was rated able seaman and paid a bounty of £5 and two months' advance of £2 5s. In April 1783 he transferred to the Ganges, 3rd rate; and in September 1783 he joined the sloop Bulldog (Captain Marsh), sailing to the Gambia. He arrived back in Portsmouth in April 1784, and was sent to Haslar Hospital, Gosport, in June. He returned to Portsmouth in July but did not accompany the Bulldog to the West Indies, instead transferring to hospital at Plymouth. After serving briefly on the Blenheim, a 2nd rate, he was discharged in August. He then sailed on Exeter merchant ships to the Mediterranean and to the East Indies until 1793.

In 1793 Parker recruited men for the Hebe, a 5th rate (Captain Alexander Hood), but the ship needed repairs, so he joined the Sphynx, 6th rate (Captain Lucas), at Woolwich; however, as he later admitted, 'a slight misfortune fell on me, which prevented my joining the Sphynx previous to her sailing' (Althorp papers, G197): the Sphynx's paybooks indicate he was sent to Newgate prison, London, on 15 May 1793. In July, 'After extricating myself from the misfortune alluded to', Parker joined the Assurance, 5th rate (Captain Berkeley), at Chatham, 'to do the duty of an officer until the arrival of the Sphynx'. In August he became midshipman, but claimed he was 'kept contrary to my interest in the Assurance'. In November First Lieutenant Richards requested Parker's court martial after he disobeyed an order to take up his hammock to be aired, claiming it would 'disgrace' him as 'an officer'. He was court martialled in December, 'disrated', and returned to the Assurance. Nevertheless the Hebe's captain requested him, and Parker served as a foremast hand until he went back to Haslar with severe rheumatism in April 1794. He entered the Royal William in May, but was immediately rehospitalized. In August he re-entered the Royal William until his discharge on 26 November. Parker had leave 'for some particular purpose on Shore' and was reported 'arrested by the Civil Power for Debt' (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/1023, 17 June 1797).

Parker returned to his father's home in Exeter and on 10 June 1795 married Ann McHardy, a farmer's daughter from Braemar, Aberdeenshire. One son, John Charles, had already been christened in Braemar in October 1794. Another, John, was christened in Exeter in March 1796, and Parker recorded another child born in May 1796. Ann's brother made Parker an allowance, but he was arrested in Edinburgh for a debt of £23 and to escape prison joined the navy for a bounty of 20 guineas. He joined the Leith tender on 31 March 1797 and entered, as an able seaman from the Perth quota, Sandwich, 2nd rate (Captain James Robert Mosse), on 30 April. The ship was anchored at the Nore, off Sheerness, Kent.

The Nore mutiny of 1797, in which Parker played a leading role, started on 12 May in support of the mutiny at Spithead, but lacked its unity and discipline. The ships awaiting stores and men were not a fleet and new recruits from the quotas had diluted naval discipline. Once the North Sea Fleet arrived at the end of May and enlarged their force to thirteen battleships, the Nore mutineers expected their grievances would be met, but the replacement of Admiral Buckner's flag by the red flag of mutiny on 23 May, fears of invasion from Dutch ships, suspected revolutionary involvement, and the mutineers' blockade of the Thames on 2 June alienated merchants and parliament. Gradually ships abandoned the mutiny, disenchanted and deprived of provisions.

The Sandwich's crew surrendered on 13 June and Parker was confined. He was court martialled on the Neptune between 22 and 26 June, with Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley presiding. Captain Mosse prosecuted, charging Parker with 'Making and endeavouring to make mutinous assemblies on board Sandwich … on or about the 12th of May; disobeying the lawful orders of his superior officers, and treating his superior officers with disrespect' (Portsmouth Gazette, 26 June 1797). He sought to prove that Parker had led the mutiny and ordered the Director to fire on the escaping Repulse on 9 June. It was established that Parker was president of the committee from 14 May, had been actively involved in its decisions and punishments, and directed the firing. Was he the real leader? The committee was established before he became involved, but his behaviour clearly shaped and prolonged the mutiny. Parker insisted that he had only obeyed the delegates' commands, had prevented more violence, and was neither Jacobin nor traitor. But the Admiralty secretary Evan Nepean, George III, and Pasley wished his immediate execution and his body to be hung in chains. After sentence was passed Parker asked 'that my death may atone to the Country' (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/5486).

Parker's wife watched him on the Sandwich from a small boat before, dressed in a suit of mourning, he was hanged from the yardarm on 30 June. He was immediately interred in the naval 'new burying ground' at Sheerness. Ann Parker, who had hoped to bury him 'like a gentleman, as he had been bred' (Impartial … account, BL, G14560, 20), was not permitted to remove his body, but she secretly retrieved his coffin and took it to Rochester, and then to the Hoop and Horseshoe tavern, Little Tower Hill, London. Crowds gathered to see him, and his head and shoulders were sketched. The magistrates, fearing riots, ordered his burial in St Mary Matfelon vault, Whitechapel, on 4 July. Later his widow, impoverished, had to ask for charity: reportedly in 1840 she was seventy and blind.

There have been different views of Parker the mutineer. His own account correctly summarized his naval service but glossed over moral lapses. Lieutenant Watson of the Leith tender testified to his boastfulness, eloquence, and liking for drink. The 'Impartial account' portrayed a quixotic hero. Brenton described him as 'of a robust make, dark complexion, black eyes, about five feet eight inches high, and a very good-looking person' (Brenton, 1.296–7). Ann Parker had told the Admiralty that he was 'at times in a state of insanity', claiming his 1794 discharge was due to 'mental derangement' (Portsmouth Gazette, 26 June 1797). Parker perceived himself as a gentleman and consistently rated himself higher than his actual rank. He was undoubtedly volatile, arrogant, and lacking in self-discipline but Mosse reported that he died 'decent & steady' (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/728).

Sources

  • Parker, admiral of mutineers 1797, executed 30 June 1797, BL, Althorp papers, G197
  • naval paybooks, TNA: PRO, ADM 34/509, ADM 35/179, ADM 35/253, ADM 35/1475, ADM 35/1651, ADM 35/1684, ADM 35/9636, ADM 36/10420, ADM 36/10613, ADM 36/11246, ADM 36/11621, ADM 36/13347
  • admiralty correspondence, TNA: PRO, ADM 1/727, ADM 1/728, ADM 1/1023, 17 June 1797, ADM 1/1517, ADM 1/3685, ADM 1/5486
  • captains' logbooks, TNA: PRO, ADM 51/41, ADM 51/144, ADM 51/381, ADM 51/431, ADM 51/567
  • admiralty rough minutes, TNA: PRO, ADM 3/137
  • G. E. Manwaring and B. Dobrée, The floating republic: an account of the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797 (1935)
  • C. Gill, The naval mutinies of 1797 (1913)
  • ‘An impartial and authentic account of the life of Richard Parker’, 1797, BL, G14560
  • Portsmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser (26 June 1797)
  • Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, Admiralty Library, MS 248/4, pt 1
  • E. P. Brenton, The naval history of Great Britain, from the year 1783 to 1836, 1 (1837)
  • The Times (23 June 1797)
  • May–July 1797, BL, Althorp papers, G197
  • Lord Keith to Lord Spencer, June 1797, BL, Althorp papers, G195
  • C. Cunningham, A narrative of occurrences that took place during the mutiny at the Nore in the months of May and June 1797 (1829) [copy in BL]
  • J. Dugan, The great mutiny (New York, 1965)

Archives

  • BL, Althorp papers, G197
  • NMM, Northesk collection
  • Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, admiralty library and manuscript collection, MS 248/4, pt 1
  • TNA: PRO, ADM 1/727, ADM 1/728, ADM 1/1023, ADM 1/1517, ADM 1/3685, ADM 1/5486
  • TNA: PRO, ADM 3/137
  • TNA: PRO, ADM 34/509
  • TNA: PRO, ADM 35/179, ADM 35/253, ADM 35/1475, ADM 35/1651, ADM 35/1684, ADM 35/9636, ADM 36/10420, ADM 36/10613, ADM 36/11246, ADM 36/11621, ADM 36/13347
  • TNA: PRO, ADM 51/41, ADM 51/144, ADM 51/381, ADM 51/431, ADM 51/567

Likenesses

  • W. Bromley, stipple, pubd 1797 (after S. Drummond), BM
  • Harrison & Co., line engraving, pubd 1797 (after W. Chamberlaine), BM
  • G. Murray, line engraving, pubd 1797 (after I. Cruikshank), NPG
  • Sanson, stipple, pubd 1797 (after Bailey), BM, NPG
  • engraving (after posthumous sketch), BL
  • group portrait (with delegates in counsel), NMM
  • stipple (labelled Robert but is Richard Parker), NMM
  • two etchings, NMM
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latterday Saints
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London