Sir Hyde Parker 5th Baronet

1714-82. He was born at Tredington, Worcestershire, on 1 February 1714, the youngest son of the Reverend Hyde Parker, rector of that village, and of his wife Mary Reeves. He was the father of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, and the grandfather of Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker.

Parker initially served in the merchant service and did not join the navy until the age of twenty-four. He was employed as an able seaman and later as a masters’ mate in Commodore George Anson’s expedition that circumnavigated the globe between 1740-4, serving firstly aboard the Pearl 40 and Gloucester 50, both commanded by Captain Matthew Mitchell, and later the pennant ship Centurion 50.

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Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, ‘Old Vinegar’.

On 16 January 1745 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Harwich 50, Captain Philip Carteret, sailing out to the East Indies. He held various appointments on that station, including aboard the Preston 50, Captain the Earl of Northesk, and Princess Mary 60, Captain Thomas Griffin, which ship flew the flag of that officer’s father, Rear-Admiral Thomas Griffin. On 24 March 1748 Parker was appointed captain of the Lively 20, and he returned with her to England in the summer of the following year.

In November 1751 Parker commanded the Vanguard 70 on harbour duties before going out to Minorca with troops in the spring of 1752 and being paid off that November. During 1753 he was engaged in fishery protection with the new sloop Cruiser 8, and in the autumn of 1755 he joined the new Squirrel 20 in which he was sent to negotiate the release of some Christian slaves from Morocco during the following year. Famously he incurred the wrath of the ‘emperor’ for turning up in court with dirty boots. He afterwards served in the North Sea and in the Elbe, capturing the 30,000 guinea Amerique from St. Domingo, and the privateer Très Vénèrable on 19 October.

In October 1757 he commissioned the Brilliant 36, a vessel in which he would capture a host of enemy ships. His first major prize, in company with the Coventry 28, Captain Carr Scrope, was the privateer Dragon 24, and after sinking the Intrépide 14 off Bayonne he participated in Commodore Lord Howe’s operations against the French coast during the latter part of 1758. He then captured the Nymphe 20 and the Vengeur 12, and subsequently assisted Rear-Admiral George Brydges Rodney in the assault on Le Havre, shortly afterwards making a prize of the French privateer Basque 22.

Following his commissioning of the Norfolk 74 in November 1759, Parker sailed to the East Indies in January of the following year. Her he exchanged into the Grafton 68 when the Norfolk was taken as his flagship by Rear-Admiral Charles Stevens. He served at the reduction of Pondicherry on 15 January 1761 and that of Manila in the autumn of 1762. In command of the Panther 60, he was despatched with the Argo 28, Captain Richard King, to seek out an expected Spanish treasure ship, but failing to find her they had the immense good fortune to capture another vessel instead. This was the galleon Santisima Trinidad, bound from Cavite in the Philippines for Acapulco, manned by over seven hundred crew, and which was so well laden it earned him 30,000 guineas in prize money alone.

He returned to England in 1764 and remained unemployed before serving aboard the Romney 50 as flag-captain to Commodore Samuel Hood in North America for a few weeks during 1770. Having been appointed to commission the new Invincible 74 for service in the Channel in November 1776, he left his station in the Downs to cruise between Ushant and Cape Finisterre during the summer of 1777.

On 23 January 1778 Parker was promoted rear-admiral, taking Captain Charles Middleton’s Royal Oak 74 as his flagship, and with Henry Francis Evans as his flag-captain. Commanding a division that was detached from the Channel fleet at Portsmouth during the Kings review of the fleet in May, he eventually sailed for New York on 9 June as second-in-command of Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron’s fleet which had been despatched to meet the threat posed by the sailing of the Comte d’Estaing’s Toulon expedition. When the fleet parted company in mid-ocean following a violent storm Parker managed to get into New York with six sail of the line on 29 August. Following the force’s reunification he sailed to the West Indies with Byron, but in the Battle of Grenada on 6 July 1779 his commander’s poor tactics meant that Parker’s new flagship, the Conqueror 74, Captain Harry Harmood, together with the rest of his division, was barely engaged.

Following his elevation to the position of commander in chief of the Leeward Islands on the return home of Byron and the wounded Vice-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington in August, Parker transferred to the Princess Royal 90, retaining Captain Harmood as his flag-captain. This position earned him a great deal more prize money through the good fortune of his cruisers. He also had the responsibility of watching the French fleet at Martinique from his base at St Lucia. On 18 December 1779 elements of his force dashed out of Gros Islet Bay and attacked a convoy of twenty-six French ships, capturing or destroying all but seven which were rescued by Admiral La Motte-Picquet coming out of Fort Royal, Martinique. Early the following year he followed the French admiral who had sailed to Cape François to escort a convoy with seven sail of the line, and he blockaded the French in the Basseterre Roads, Guadeloupe.

Upon hearing of the imminent arrival of the Comte De Guichen’s fleet Parker returned to St Lucia where he was superseded on 27 March by Admiral Sir George Rodney, who brought four sail of the line to join Parker’s sixteen. Typically, Rodney informed all and sundry that Parker gave him a less than thorough appreciation of the state of the campaign. At the subsequent Battle of Martinique on 17 April 1780 Parker commanded the van but was one of many officers who failed to understand Rodney’s intentions, thereby causing an unsuccessful engagement. This resulted in the commander-in-chief’s censure of his subordinate admiral. After participating in the remainder of the Leeward Islands campaign from May to July Parker returned to England with a convoy in the latter month, flying his flag aboard the Medway 60, Captain Harmood. Although simmering at his rebuke from Rodney he was dissuaded from making any complaint.

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The Battle of the Doggersbank 1781

On 26 September 1780 he was promoted vice-admiral, and in March 1781 was appointed to the command of the North Sea station with four sail of the line and a 50-gun vessel, some of which were in poor repair. From 20 March his flag was aboard the Victory 100, Captains Samuel Clayton and John Howarth, and on 31 May he transferred to the Fortitude 74, Captain George Robertson.

After conveying the Baltic trade of five hundred sail, and having been joined by Commodore Keith Stewart with the Berwick 74 and two frigates, he was nearing home with two hundred sail on 5 August 1781 when he met a Dutch fleet of an equal force off the Doggersbank under the command of Rear-Admiral Johan Arnold Zoutman. The battle that followed was extremely fierce and fought on traditional terms with the two fleets engaging in parallel lines. No result transpired, but Parker nevertheless felt he should have deserved to gain a victory, and he castigated the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, for failing to provide him with the effective ships that would have won the engagement. He went so far as to claim that he was a victim of treachery and falsehood, and even remained dissatisfied and resentful after the King himself made a state visit to his fleet. Indeed, Parker barely treated the King civilly, persisted with his intention to resign, and refused a knighthood. As a result he was not re-employed until after the fall of the government in 1782.

In the meantime he had succeeded to the family baronetcy on the death of his brother on 10 July 1782, and shortly afterwards the new government appointed him to succeed Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes as commander-in-chief in the East Indies with his flag aboard the brand new Cato 60, Captain James Clark. After sailing in October, he reached Rio de Janeiro on 12 December, but subsequent to leaving that port the Cato was never seen again. Various stories surfaced, including one that was presented to the Admiralty in 1791 by a Captain Burn in the service of the Nabob of Arcot. This gentleman stated that whilst at Mecca in 1790 he had seen a Malay vessel rigged out with various stores from the Cato, and that further enquiries indicated that she had been wrecked on the Malabar Coast and all her men slaughtered on the orders of the Malay King. In all probability however the Cato had caught fire and foundered at sea.

Parker married Sarah Smithson of Northumberland in 1734 and had two sons, Harry and Hyde. He also claimed to have adopted the son of the late Captain John Macartney of the Princess Amelia 80, who had been killed at the Battle of the Doggesrsbank.

He was strict and a brave officer who did not possess any great skill or imagination, and was known as ‘Old Vinegar’ because of his vitriolic temper. Politically he despised the Lord North government and the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich.