Sir Hyde Parker
1739-1807. He was born in Devon, the second son of Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, 5th baronet and his wife Sarah Smithson.
He entered the navy aboard the Vanguard 70 commanded by his father in November 1751, removing with him to the sloop Cruiser and then in 1755 transferring to the Medway 60, Captain Charles Proby. On 25 January 1758 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Brilliant 36, once more serving under the orders of his father, and followed him to the Norfolk 74 with which he went out to the East Indies in 1760. He next joined the Grafton 68 with his father, in which he was present at the reduction of Pondicherry and the expedition to Manilla, transferring thereafter to the Lenox 74, Captain Robert Jocelyn.
He was promoted commander of the Manila 14 on 16 December 1762 and posted to the Baleine 32 on 18 July 1763, with which he returned from the East Indies to Chatham in August 1764. He afterwards commanded the Hussar 28 in North America under Commodore Samuel Hood, having been appointed to that ship in November 1766, and he retained her until May 1769 when he took command of Hood’s pennant ship, the Romney 50. From October 1770 he was the captain of the Boston 32, again serving in North American waters, which vessel was paid off in July 1772.
In July 1775 he took the Phoenix 44 out to North America, but on the arrival of the rebel army in the spring of the following year he humanely withdrew from New York in order to avoid bloodshed amongst a civilian population with which he had enjoyed good relations. During the New York campaign of July-October 1776 he led a squadron consisting of the Phoenix, Roebuck 44, Tartar 28 and Tryal which drove through the American defences of chevaux de frise, batteries and gunboats in the North River, losing lost nine men killed and eighteen wounded in the process, but capturing a number of small American men of war. After the Phoenix was briefly refitted in Nova Scotia during the summer of 1777, Parker commanded her in the Philadelphia campaign from 25 August, led a squadron of five vessels off Chesapeake Bay in the autumn, and took part in Vice-Admiral Lord Howe’s defence of New York from the French in July 1778 and operations off Rhode Island during August . In December he led the naval forces in the textbook Savannah Expedition, following which the Phoenix was repaired temporarily in the captured port and then sent home for a complete refit.
Whilst the Phoenix was undergoing a refit at Plymouth Parker was honoured for his services with a knighthood at St. James’ Palace on 21 April 1779. Continuing in the Phoenix, he escorted the Jamaican trade out from England after leaving Spithead with Admiral Sir George Rodney’s fleet in December 1779, being detached on 4 January 1780 to the West Indies. After embarking on a cruise his command was caught in the Great Hurricanes of October 1780 and driven ashore near Cape Cruz on the island of Cuba. Although some twenty men were washed overboard with the mainmast he got most of his two hundred men to safety, landed the guns, built defences and sent to Jamaica for help. His men finally reached safety at Montego Bay on 15 October, eleven days after being wrecked. Having been most honourably acquitted at the resultant court-martial he returned to England and was ordered to commission the new frigate Latona 38, joining his father in the North Sea and being present but not participating in the Battle of the Doggersbank on 5 August 1781.
Parker commissioned the brand new Goliath 74 in October 1781, and being attached to the Channel fleet he served in the April-August 1782 campaign with Vice-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington off Ushant, and Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt off Brest. Following the sinking of the Royal George on 29 August 1782 he considered the possibility of raising her, but in the event his plans did not come to fruition. He subsequently took part in the relief of Gibraltar on 18 October and led the van in the action off Cape Spartel where his ship suffered twenty casualties.
Following the end of hostilities he quelled a mutiny aboard the Goliath during March 1783 when many ships waiting to be paid off displayed mutinous tendencies, and he also presided over a court martial on the mutineers of the Raisonnable 64 later that year. The Goliath served as a guardship, initially in the Medway before being fitted at Chatham for service on the Plymouth station. In October 1783 he went out to Gibraltar to transfer part of the garrison force, and on returning the Goliath saw service as a guardship at Portsmouth until 1786. As a result of the Dutch Armament in the autumn of the following year he was appointed to commission the brand new Orion 74 at Woolwich paying her off in February 1788. During the Spanish Armament of 1790 he commissioned the new Brunswick 74 and in the same year was nominated a colonel of marines as well as commander of the yacht Royal Charlotte at Deptford. When Vice-Admiral Lord Hood was ordered to prepare a fleet during the Russian Armament in 1791 he selected Parker as his captain of the fleet but again hostilities did not ensue.
Parker was promoted rear-admiral on 1 February 1793 and joined Hood in the Mediterranean as captain of the fleet aboard the Victory 100, Captain John Knight, being present at the occupation of Toulon from 27 August 1793 and in the operations against Corsica from 8 February 1794. On 4 July 1794 he was promoted vice-admiral, and after briefly flying his flag aboard the Bedford 74, Captain Robert Man, he shifted it to the St. George 98, Captain Thomas Foley. He was third in command to Admiral William Hotham at the Battle of Genoa on 13-14 March 1795, suffering casualties of four men killed and thirteen wounded, and the action of 13 July 1795. From 1 November to 30 November 1795 he briefly commanded the fleet pending the arrival of Hotham’s successor, Admiral Sir John Jervis, and from March 1796 flew his flag in the Britannia 100 with Foley as his flag captain.
At about this time Parker was advised by his brother that it would be prudent for him to come home as his wife had been engaged in an adulterous affair and was pregnant with an illegitimate child. After returning to England in June 1796 Parker accordingly received £3,000 damages from the father of the expected child, Major Hugh Baillie of the 86th Regiment, in an action heard before His Majesty’s Court of Kings Bench at Westminster.
In August he was despatched in August with a huge 170-sail convoy, four sail of the line including his flagship Queen 98, Captain Man Dobson, and four frigates with instructions to replace Rear-Admiral Robert Man off Cadiz in the blockade of Rear-Admiral Joseph De Richery’s French squadron. Further secret instructions indicated that he should be prepared to pursue any Franco/Spanish breakout to the Caribbean, and having assumed command of Man’s ships as well as those in the Leeward Island and Jamaica he stationed himself off San Domingo. In the event the French squadron had indeed sailed on 28 August 1796, but proceeded to wreak havoc on the Newfoundland station.
Remaining in the Caribbean with his flag continuing to fly on the Queen, Parker assumed the position of commander-in-chief at Jamaica, although for much of the next year he stationed himself off the strategically superior Cape St. Nicolas Mole at the western end of Santo Domingo, sharing that island with the French and Spanish. His tenure, which lasted until the late summer of 1800, saw the loss of the frigate Hermione 32 on 22 September 1797 and schooner Marie Antoinette to mutiny, but also earned him a fortune estimated at £200,000 in prize money, thanks to the efforts of his prolific cruisers and in particular his favourites, Captains Robert Otway, and the Hermione’s unfortunate Hugh Pigot.
Whilst holding the command at Jamaica it was alleged that Parker was obliged to pay compensation to an individual known as ‘Antoine’ as a result of his own adultery with the man’s wife, and that Antoine was then able to fit out a privateer which was so prolific and un-discerning of the enemy that a group of individuals in Jamaica sent out their own vessel to capture the ship. Antoine was poisoned by his wife to cheat the gallows, but his body was left across the threshold of Parker’s residence, the Pen, where Antoine’s wife was living with the admiral. Another embarrassment occurred in 1797 when Parker did his best to hush up Captain Pigot’s thrashing of an American merchant captain, an incident which eventually led to diplomatic protests reaching the desk of the King.
In 1797 he took his small fleet on a cruise to the Gulf of Mexico after news of the Spithead and the Nore mutinies was received, whilst he also took to sea when yellow fever claimed two dozen lives aboard his flagship. On 14 February 1799 he was advanced to the rank of admiral, and in the same year he sent home his second-in-command, Rear-Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh, with whom he had long held an enmity after censuring him for allowing two Hermione mutineers to go free.
On his return to England aboard the Trent 36, Captain Robert Otway, Parker became second-in-command to the Earl of St. Vincent in the Channel with his flag in the Royal George 100, Captain Otway, commanding the fleet at sea in the winter whilst the old admiral lived ashore at Torre Abbey. In early 1801 he was appointed to command an expeditionary force against the Baltic powers with his flag initially in the Ardent 64, Captain Thomas Bertie, from where it was shifted on 12 March at Yarmouth to the London 98, Captain Robert Otway. His second-in-command was Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson and from the outset there was some friction between the two admirals, fired by the first lord of the admiralty, Earl St. Vincent, who clearly supported Nelson and denigrated Parker, the more so that the latter was about to marry the young daughter of a fellow admiral.
At the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April Nelson led the assault whilst the cautious Parker remained off shore. Upon observing three out of Nelson’s force of twelve ships drive aground in the early part of the attack Parker was persuaded by the captain of the fleet, William Domett, to signal Nelson’s recall, but at the same time he chivalrously allowed his flag captain, Robert Otway, to row across to Nelson’s’ flagship with the instruction that he could ignore the signal if he saw fit. Following Nelson’s victory and negotiation of an armistice Parker refused to sail further up the Baltic to attack the Russians and the Swedes, being concerned with the security to his supply line. Unsurprisingly he was abruptly recalled by St. Vincent following criticism by Nelson, which was not only a great blow and astonishment to him personally but also to many captains who were unhappy with his dismissal. His passage back to England was aboard the new Blanche 36, Captain Graham Eden Hamond.
Parker did not serve again and died on 16 March 1807 at Benhall Lodge, Suffolk.
He was married twice. His first wife, whom he married on 3 February 1782, was Anne Boteler of Henley, by whom he had three sons, these being Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker, Colonel John Parker, who married a daughter of Admiral Sir Home Riggs Popham, and Lieutenant Harry Parker of the Guards, who was killed at the Battle of Talavera. On 1 June 1797 he obtained a divorce from his wife on the grounds of her two-year adultery with Major Hugh Baillie of the 86th Regiment, which had resulted in the birth of an illegitimate child in July 1796. After a series of amorous conquests of French women in the West Indies, and a long-standing affair with the wife of the privateer ‘Antione‘ which bore several children, he next married Frances, daughter of Admiral Sir Robert Onslow on 23 August 1801, a woman who was then forty-three years his junior, and who reminded Lord St Vincent of ‘batter pudding.’ Whilst continuing his affair with Antoine’s wife in England, and having further children with her, Parker also had two daughters and a son from his second marriage, Charles Parker, who entered the Navy in 1812 under the patronage of his half-brother and was eventually promoted captain. His second wife died in March 1844. Sir Hyde was also a godfather to Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Fremantle’s son.
Parker was a follower rather than a leader, a good administrator which was a pre-requisite in the West Indian commands, efficient, cautious, brave but somewhat pedantic and ponderous. St. Vincent described him as prosperous, fat and comfortable, and he undoubtedly liked an easy life. He did not scruple to press Negroes or Americans into the service, and Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood described him as being good-tempered and kindly, yet vain, pompous, ignorant, fussy and somewhat stout. He was extremely weak in his management of Captain Hugh Pigot, doing nothing to censure him for his harsh tyrannical treatment of his crew, and he clearly thought the best way to manage his men was through iron discipline, not inspired leadership.
*For additional information on this biography I am indebted to Duncan Richardson of St. George, Barbados