The John Goddard Collection of Important Naval Medals and Nelson Letters (24 November 2015)

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Date of Auction: 24th November 2015

Sold for £75,000

Estimate: £30,000 - £40,000

The unique and earliest-dated Naval Small Gold Medal awarded to Vice Admiral Sir William Parker, Royal Navy, for the action against the French Fleet three days prior to the Glorious First of June 1794, and later the recipient of a Naval Large Gold Medal for the Battle of Cape St Vincent

Naval Small Gold Medal, the reverse inscribed (William Parker Esquire, Captain of H.M.S. the Audacious on the 28 of May MDCCXCIV, the French Fleet Attacked) fitted with a replacement gilt ribbon buckle, otherwise extremely fine


Provenance: Needes Collection, April 1940; Dix Noonan Webb, November 1996. Parker’s Naval Large Gold Medal for St Vincent has never been recorded on the market.

This is the first action for which the Naval Gold Medal, Large or Small, was awarded. Although Parker’s medal is generally listed as being for the ‘Glorious First of June 1794’, and his action on the 28th May accepted as an integral part of Earl Howe’s famous victory, it is an inescapable fact that his medal bears a unique inscription predating those awarded for the 1st June 1794, at which general action he was not present.

William Parker, son of Augustine Parker, sometime Mayor of Queenborough and commander of one of the King’s yachts, was born in Kent on 1 January 1743. He seems to have entered the Navy in 1756, on board the Centurion, and to have been present in the fleet before Louisbourg in 1757, at the capture of Louisbourg in 1758, and at the capture of Quebec in 1759. In 1760, the Centurion went to the coast of Africa and in 1761 was on the Jamaica station. In 1762 she returned to England, and Parker, having been in her, as Midshipman and Master’s Mate, for nearly six years, passed his examination on 3 November 1762. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1766, and to Commander in 1773.

On his promotion to post rank, 28 August 1777, he commanded the Deal Castle in the West Indies 1778-79. He afterwards commanded the Maidstone and, in 1782, the Iphigenia, which was paid off early in 1783. He was then appointed to the Dictator, guardship in the Medway, for three years. From 1787 to 1790, he was commodore and commander-in-chief on the Leeward Islands station, with a broad pennant in the 50-gun ship Jupiter. In the Spanish armament of 1790 he commanded the Formidable, which was paid off in the autumn.

In December 1792 Parker commissioned the 74-gun ship Audacious for service in the Channel fleet under the command of Richard Howe, Earl Howe. On 28 May 1794 as the English and French fleets were in presence of each other, a strenuous attack was made on the French rear by three or four or five English ships. Foreseeing the possibility of such an attempt, the French had strengthened their rear by placing there the 120-gun ship Révolutionnaire, which thus became the object of continuous attack. But the English ships never succeeded in engaging her with several ships at the same time, and against them singly she was able to hold her own. At dusk Howe made the signal for the ships to take their station in the line, but the Révolutionnaire had by that time suffered a good deal of damage, had fallen a long way astern, and was brought to close action by Parker in the Audacious. As the other ships obeyed the recall, the Audacious was left singly exposed to the fire of her huge antagonist. Had the Révolutionnaire been in good order, she would most certainly have destroyed the Audacious but happily her men were neither seamen nor gunners, and the fight was not so unequal as it seemed. As the night closed in both ships had received a great deal of damage after a close and furious engagement of nearly two hours, and by ten o’clock they had drifted apart.

On the morning of the 29th they were still in sight of each other, and a detached French squadron coming within gunshot placed the Audacious in imminent danger. Though her rigging was cut to pieces, her masts were all standing and she could sail before the wind. As she ran to leeward a thick haze concealed her from her pursuers, and being unable to rejoin the fleet, Parker was compelled to return to Plymouth. The Révolutionnaire was towed to La Rochelle, and thus the result of the engagement was that, in the action of the 1st June, the French were deprived of a 120-gun ship, the English of a 74. Parker received his Naval Gold Medal for this brave action, but there were more honours to come.

Battle of St Vincent and Naval Large Gold Medal

On 14 July 1794, Parker was promoted to Rear Admiral, and in 1795, appointed commander-in-chief at Jamaica, with his flag in the Raisonable. Due to illness he spent the summer of 1796 in England but, in January 1797, he was sent out to join Sir John Jervis (later Earl St Vincent) with a reinforcement of five sail of the line, his flag being on board the Prince George of 98 guns. He joined Jervis on 9 February, and on the 14th the battle of Cape St Vincent was fought. The Prince George was the third ship in the English line, and came early into action, in which she had an effective share. It appears certain that it was her fire that beat the San Josef before Nelson boarded and took possession of her. Parker thus felt more than a little sore at the publication of Nelson’s account of what took place, in which, as he thought, an undue share of the success was claimed for the Captain. Parker accordingly drew up a narrative of what happened from his point of view, exaggerating the Prince George’s part in the battle at least as much as Nelson had depreciated it. Though it is conceded that the capture of the San Josef was mainly owing to the tremendous broadsides of the Prince George, nothing in Parker’s conduct could compare with Nelson’s bold initiative in wearing out of the line.

As third in command in a battle so glorious and of such far-reaching effects, Parker was made a Baronet, was presented with the Freedom of the City of London in a gold box, and, in common with the other Admirals and Captains, received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, besides being presented by the King with a Naval large gold medal.

Parker remained with the fleet under Lord St Vincent, becoming second in command with the recall of Vice Admiral Thompson. In the summer of 1798 he was deeply injured by the appointment of Nelson, his junior, to a detached command in the Mediterranean, and complained bitterly to the commander-in-chief, who led him to believe that it was done entirely by the Admiralty. Parker remained with the fleet until 1799, and was with Lord Keith in the pursuit of the French fleet out of the Mediterranean and into Brest, after which he went to Spithead and struck his flag. In March 1800 he was appointed commander-in-chief on the Halifax station, but was recalled the following year having, contrary to Admiralty orders, sent two ships to the West Indies. He demanded a court martial, which was granted. The offence was a technical one and the court, while acquitting him of any misconduct, was of the opinion that his orders to the two ships had been ‘indiscreet.’ The sting of the admonition would probably have been soothed by another command but the Peace was on the point of being signed, and during 1802 he remained on shore. On the last day of the year he died suddenly in a fit of apoplexy at Ham, near Richmond, Surrey.