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Private James Parker


James Parker was born in Gisburn, West Yorkshire, around 1771. He worked as a labourer before enlisting as a private in the newly formed 2nd Battalion of the 52nd Regiment of Foot on 17 July 1799. He received levy money of £7.0.0, was paid 1/- a day and was assigned to the ‘Commandant’s Company’.

Pte Parker and the 2nd Battalion remained in the UK until August 1800 but then, under Colonel Sir John Moore, took part in the expeditions to Qiberon Bay, Vigo, Cadiz and Ferrol in support of the French and Spanish Royalist causes. After short stays in Gibraltar and Lisbon they returned to England in early 1801. After being stationed in Ashford and Shorncliffe, Pte Parker and his battalion moved to Dover Castle in November 1801 and then on to Chatham in November 1802.

In 1803 the 52nd Foot was chosen to form the first corps of light infantry and its 2nd Battalion was re-numbered as the 96th Regiment of Foot. All the necessary arrangements were completed by 23 February 1803 but in the meantime Pte Parker had been transferred to the 96th Foot on 25 December 1802 and he and the 96th Foot had marched to Gillingham and embarked from there for Ireland before marching to Fermoy. The 96th remained in Ireland until January 1805 and during this time Pte Parker was based at various stations such as Bandon, Limerick, Cork, Killary and Middleton.

In February 1805 Pte Parker and the 96th embarked for the West Indies in order to protect British colonies following the outbreak of the Napoleonic War. After landing, and spending three months, in Barbados the 96th and Pte Parker moved to Antigua in June 1805 and then sailed on HMS Fawn to St Croix in September 1807. Whilst stationed on St Croix, Pte Parker and the 96th took part in the capture of Guadaloupe in1810.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the French colonies had provided protected harbours for French privateers and warships, which could prey on the numerous British trade routes in the Caribbean and then return before British warships could react. In response the Royal Navy instigated a blockade of the islands, stationing ships off many ports and seizing any vessel that tried to enter or leave. With trade and communication made very difficult by the British blockade the economies and the morale of the French colonies began to collapse and in the summer of 1808 desperate messages were sent to France requesting aid but, despite repeated efforts, the French navy failed to reinforce and resupply the French garrisons, as their ships were intercepted and defeated, either in European waters or in the Caribbean itself.

The British had intercepted a number of these messages, and launched a series of successful invasions during 1809, until Guadaloupe was the only French colony remaining in the Americas. A British expeditionary force, including the 96th, landed in Guadaloupe on 28 January 1810 and found that much of the island's militia garrison had deserted. Advancing from two landing beaches on opposite sides of the island, the British were able to rapidly push inland and it was not until they were outside the capital, Basse-Terre, that the expeditionary force faced strong opposition. However, in a battle lasting for most of 3 February, the French were defeated and driven back. The island's commander surrendered the following day.

Pte Parker and the 96th soon returned to St Croix where they remained until the middle of 1815. Pte Parker was promoted to corporal on 20 November 1812, moved to St Thomas in the spring of 1813 but was reduced to private again on 20 July 1813. Pte Parker joined the rest of the regiment on St Croix in the spring of 1815 and from their moved with the 96th to Martinique which, having been captured by the British earlier in the war, had been handed back to the French under the Treaty of Paris in April 1814. However, following Napoleon’s escape from Elba, there was considerable unrest in the West Indies and the 96th was part of the force sent to re-occupy the island as the majority of French officers there had shown themselves in favour of Napoleon.

With the reduction in the size of the Army following the end of the Napoleonic War the 96th Foot was renumbered the 95th Foot in early 1816.

Pte Parker and the 95th Foot returned to Portsmouth from Martinique towards the end of July 1816 and from there moved to Chatham and then Nottingham. However, on 21 August 1816 Pte James Parker was ‘invalided home’ and discharged as a Chelsea Out Pensioner ‘in consequence of being worn out’ and was ‘rendered unfit for further service’. He was described as being about 44 years old, 5’7” tall, with light hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. Pte Parker signed his discharge papers with his mark – an ‘X’. He had served with the colours for 17 years and 71 days, of which 11 years and 179 days had been served in the West Indies which counted as time and a half towards his pension which was therefore based on total service of 22 years and 11 months and was paid at 1/1d per day in 1816. He was finally discharged on 24 September 1816.

In 1847 James Parker applied for and was awarded his Military General Service Medal with clasp ‘GUADALOUPE’, one of only 19 awarded to the 96th Foot. In the census of 1851 he is shown as being 83 years old, a Chelsea Pensioner and, on the date of the census, a visitor at Betty Scholes’ house at 67, Bolton Street, Over Darwen, Lancashire; about 20 miles from where he was born.

WO 97/135/99 - Soldiers Papers
WO 12/6242, 6307-6309, 9592-9597 & 9526 - Muster Rolls
WO 116/23 – Royal Hospital Chelsea, Out Pensions Admission Book
WO 120/29 – Chelsea Hospital Register of Soldiers
Census 1851