1902 Encyclopedia > Sir William Edward Parry

Sir William Edward Parry
British Arctic explorer
(1790-1855)




SIR WILLIAM EDWARD PARRY, (1790-1855), arctic navigator, was the fourth son of Dr Caleb Hillier Parry, a physician of some celebrity in Bath, and was born there 19th December 1790. He was educated at the Bath Grammar School, and was intended for the medical profession, but through the intervention of a lady friend of the family he was permitted, through the kindness of Admiral Cornwallis, to join the "Ville de Paris," the flagship of the Channel fleet, as a first-class volunteer. In 1806 he became a midshipman in the "Tribune" frigate, from which he was, in the spring of 1808, transferred to the "Vanguard" in the Baltic fleet. After obtaining his lieutenant's commission he joined the "Alexander" frigate, employed in the protection of the Spitzbergen whale fishery. Taking advantage of the opportunity for the study of astronomy, and the observation of the fixed stars in the northern hemisphere, he afterwards published the result of his studies in a small volume on Nautical Astronomy. He also employed himself in preparing accurate charts of the northern navigation. Having joined the "La Hogue" at the North-American station, he remained there till 1817, distinguishing himself in an expedition up the Connecticut river, for which he received a medal. Shortly after his return to England he obtained an appointment to the "Alexander" brig in the expedition of Sir John Ross to discover the probabilities of a North-West Passage to the Pacific. Ross, mistaking clouds for the Croker mountains barring his way westwards, returned to England in the belief that further perseverance was hopeless; but Parry, confident, as he expressed it, "that attempts at polar discovery had been hitherto relinquished just at a time when there was the greatest chance of succeeding," obtained the command of a new expedition, consisting of two ships, the "Griper" and "Hecla," with which he sailed from the Thames in May 1819. Passing up Baffin's Bay, he explored and named Barrow's Straits, Prince Regent's Inlet, and Wellington Channel, and reached Melville Island at the beginning of September, having crossed longitude 110° W., thus becoming entitled to the reward of £5000 offered by parliament. After wintering in Melville Island he made an effort to force a passage to Behrings Straits, but, the state of the ice rendering this impossible, he returned to England, re-entering the Thames in November 1820. A narrative of the expedition appeared in 1821. Shortly after his return he was pro-moted to the rank of commander, presented with the freedom of Bath and Norwich, and elected a member of the Royal Society. With the "Fury" and the "Hecla" he set sail on a second expedition in May 1821, and after great hardships returned to England in November 1823 without achieving his purpose. During his absence he had in November 1821 been promoted to post rank, and on 1st December 1823 he was chosen acting hydrographer to the navy. His Journal of a Second Voyage for the Discovery of the North-West Passage appeared in 1824. With the same ships he, in May 1824, set sail on a third expedition, which, however, was also unsuccessful, and after the wreck of the "Fury" he returned home in October 1825 with a double ship's company. Of this voyage he published an account in 1826. Having obtained the sanction of the Admiralty to journey to the North Pole from the northern shores of Spitzbergen in boats that could be fitted to sledges, he set sail with the "Hecla," March 27, 1827, and in June set out for the Pole. He, however, failed to find the solid plain of ice he expected; and as, moreover, owing to the ice drift, he found his efforts at progress northwards in great degree frustrated, he was compelled, after reaching 82° 45' N. lat., to retrace his steps, and arrived in England in October. Of his journey he published an account under the title of Narrative of the Attempt to reach the North Pole in Boats, 1827. On April 29, 1829, he received the honour of knighthood, Sir John Franklin being also knighted on the same occasion. After continuing his duties as hydrographer till May 1829, he went to New South Wales as commissioner to the Australian Agricultural Company. On his return to England in 1835 he was appointed assistant poor-law commissioner in Norfolk. This he in little more than a year resigned, and in 1837 he was employed in organizing the packet service between Liverpool, Holyhead, and Dublin. For nine years from 1837 he was comptroller of the steam department of the navy. On retiring from active service he was appointed captain-superintendent of Haslar Hospital. He vacated this office in 1852 on obtaining the rank of rear-admiral, and in 1853 he was appointed governor of Greenwich Hospital, which post he retained till his death, 8th July 1855. Besides the journals of his different voyages, Parry was the author of a Lecture to Seamen, and Thoughts on the Parental Character of God.

See Memoirs of Rear-Admiral Sir W. E. Parry, by his son Rev. Edward Parry, M.A., 3d ed., 1857.








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