A Blupete Biography Page

John Parr

John Parr was born in Dublin. His family was part of that upper crust that was formed in Ireland during the 17th century by the immigration of English nobility. His father, also named John Parr, and who was to live into his nineties, had fought with Marlborough.1 As a nineteen year old, our John Parr joined the British army as an ensign of the 20th Foot (Kingsley's; or, as it was to become, Wolfe's). He was gazetted on the 26th of May, 1744, just a couple of months after (on March 18th) war was declared between France and England, the War of the Austrian Succession. One of the major battles of the war was to unfold within the year; these two old enemies clashed at Fontenoy, in Belgium, on May 11th, 1745; our hero was there.2 Further, as a subaltern officer, Parr was with the Duke of Cumberland and his 9000-strong army when it rolled up into and through Scotland to get at Charles Stewart's army of 6000, a great number of whom were to meet their end at Culloden on the 16th of April, 1746. In 1749, James Wolfe was made a major of Parr's Regiment, the 20th. Between the wars, between 1749 and 1756, Parr waited out his time. Of course, in 1756, the Seven Years War, a war which was to have such an impact on Nova Scotia and Canada, was to start. It would not appear, however, unlike certain of his fellow officers -- some of whom, it is likely, he would have made an earlier acquaintance -- that Parr was to see any action in America.3 He was, it seems, in the European theatre and was at The Battle of Minden in 1759 during which time he was seriously wounded, such that, he spent six months in the hospital. At war's end, coming out with the rank of major, in 1763, Parr found himself fixed with garrison duty, six years at Gibraltar, during which time, it would appear, he managed to purchase the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He 1776, Parr was about to be shipped out to Quebec with his regiment; but, instead he resigned. Two years later he was to get a sinecure as a major at the Tower of London; "a position of negative importance, but with a good salary attached, one requiring 'interest' to attain."4

While at this medieval fortress, the Tower of London, Parr was to receive an appointment. We see, so far in his career, that Parr had at least one opportunity to go to America which he declined. To receive the offer of being a Royal Governor, however, even if it meant going to America, was something that John Parr could not resist. Parr was to succeed Francis Legge, who, while continuing to carry the title as the Governor of Nova Scotia, had spent his last six years away from his post in England. If Parr thought that his appointment was to be any easy one, "a finer, more lucrative and prestigious one,"5 he was soon to find out differently. He was to take up his position at Nova Scotia at a time just as the America Revolution was a coming to an end with the result that Nova Scotia, beginning that very winter, 1782/83, was to be flooded with Americans who had supported the crown during the fighting and were now fleeing the expected persecution. The settlement of the Loyalists in Nova Scotia and the subsequent territorial divisions creating New Brunswick and Cape Breton, are subjects taken up in the context of my larger history.

John Parr arrived at Halifax "with Lady Parr and family"6 on October 5th, 1782. It is to be remembered that since Legge had gone back to England in 1776, the province was under the control of a lieutenant governor. When John Parr stepped off the ship at Halifax he was to be greeted by Sir Andrew Snape Hammond who had been appointed to his position as lieutenant governor but just the year before. Hammond was of the view that he should have been named governor and was to openly express "his chagrin and anger"7; he resigned almost immediately and retired to England. (Hammond's job was filled on February 24th, 1783, by Edmund Fanning.) Parr would soon taste the same kind of disappointment in 1786, for, it was in that year that Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester) was to be appointed as the governor general of British North America, a process which led to Governor Parr to be reappointed as Lieutenant Governor. (What happened to Fanning at that point, is more than I know.) It was at this time, too, that London decided to create a bishopric at Nova Scotia. The appointment of Bishop Charles Inglis, was, to Parr, but another erosion to his gubernatorial powers.

Other events were to unfold in Nova Scotia during Parr's time as governor, including: the settlement of the "black loyalists" (Parr was charged with "discriminary practices and long delays"); the attempted establishment of a whaling industry at Dartmouth (the state side whalers saw it but as a method to shut them out of the English market in whale oil); then there was the "judges' affair" (certain members of the bar openly criticized certain of the judges of incompetence and partiality). These are matters which we cannot go into at this place, I but mention them to show that John Parr was to have a stormy time of it during his nine years as governor. The most difficult problem for Parr, however, was the line he was obliged to walk between the complaining Loyalists on one side who wanted things and the governmental authorities on the other who were unwilling, for the sake of economy, to give the supplies and money needed to settle these destitute people.

"In the autumn of 1783, while the British still held New York, Carleton had deluged Parr with instructions, requests and admonitions concerning the difficulties that the refugees were already encountering with the province's officialdom -- everything from the tardiness of land granting to the excessive customs-house fees; the Loyalists had not been slow in writing Carleton of their grievances concerning Nova Scotia. The British government had also been inundated with complaints against Parr, and its attitude, to some extent, was undoubtedly shaped by such correspondence. Consequently historians, long after these events, reading the massive and varied documentation on Loyalist complaints, along with Parr's reaction -- from his initial complacency to his later and shrill self-defense -- have judged him harshly."8
The DCB summed up its entry on John Parr, this way:
"Parr's governorship coincided with a period of profound upheaval and dislocation which would have taxed the talents and energies of any administrator: a lesser man would have been dilatory and incompetent; an abler man might have shown more dexterity and resourcefulness. Being dour, brusque, and inured to deprivation in army life, he did not display the degree of solicitous sympathy the loyalists felt they deserved, although much of their criticism of Parr reflected despondency, frustration, and anger at straitened circumstances. A short man with sharp features and a brisk, strutting gait9, he was a stickler for formalities and had the tetchy stubbornness of an independent but narrow mind long accustomed to military discipline. He also lacked the accommodating manners and social graces which might have made him a more popular governor of the colony to which he found himself somewhat uncongenially exiled."
He was not a young man, when, at age 58, he was to first take up his duties at Halifax. His position as a royal governor was intended to be an easy one, one to take him out through his final years. Within weeks of his arrival at Halifax, however, he was to be faced with great challenges. To get things done he was obliged to be stiff and military-like at times and to take actions which did not tend, as a general proposition, to earn him many friends. He was, however, as was said of him, "a man of real benevolent Heart"; and there a number of examples to be had that show this to be so.10

Governor Parr was to die at Halifax on November 25th, 1791, in the 66th year of his age.

I turn to James S. Macdonald to conclude this matter:

"On Tuesday the 29th of November, the funeral took place. Governor Parr had been Grand-Master of Free Masons and the several Lodges attended. The 20th regiment, which Parr had commanded and which was in garrison when he died, also attended. All the forces were under arms. The officers of the fleet were present, headed by Sir Richard Hughes, a former Lieutenant-Governor. The Royal Artillery and the 16th and 21st regiments lined the streets. The ships and batteries fired minute guns. At the entrance of St. Paul's Bishop Inglis received the body, which was placed near the altar, and the funeral service provided, after which the coffin was lowered into the vault, under the middle aisle of the church. The 20th Regiment fired the entombing volleys."11

[1] Macdonald, "Memoir of Governor John Parr," NSHS, #14 (1909).

[2] It is interesting to note that Edward Cornwallis, Charles Lawrence, Robert Monckton and Jeffrey Amherst, all of whom were to play such pivotal roles in the history of Nova Scotia, were also at Fontenoy.

[3] We see in Macdonld's "Memoir," op. cit., at p. 43, where Parr was part of that of the troop reinforcement that was being sent to Minorca during January of 1756.

[4] Ibid., p. 45.

[5] See MacKinnon, "A Dearth of Miracles: Governor John Parr and the Settling of the Loyalists in Nova Scotia" NSHR, Volume #15, No. 1 (1995) at p. 34. For a short time, at least, Parr thought he had it made; within days of his arrival at Halifax, on October 23rd, he took his pen in hand to write a friend back in England:

"I have found everything here to exceed my expectations, have met with the greatest civility and attention from all Ranks of People, a most excellent house and Garden, a small farm close to the Town, another of 70 or 80 Acres at the distance of two Miles, where I propose passing two or three months in Summer a snugg little farm house upon it, a beautiful prospect, with good fishing, plenty of provisions of all sorts except Flower, with a very good French cook to dress them, a Cellar well stock'd with Port, Claret, Madeira, Rum, Brandy, Bowood Strong Beer etc, a neat income (including a Regiment of Provincials of which I am Colonel) £2200 Sterg p Annum, an income far beyond my expectations, plenty of Coals & Wood against the severity of the Winter, a house well furnis'd, and warm Cloths, that upon the whole my Dear Grey your friend Parr is as happy and comfortably seated, as you could wish an old friend to be ... I am determined to be happy and to make everyone so who comes within my line." [As set out by Brebner in his The Neutral Yankees (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970) p. 309.]

[6] Macdonld's "Memoir," op. cit., at p. 45. Parr had married Sara Walmesley in 1761; the pair was to have three sons and two daughters.

[7] Ibid., at p. 46.

[8] See MacKinnon, "A Dearth of Miracles ...," op. cit. at p. 34. At the conclusion of his article, p. 44, MacKinnon, writes that Parr "found himself abruptly responsible for a massive, sometimes chaotic, relocation of people and, with too few competent men to assist him, with a begrudging Britain distributing its dole reluctantly, with an angry, hostile body of refugees to settle, met that responsibility."

[9] "Parr was of small slight stature, with a very bright eye, and hooked nose, with a quick strutting walk. He was nicknamed by our people, 'our little cock robin.'" ["Richard Bulkeley" in NSHS, vol. 12 (1905) p. 77.]

[10] See "A Dearth of Miracles ...," op. cit. at p. 43, where MacKinnon quotes Thomas Barclay's observation, viz. that Parr was "a man of real benevolent Heart"; and where, then, MacKinnon sets out a number examples of Parr's benevolence towards the Loyalists.

[11] "Memoir," op. cit., at p. 76. James S. Macdonald was the President of the Nova Scotia Historical Society in the year, 1910, when he wrote his "Memoir" on John Parr. Macdonald observed on how Parr's widow and two daughters left almost immediately after his decease for London.


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Peter Landry
2012 (2020)