PARKHURST, John (1643-1731), of Catesby, Northants.
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Family and Education
bap. 30 Mar. 1643, 3rd s. of Sir Robert Parkhurst† of Pyrford, Surr. being 1st s. by 2nd w. Silena, da. of Sir Thomas Crew† of Stene, Northants. educ. Lincoln, Oxf. 1661. m. lic. 23 Apr. 1667, Catherine (d. 1730), da. of John Dormer*, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.).1
Keeper, Frankland Park, co. Dur. 1676–?84; constable, Durham Castle 1676–84.2
Commr. prize appeals 1689–99; collector, prize arrears 1699–at least 1705.3
By 1690 Parkhurst was already established as one of Northamptonshire’s leading Whigs. At the Revolution he emerged as an opponent of James II, enlisting at Nottingham in Bishop Compton’s escort to Princess Anne. At the outset of the new regime he obtained office as a commissioner for prize appeals, salaried at £500 p.a., a post which was to be a source of much later grief to him. He was returned for the county once more in 1690 following an unexceptional term in the Convention. A little before the election one Tory sarcastically described Parkhurst as an ‘excellent patriot’ for openly predicting gloomy prospects for the nation if ‘the Ch[urch] of E[ngland] party’ prevailed. In analytical lists of the 1690 Parliament compiled by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) and Grascome, Parkhurst was classed respectively as a Whig and Court supporter. He was granted ten days’ leave on 12 Jan. 1693, but was back in attendance by mid-February when he was nominated to a committee on French trade. He gave clarification of a minor point in the debates on the naval mismanagements on 29 Nov., and at the report stage of the land tax bill, on 18 Jan. 1694, was a teller for the government side, again on a small question of detail. Shortly before the 1695 dissolution he reported from a private bill committee.4
Parkhurst lost his seat in 1695, but recaptured it in 1698, gaining first place in the poll. In an analysis of the new House he was identified as a Court supporter. Towards the end of 1698 rumours had begun to circulate that the prize office commissioners had applied ‘great sums of money to their own use’, and accordingly, on 23 Dec., the House ordered them to present their accounts for inspection. Parkhurst duly presented the books on 9 Jan. 1699, and the figures appear to have been accepted as satisfactory as no further action that session was taken. Allegations of financial irregularity at the prize office were none the less to plague him for the next six years and ultimately ruined his parliamentary career. He continued to support the government dutifully, voting on 18 Jan. in favour of a standing army, and on 20 Mar. acting as teller for the ministry in support of an unsuccessful motion to recommit the address against the King’s retention of his Dutch regiments in England. On 18 Apr. he was teller on a minor alteration to the land tax bill.5
At the end of June 1699 the prize office was dissolved, and Parkhurst, together with another ex-commissioner, John Pascal, was constituted by the Treasury to oversee the collection of arrears still due to the office. In May 1700 the new commission of accounts requested them to present details of all prize ships and goods taken during the late war, and of their disposal. However, the process of converting the existing accounts into the format desired by the commissioners somehow proved immensely difficult and time-consuming. At first the commissioners were amenable and allowed extra time to Parkhurst’s clerks, but by November their patience had worn thin and they were possibly beginning to suspect an attempt to evade investigation. Parkhurst informed the commissioners that a new set of clerks had been so ‘dilatory and negligent’ in the job of recasting the accounts that the whole exercise had to be recommenced. In mid-February 1701 the commissioners were informed that the prize office accountant had fallen seriously ill and was unable to finish the accounts which were within three or four days of completion. The previous month, before his involvement with the commission of accounts had come to public notice, Parkhurst had been re-elected. Even so, it was candidly observed by one constituent that ‘many wish some honester man than Parkhurst had been pitched on’. On 28 Feb. the accounts commission reported to the House that Pascal and Parkhurst had failed to provide the information demanded the previous May, and after giving details of their procrastination, they were declared guilty of neglecting their duty and committed to the Tower, while the prize office clerks were ordered to complete the accounts forthwith. In Northamptonshire, news of the incarceration of one of their knights was greeted with dismay. A Daventry clergyman, Charles Allestree, commented, ‘for a knight of the shire to be false to his trust, and by fraudulent ways to be projecting to enrich himself casts a blemish upon the whole county that chose him, and is a reflection upon their wisdom’. Both men petitioned the House on 11 Apr. to be discharged once the finished accounts had been submitted to the accounts commissioners, but next day when the commissioners intimated that these were still unsatisfactory, their request was rejected and they were retained at the Tower. In the bill begun in June for appointing a new commission, a clause was added specifically requiring Parkhurst and Pascal to submit perfected accounts by 1 Feb. 1702, their imprisonment to continue until the end of the next session if they failed to do so. Their petition of 18 June to be heard against the clause was rejected, but in the Lords on the 23rd their case was sympathetically heard and the clause was omitted. The Commons only got as far as framing a statement of disagreement with the Upper House on this and other clauses, on the 24th, when Parliament was prorogued and the entire bill lapsed. With the termination of the session’s business Pascal and Parkhurst were released.6
Suspicions were cast upon Parkhurst and Pascal on two main counts. First, when the finished accounts were scrutinized by the commission in March 1701, it was found that they would not balance by £90,000; the discrepancy was later explained by the ailing accountant’s omission of output figures, but in the meantime, before this was resolved, Pascal and Parkhurst charged themselves with the missing sum: ‘’tis plain’, wrote Pascal, ‘we had no dishonest design’. The second chief objection related to the glaring discrepancy between the number of ships which the court of Admiralty had declared as ‘prize’, a total of 1,293, and the number taken cognizance of by the prize office, only some 600 or 700. Pascal’s categorical response was that the ships unaccounted for simply never came into their hands, and as such there was no charge to answer. Although the truth of the situation remains a mystery, it would seem that both men were more likely to have been victims of careless administrative blunder in their own and affiliate departments; they were easy targets for the commission of accounts, and for naval officers whose claims to prize money had foundered.
None the less, public opinion had been quick to censure Parkhurst, in particular, as a man who ‘in less than nine years and out of the public’ had increased the value of his estate from £600 a year to £3,000, and who on this account had surely transgressed the bounds of honesty. In Northamptonshire indignation against him ran high, and when he sought re-election at the end of 1701 much was made of his recent censure by the Commons. In anticipation, no doubt, of a tough contest he began ‘making interest’ in conjunction with Sir St. Andrew St. John, 2nd Bt., well in advance of the second dissolution. The early indications were that Parkhurst and St. John were doing well, and that the former in particular was able to overcome Tory jibes. Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, one of the Tory contestants, was informed that ‘by their false representations [they] mightily deluded the well-meaning men’; and from another source he heard that Parkhurst ‘has as many friends as ever who are openly so and some others who are afraid or ashamed to own it’. But the campaign proved difficult to sustain, as was clear from the ugly scenes that greeted Parkhurst’s decision to give up the poll:
About midnight, Parkhurst went privately out of town, and it was well he did, for the mob was so enraged against him that the gentlemen would have been hard set to have protected him from their fury if he had stayed till next morning. But, he being gone, they dressed a fellow as like him as they could, and put him in a tub with a glass window at his back, a halter about his neck, a chamber pot by his side, and a pen, inks and paper, very busy writing his accounts. In this manner they carried him all over the town on men’s shoulders, cringeing and bowing to everyone, and desiring time to make up his accounts and using several expressions in his excuses that Parkhurst printed in his case . . . the meaning of the glass window is Parkhurst has a servant that has a place worth about £40 per annum in the tax. And the chamberpot is his wife once broke his head with one.
His defeat was regarded by Lord Spencer (Charles*) as a ‘loss’ for the Whigs. By early 1702, an unfortunate combination of circumstances had placed entire responsibility for remaining prize-office business on Parkhurst. The chief accountant had relapsed and died, and Pascal had fled to Holland heavily in debt. As James Vernon I* anxiously told the Duke of Shrewsbury in March, Parkhurst’s limited talents made him unfit to handle any future parliamentary probe of the prize office accounts: ‘I don’t know whether there be any one remaining that can make a pertinent answer to any difficulties that may arise in those accounts’. But the King’s death earlier in the month appears to have deflected the Commons from pursuit of the matter, and it lay in abeyance until 1704.7
It is unclear whether Parkhurst had any intention of contesting in 1702, although he was responsible for a ‘false report’ that Isham would stand down. Pressure on him over the prize accounts was renewed in 1704. At the end of March, Parkhurst and Pascal were condemned once more by the commission of accounts for their negligence and breach of trust, and process was ordered to be commenced to oblige them to produce a definitive version of the prize accounts. Vernon reported to Shrewsbury that ‘the House was disposed to be as easy as possible in a matter that had been so clamoured at, that they would not take the provocation’. But Parkhurst was embittered that he and Pascal had been singled out once more, having long maintained that the responsibility should lie with all the commissioners who had served with them. The saga dragged on. In May Vernon told Shrewsbury: ‘at present poor Mr Parkhurst has alone the trouble of attending auditors and Treasury. But whether he has everything to produce that may be necessary for stating those accounts, I know not’. On 22 Jan. 1705 the remembrancer informed the House that he had not even received the documentation on which the case was supposedly based. Accordingly, the requirement for him to produce correct accounts was reimposed through the machinations of Northamptonshire’s Tory Members, Isham and Thomas Cartwright, in collaboration with William Bromley II*. So incensed was Parkhurst by these underhand and seemingly partisan proceedings that he circulated his own full version of them among his Northamptonshire friends:
You will be surprised by yesterday’s vote to find my name brought upon the stage again, and an address ordered to be presented to her Majesty, requiring me to take out my quietus drawn up by the proper officers in form. And tho[ugh] Mr Lowndes [William Lowndes*] did me the justice to assure the House of the truth of this matter, yet the Oxford Bromley and your two representatives did by their whispering and interest with the Speaker, procure that vote to be passed, in a thin House, when it was passed five a clock, and when there was not a hundred Members left in it, and most of my friends (without dreaming of such a motion) were gone out to dinner. This is the truth of the matter which I solemnly aver, and by this you may see with what implacable malice I am pursued, when even a legal discharge cannot acquit me from the censures of some men in the House of Commons.
There were continued hints of possible proceedings against him, possibly with the intention of deterring his entry into the 1705 contest, but thereafter the matter was finally allowed to rest, and at the end of the year he retired from the prize office. He made one last attempt to recapture his county seat in 1708 but failed, withdrawing afterwards from politics completely.8
In retirement, Parkhurst devoted himself to the historical and antiquarian interests which had enabled him in 1707 to publish an edition of the account by his grandfather, Sir Thomas Crew, of the 1629 Parliament. He died on 9 May 1731 and was buried at Catesby.9
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. IGI, London; Baker, Northants. i. 287–8; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1020.
- 2. Hutchinson, Durham, i. 565; Surtees, Durham, iii. 137; iv(2), 23.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 146; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiv. 401; xx. 497.
- 4. Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 3982; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 649; Add. 29573, f. 394.
- 5. Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 465; Mr Pascal’s Letter to a Friend in the Country stating Case of Mr Parkhurst and Himself (1701), p. 3; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 197–8.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxii. 361; Luttrell, iv. 532; v. 38, 64; Isham mss IC 2709, Sir Matthew Dudley, 2nd Bt.*, to Isham, 26 Dec. 1700; IC 1638–9, Henry Benson to Isham, 5, 14 Dec. 1700; Add. 27740, f. 161; Cocks Diary, 179–80, 184; Procs. of . . . House of Lords in Relation to Bill for Taking, Examining, and Stating the Public Accts. of the Kingdom, 3–4.
- 7. Mr Pascal’s Letter . . ., 9–10; Picture of a Modern Whig (1701), 54; Isham mss 2719, Dudley to same, 18 Nov. 1701; 4706, John Allicockes to same, 16 Oct. ; Northants. Past and Present, vi. 31; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 197–8.
- 8. Isham mss IC 2720, Edward Stratford to Isham, 18 Apr. 1702; 2722, Dudley to same, 11 May 1702; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 296; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 247–8, 253–4, 258, 274; Add. 27740, f. 92.
- 9. Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 497; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/53, Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt.*, to Visct. Fermanagh (John Verney*), 5 Apr. 1708.