One of the many projects that I have undertaken over the years is to digitise a collection of images held in the Library, known as the Portrait Collection.
This collection of photographs, cuttings and other paper based images has given me years of interesting work, not to mention the countless hours of investigation on getting at least a snipping of information on people that, in some cases, have been lost to us, but were extremely important in their field, in their day. To me, each person has been a short history lesson.
One image that haunts me is the death mask of Richard Parker (1767-1797). Written on the back of the image is "Death mask of Parker of the Nore". My curiosity took hold and I had to look up the history of the Nore. The Nore is an anchorage in the Thames Estuary, where in 1797 sailors mutinied in protest against living conditions on Royal Naval vessels and demanded a pay rise.
Richard Parker was elected “President of the Delegates of the Fleet” due to his obvious intelligence, education and empathy with the suffering of sailors. He was one of 29 men hanged following this mutiny. Before his burial in unconsecrated gound in Sheerness, Kent, John Hunter, the eminent surgeon (and founder of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons) took this cast of his face.
To this day the mask is still held at the Hunterian Museum for more information.
The story of Parker’s body continues in that after his burial, his wife, Anne, with the help of 4 other women, exhumed the body with the intent of smuggling the remains to his former home near Exeter. They stopped en-route at a public house near Tower Hill and crowds gathered to pay their respects. The Duke of Portland, fearing a public “hero’s” funeral had the body stolen, but word leaked out and the workhouse where the body was hidden was held siege.
At this point the Home Office succeeded in arranging a secret burial in the grounds of St. Mary Matfelon Church in Whitechapel. Anne Parker was not privy to the whereabouts of her husband’s final resting place, but later discovered this and was successful in having his remains blessed with the official Christian Ritual.
Why is this image in our collection? I have no idea!
by Lorraine Portch, Reprographics Officer, Library & Archives