PARKER, ROBERT, lawyer, politician, and judge; b. 26 June 1796 in Saint John, N.B., eldest son of Robert Parker and Jane Hatch and brother of Neville; d. 24 Nov. 1865 in Saint John.
Robert Parker received his early education under the Reverend Roger Viets* after the opening of the Saint John Grammar School in 1807. He then attended King’s Collegiate School at Windsor, N.S., in 1810–11 and King’s College from 1811 to 1814, where he received his ba and ma. His classmates included Thomas Chandler Haliburton, afterwards a life-long friend. Parker became the first law student in the office of Ward Chipman* Jr, was admitted as an attorney in 1817, and was called to the bar in 1820. Born into the loyalist and Anglican establishment of New Brunswick, Parker’s rise to prominence was assured, but he was undoubtedly assisted by his marriage in January 1820 to Susan Robinson, niece of John Robinson*, mayor of Saint John and a member of the Council. In 1820 Parker became a director and the solicitor of the Bank of New Brunswick, of which Robinson was president. In 1824 he received the lucrative post of recorder of the city of Saint John. In 1826 he was elected by acclamation to the assembly to fill a vacancy in Saint John created by Ward Chipman’s appointment to the bench, and he was returned again in the general election of 1827.
A moderate conservative, Parker played an active role in the assembly, but politics was for him, as for many colonial lawyers, simply the quickest route to official advancement. He impressed the lieutenant governor, Sir Howard Douglas, “as a gentleman of the first respectability and character at the Bar, of great talent, legal knowledge, and of principles thoroughly to be depended upon.” Consequently, when the attorney general, Thomas Wetmore*, died in March 1828, Parker was appointed to the position during the absence of Charles Jeffery Peters*, the solicitor general, and when the latter returned to accept the attorney generalship, Parker became solicitor general. Later in 1828 he also received the position of judge commissary of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, which he held until 1833 when the pressure of his work as solicitor general compelled him to resign. Since his political ambitions had never been great, he had not run for re-election to the assembly in 1830, and except for the occasional jibe at “discontented theorists,” abstained from politics, devoting his time to legal business. Among other duties he served on an important commission in 1832–33 to investigate the judicial institutions of the colony. He practised law in partnership with his brother Neville from 1826 to 1834.
Robert Parker’s diligence was rewarded in 1834. When the chief justice, John Saunders*, died, Sir Archibald Campbell* recommended that Parker should replace whichever puisne judge became chief justice. Parker’s hopes were frustrated, however, for the vacancy on the bench created by the promotion of Ward Chipman was filled by an Englishman, James Carter*, much to the disgruntlement of the New Brunswick bar. Not until the death of another judge, John Murray Bliss*, later in 1834, did Parker become a puisne judge. Carter was to stand in Parker’s way yet again, for when Chipman died in 1851, Carter, whose appointment had preceded Parker’s by only a few months, became chief justice. Finally in 1865 Parker received the highest judicial position in the colony, largely by accident. Carter resigned in 1865 to allow Arthur Hamilton Gordon* to offer the post to the leader of the anti-confederate government of New Brunswick, Albert James Smith*. Smith declined the appointment and recommended Parker, who is said to have received Smith’s support for having declared that “he would rather vote for a hedgehog than for a supporter of Confederation.” Ironically, the promotion cost Parker £200 a year, since the salary of the chief justice had been reduced prospectively below that of the puisne judges. His appointment was short-lived for he died a few months later.
Arthur Hamilton Gordon described Parker as “the ideal judge and accomplished Gentleman.” There can be little dispute over the latter claim. A devout Anglican, Parker was president for many years of the New Brunswick branch of the Auxiliary Bible Society and an avid supporter of the temperance movement in the province. He assisted many charities, served as a director of the Saint John Grammar School and on the board of governors of King’s College, and actively participated in the Natural History Society. His performance as a judge is more difficult to measure. He was respected by the bar and admired as “the most efficient judge who has ever occupied the Bench of New Brunswick.” But in judicial matters, as in political, Parker was a conservative; he believed the law should be administered impartially and severely. On one occasion when he realized that he had inadvertently purchased partridges out of season, he voluntarily paid the fine. James Hannay*, not an admirer of Parker, found him “one who lived very much out of the range of human sympathy” and criticized his harshness as a judge. Parker appears to have been an able and respected but not an outstanding or particularly beloved judge.
N.B. Museum, D. R. Jack, “Pre-loyalist biographical data, and other notes” (typescript of original notes in Saint John Regional Library), pp.33–35. PRO, CO 188/37, Douglas to Huskisson, 31 March 1828; 188/45, Campbell to Goderich, 4 April 1833; 188/50, Campbell to Rice, 27, 31 Aug. 1834; 188/144, Cole to Cardwell, 27 Sept. 1865; Gordon to Cardwell, 28 Nov. 1865. Fenety, Political notes and observations. N.B., House of Assembly, Journals, 1826–29. Daily Evening Globe (Saint John, N.B.), 26 Sept., 27, 28 Nov. 1865. Morning Freeman (Saint John, N.B.), 30 Nov. 1865. Morning Journal (Saint John, N.B.), 27, 29 Nov. 1865. Morning News (Saint John, N.B.), 31 July, 3, 5,10, 14 Aug. 1846; 27, 29 Nov. 1865. Morning Telegraph (Saint John, N.B.), 25 Nov. 1865. New Brunswick Courier, 23 June 1827, 28 Oct. 1834. Lawrence, Judges of N.B. (Stockton). James Hannay, “The Supreme Court,” Daily Telegraph (Saint John, N.B.), 23 Dec. 1892.