Woodbine Parish

Birth: 1796


Sir Woodbine Parish (1796-1882), minister at Buenos Ayres, born 14 Sept. 1796, was eldest son of Woodbine Parish and Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. H. Headley. After being educated at Eton, he received in 1812 his first appointment in the public service from John Charles Herries, the commissary-in-chief, and was sent by him to Sicily in 1814. In 1815 he accompanied the expedition to Naples which restored the Bourbon dynasty after the fall of Murat, and, traveling home with dispatches, crossed the field of Waterloo shortly after the battle. He was then ordered to Paris, where he was attached to Lord Castlereagh's extraordinary embassy for the settlement of the general peace of Europe upon the overthrow of Bonaparte. The treaty of peace, signed on the part of Great Britain on 20 Nov. 1815, is in his handwriting. Upon the return of Lord Castlereagh to England he was employed as assistant to his private secretary, Joseph Planta In 1816 he was sent to the Ionian Islands, and was employed by Sir Thomas Maitland, the lord high commissioner, with Mr. Cartwright (afterwards consul-general at Constantinople), in arranging with Ali Pasha of Yanina in Albania the cession of Parga and the indemnities for the Parganots.

Recalled to England in 1818, he was selected to accompany Lord Castlereagh to the meeting of the allied sovereigns and their ministers at Aix-la-Chapelle, when the treaty arrangements of 1815, particularly those regarding the continuance of the military occupation of France, were modified, and the allied armies withdrawn. In 1821, when Castlereagh attended George IV on a visit to Hanover, he was accompanied by Parish. In 1823 the government determined to send out political agents to the Spanish American States, and Parish was appointed commissioner and consul-general to Buenos Ayres. He sailed in H.M.S. Cambridge. After he had sent home a report upon the state of the people and their newly constituted government, full powers were sent to him in 1824 to negotiate with them a treaty of amity and commerce. This was concluded on 2 Feb. 1825 at Buenos Ayres, and was the first treaty made with any of the new states of America, and the first recognition of their national existence by any European power.

When laid before parliament by Canning, secretary of state for foreign affairs, it was received with applause by both parties in the house. 'As a mark of his majesty's gracious approbation, [Parish] was at once appointed his majesty's chargé d'affaires to the new republic.' In 1825, by a timely representation to Doctor Francia, the despotic ruler of Paraguay, he obtained the release of a number of British subjects, as well as other foreigners, who had been detained for many years with their property in that country. He received not only the king's approval, but the thanks of other governments, especially of France and Switzerland. About the same time war broke out between Brazil and Buenos Ayres for the possession of Monte Video and the Banda Oriental. Parish was ordered to Rio de Janeiro and the River Plate in attendance on Lord Ponsonby, who had been directed to use his endeavors to restore peace. After a struggle of nearly three years the belligerents were brought to terms by the efforts of the British envoys, and in 1828 the Banda Oriental, the bone of contention, was declared an independent state. Lord Ponsonby thereupon became minister to Brazil, and Parish returned as chargé d'affaires to Buenos Ayres.

During nearly nine years' residence there he worked energetically in behalf of the interests of his countrymen, of whom five thousand were settled there. By the treaty of 1825 he obtained full security for their persons and property, exemption from forced loans and military service, and, what was more difficult to secure, the free and public exercise of their religious worship. Upon the conclusion of peace with Brazil, he obtained large indemnities for seizures of British vessels and cargoes which had been made by privateers of Buenos Ayres. He brought the importance of the Falkland Islands under the notice of his majesty's government, and in consequence was instructed to lay claim to them as a British possession. Upon finally quitting the River Plate in 1832, he received many proofs of the esteem in which both his countrymen and the local government held him. The latter presented him with letters of citizenship, and a diploma to take and bear the arms of the republic for himself and his descendants. In 1837 William IV conferred upon him the rank of knight commander of the royal Guelphic order of Hanover.

In 1840 Parish was appointed chief commissioner to proceed to Naples to settle the British claims upon the Neapolitan government in consequence of the sulphur monopoly. By a treaty of 1816 between Great Britain and Naples, it had been agreed that the latter kingdom should grant to no other state mercantile privileges disadvantageous to the interests of England. Nevertheless in June 1838 the king granted to a certain company of French and other Europeans a monopoly of all the sulphur produced and worked in Sicily. The British government protested against this as an infraction of the treaty of 1816, but the king of Naples refused its demands, and orders were sent to Sir Robert Stopford to commence hostilities. After the capture of some Neapolitan vessels the king gave way. Full indemnities were obtained for the claimants, and an account of the negotiations was laid before parliament. When Joseph Hume rose in the House of Commons to ask for further papers, Sir Robert Peel replied 'that he had no objection to the motion, but he could not assent to it without bearing testimony to the manner in which Sir Woodbine Parish had performed his duty, and to the great ability and zeal he had shown in the public service.' On the conclusion of the sulphur commission in 1842, Parish received full powers as plenipotentiary separately or jointly with Temple, his majesty's minister at Naples, to make a new commercial treaty with the king of Naples; it was a difficult negotiation, and was complicated by the jealousy of other powers, but it was eventually concluded and signed in 1845.

Parish had combined with his political labors much scientific research, chiefly in geology and paleontology. In 1839 he published 'Buenos Ayres and the Provinces of Rio de la Plata,' which attracted much attention. Not only did he describe the history and geography of the provinces, but he gave an account of their geology and of the fossil monsters, the megatherium, mylodon, and glyptodon, in the discovery of which he had assisted. From the remains of the megatherium which Parish presented to the Royal College of Surgeons, Sir Richard Owen built up the skeleton now exhibited in the Natural History Museum. Parish was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1824. He was also a fellow of the Geological and Geographical Societies, and served as vice-president of the latter for many years, contributing various papers, mainly on South American subjects. He died, 16 Aug. 1882, in his eighty-sixth year, at his residence, Quarry House, St. Leonards-on-Sea.

Parish married, first, in 1819, Amelia Jane, daughter of Leonard Beecher Morse, esq.; secondly, in 1844, Louisa Ann, daughter of John Hubbard, esq., and sister of the first Lord Addington.

[Morning Post, 21 Aug. 1882, Royal Geographical Society's Proceedings, October 1882, p. 612; private information.]


Charles Woodbyne Parish, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43. pgs. 213-214.

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