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Mawson Watson Parker.png

Cabinet Photograph

Thomas Fitzgibbon Forde  - Photographer (Copiest)

15 Waterloo Place, Sunderland, England

c. 1903


Private Mawson Watson Parker of the Imperial Light Infantry photographer somewhere in the field probably in the Transvaal sometime after 1903. The original photograph was taken by an unknown South African photographer and reproduced by Sunderland photographer T. Fitzgibbon Forde sometime after Parker returned home.

This cabinet photograph was purchased online simply because it is an outstanding example of a British soldier on active duty in the field during the Anglo-Boer War. Naturally, it came as a pleasant surprise when it turned out to have the subject’s name – Mawson W. Parker - inscribed on the back.

Rather unusual and very Victorian names like Parker’s (his full name was Mawson Watson Parker) can offer an easier path in researching the person in question than might otherwise have been the case had he possessed a more common moniker.

Mawson Watson Parker was born in Sunderland, Durham, England on 6 June 1876 to Mawson Walker Parker and the former Miss Mary Ann McBreaty.  The elder Parker made his living as a ship’s caulker and many families listed in the 1881census for Bishopwearmouth where the family resided at the time also made livings in trades related to sea and ships. The census of 1891 shows the family as having moved to the nearby town of Monkwearmouth and residing at 14 Dock Street. The younger Mawson received his primary education at the Bishopwearmouth Infants School being enrolled on 21 November 1882.

No service records have turned up relating to Mawson Parker’s service in the Anglo-Boer War. The only solid evidence is this photograph and the medal rolls for the Queen’s South Africa Medal (QSAM). The QSAM  medal rolls for the Imperial Light Infantry (ILI) list No. 1114 Private M. W. Parker as being entitled to the medal with clasps “Transvaal” and “South Africa – 1901”. That this M. W. Parker is the same man as in the photo is confirmed by the medal roll which states that the medal was forwarded to his old home address at 14 Dock Street, Monkwearmouth.

The Imperial Light Infantry was a "colonial” unit raised in Natal from the local European population so it is rather curious as to how Parker ended up as a member. His name does not appear in the regiment’s nominal roll and many other member’s entries in medal rolls show them as being entitled to upwards of four to five clasps. Could he have been a replacement? Additionally, Parker appears to be possibly outfitted for mounted duty in the photograph and wears a pattern 1903 bandolier so this photograph seems to postdate the end of the Anglo-Boer War. Many members of the ILI joined various mounted units when the ILI was disbanded in June 1901. If Mawson parker did transfer to a mounted corps – which seems to be borne out by this photograph – no information regarding which unit has been found.

Parker returned home after being discharged and married Mary Eleanor Burnand in 1905. The couple had three children: Hilda (b. 1906), Arthur (b. 1907), and Walter (b. 1908). In 1911 the Parker family was living at 4 Guildford Street in Sunderland and Parker was employed as a provision merchant.

Mawson Watson Parker disappears from the local records not long afterward so I decided to do a wider search. Parker had a sister – Margaret Annie – who had moved to Australia so I researched records down under and while not turning up anything in Australia did find an entry in the New Zealand Army WWI Reserve Rolls, 1916-1917 which listed one Mawson Watson Parker who was employed as a farm attendant and living at Forkes Street, Waverly. Further investigation turned up two burial records for a Mason Watson Parker who was listed as having been born in England in 1875 and having passed away on 6 May 1944. The burial took place at Anderson’s Bay Cemetery, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand.

While no definitive proof exists that the Mawson Watson Parker buried in New Zealand is the same man in our photograph but there is a good possibility that they are. Research continues…

Note: Since the above research was conducted, records have been located confirming that the Mawson Parker buried in New Zealand is indeed the former Imperial Light Infantryman pictured above.

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