PARKHURST, ANTHONY, merchant, explorer, and advocate of English settlement in Newfoundland; fl. 1561–83.
Possibly a son of John Parkhurst of East Lenham, Kent, he was recommended by Sir Thomas Challoner, English ambassador in Spain (1561–64), with whom he was serving, to John Hawkins as an adventurer on his second slaving voyage (1564–65). This took Parkhurst to West Africa, the Caribbean, and Florida, sharpened his observation, and gave him a taste for exploration. He became acquainted with Richard Hakluyt the elder who encouraged his interest in exploration. After a quarrel in 1573 with his father, who disinherited him (the Privy Council intervening to try to settle the matter), he moved to Bristol and set up as a merchant.
In 1565 he had been impressed on his way homeward by the fishing off Newfoundland, so he now bought a ship (perhaps of 70 tons), and became an entrepreneur in the fishery. He had three good seasons, 1575–77, and a bad one in 1578, the latter failing, he said, because some Portuguese did not deliver salt to preserve his fish. He was an exceptional merchant for he accompanied his ship each year, and spent much time in Newfoundland with his mastiff and eel-spear searching “the harbors, creekes and havens and also the land,” he tells us, “much more than ever any Englishman hath done.” Moreover, he went to northeastern as well as southeastern Newfoundland and collected information from French and Portuguese fishermen.
On the basis of his knowledge he decided that the English should colonize Newfoundland. Salt could thus be made on the spot and men could be engaged for a much longer period in the fishery. Occupation of the Straits of Belle Isle (and the fortification of Belle Isle itself) and of St. John’s would give the English dominance over Spanish, Portuguese, and French fishermen. His views were expressed in letters in 1577–78, one to an unknown courtier (possibly Edward Dyer), the other to Hakluyt. The letter to Hakluyt included much on the natural resources of the island: woods, minerals (iron and copper), fruit, flowers, animals, birds, and fish. His observation was acute, his views on climate sensible. He thought the climate not unfavourable to settlement, as he had experimented successfully with English fruit, grain, and vegetable seeds. Settlement would bring advantages to the English economy: the exploitation of a product (fish) which need not be paid for expensively in exports but which would provide cheap food at home; the acquisition of an independent source of naval stores; prospects of iron mining and smelting; the training of seamen; the occupation of surplus population. Conversion of the Indians would also be possible.
Parkhurst was also the first Englishman to call attention to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the river beyond. He offered to explore there or on the mainland south from Cape Breton (for he considered salt could be panned at 43°). Though he may have influenced Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s proposal in 1577 to seize the Spanish fishing fleet, Parkhurst did not take part in the latter’s abortive colonizing expedition of 1578 although he did subscribe in 1583 (but probably did not sail) when Gilbert set out for Newfoundland and New England. Later, after Gilbert had been lost, he contributed complimentary verses to Sir George Peckham’s A true report (1583), expressing the hope that in America “Some good and well disposed men, An other England there would plant.” With this expression of his views on English settlement in northeastern North America, in which he was a pioneer, he disappears from our knowledge. An intelligent and well-informed commentator, he was, with Edward Hayes, Newfoundland’s most important early publicist.