Parry was born in Bath, the son of a doctor. At the age of thirteen he joined the flag-ship of Admiral Cornwallis in the Channel fleet as a first-class volunteer, in 1806 became a midshipman, and in 1810 received promotion to the rank of lieutenant in the frigate Alexander frigate, which occupied the next three years in the protection of the Spitzbergen whale fishery. He took advantage of this opportunity for the study and practice of astronomical observations in northern latitudes, and afterwards published the results of his studies in a small volume on Nautical Astronomy by Night (1816). From 1813 - 1817 he served on the North American station.
In 1818 he received command of the brig Alexander in the Arctic expedition under Captain (afterwards Sir) John Ross. This expedition returned to England without having made any new discoveries but Parry, confident, as he expressed it, "that attempts at Polar discovery had been hitherto relinquished just at a time when there was the greatest chance of succeeding", in the following year obtained the chief command of a new Arctic expedition; consisting of the two ships Griper and Hecla.
This expedition returned to England in November 1820 after a voyage of almost unprecedented Arctic success, having accomplished more than half the journey from Greenland to Bering Strait, the completion of which solved the ancient problem of a Northwest Passage. A narrative of the expedition, entitled Journal of a Voyage to discover a North-west Passage, appeared in 1821.
Upon his return Lieutenant Parry received promotion to the rank of commander. In May 1821 he set sail with the Fury and Hecla on a second expedition to discover a Northwest Passage, but had to return to England in October 1823 without achieving his purpose. During his absence he had in November 1821 been promoted to post rank, and shortly after his return he was appointed acting hydrographer to the navy. His Journal of a Second Voyage, &c., appeared in 1824.
With the same ships Parry undertook a third expedition on the same quest in 1824, but again unsuccessfully, and following the wreck of the Fury, he returned home in October 1825 with a double ship's company. Of this voyage he published an account in 1826.
In the following year Parry obtained the sanction of the Admiralty for an attempt on the North Pole from the northern shores of Spitzbergen, and his extreme point of 82° 45’ N. lat. remained for 49 years the highest latitude attained. He published an account of this journey under the title of Narrative of the Attempt to reach the North Pole, &c. (1827). In April 1829 he was knighted.
Parry was subsequently selected for the post of comptroller of the newly-created department of steam machinery of the Navy, and held this office until his retirement from active service in 1846, when he was appointed captain-superintendent of Haslar Hospital. He attained the rank of rear-admiral in 1852, and in the following year became a governor of Greenwich Hospital, and retained this post until his death.
Sir Edward Parry’s character had a strong religious side, and besides the journals of his different voyages he also wrote a Lecture to Seamen, and Thoughts on the Parental Character of God.
See Memoirs of Rear-Admiral Sir W. E. Parry, by his son, Rev. Edward Parry (3rd edition, 1857).
Original text from 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica