Isabella Louisa Parry 1801-1839

Wife of Rear Admiral William Edward Parry

Isabella Louisa Parry (nee Stanley) was born in 1801, fourth daughter of Sir John Stanley, first Baron Stanley of Alderley, a Whig politician and member of the Royal Society. 

She met naval officer and explorer William Edward Parry (1790–1855) in 1824, shortly before Parry departed on his third outing as commander of an expedition tasked with locating the North West Passage. 

They married following his return from this voyage, in October 1826, at which time Parry was working in the comparatively lowly capacity of hydrographer to the Admiralty. He ventured to the Arctic again in April 1827 in an attempt to reach the North Pole. Though ultimately unsuccessful, in the course of this journey he attained the latitude of 83° 45’ N, setting a record that wasn’t bettered for 50 years. 

He was knighted, along with his friend John Franklin, in 1829 and the same year accepted the position of commissioner for the Australian Agricultural Company, which had been formed in 1824 to develop wool and other commodities for export to Britain. 

He and Isabella arrived in Sydney in December in 1829; Isabella remained a guest of Ralph and Eliza Darling at Government House until March 1830, when she and her newborn twins travelled to Parry’s base, Tahlee, on the northern shore of Port Stephens. 

There, in addition to attending to a growing family (two more children were born in the colony, in 1831 and 1833), Isabella concerned herself with the education and morality of the Company’s employees and the local community. 

She established a school for children, and one for adult convicts who wished to read and write; started a lending library; took an interest in the welfare of the local Aboriginal people; and designed the chapel (St. John’s) that the Australian Agricultural Company built at Stroud in 1833. She and her husband had earlier instituted the observation of regular Sunday church services at Tahlee and nearby settlements. 

Like her friend Eliza Darling, Isabella took a keen interest in her surroundings and was an accomplished amateur artist. She collected botanical and natural history specimens (including a substantial collection of insects and butterflies that was later eaten by mice) as well as Aboriginal artefacts; and made sketches of and around her home, in Sydney, and of other scenes of interest. 

The Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University holds sixteen examples of her work, including her plan for St. John’s, several views of Tahlee, and a sketch of the coal works at Newcastle. 

Isabella returned to England with Parry following the expiration of his commission in March 1834. They settled initially in Norfolk, where Parry worked as assistant poor law commissioner, and then in London on his appointment to another position with the Admiralty. 

‘Deeply impressed with the sense of the benefits which she conferred on the community’, the Australian Agricultural Company erected a monument to her outside St. John’s at Stroud. 

An island in Nunavut, Canada, is named after her. 

Tahlee remained the residence of the Company’s commissioner until 1849. The original house was destroyed by fire in 1860; later rebuilt, the property is now a bible college and religious retreat.

They had four surviving children – twins Edward and Isabella born in 1830, Lucy born in 1831 and Charles born in 1833. 

The family went down in whooping cough in 1839 and came to Tunbridge Wells for better air and her husband rented Mount Edgecumbe House. There is a brown plaque on the house commemorating the visit.

Isabella died in May 1839 at Tunbridge Wells two days after giving birth prematurely to twin boys who did not survive. 


Isabella's Grave

The grave is located in the cemetery in plot C8. The inscription on the gravestone is very worn.

The inscription is “Sacred/to the memory of/the (Hon.) Isabella Louisa PARRY/wife of/SIR William Edward PARRY/REMAINDER illegible”—moss in most of the letters.

There is a watercolour painting in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge showing Isabella’s grave in the cemetery. More can be found out about Isabella at the SPRI here.  

Mural Tablet in Trinity Church

There is a tablet within Trinity Church, alongside the stage, which mentions her and her twins. This is only visible by special arrangement as this area is not normally open to visitors. There is more information about Isabella on this page.