According to family information Charles Parker was born at Newent, Gloucestershire, England, on 4 March 1809, and was baptised on 2 July at Cheltenham. He was the son of Sarah Potter and her husband, Edmund Parker, a carpenter. Charles followed his father's calling. Probably in 1836 or 1837 he married Hannah Phipps in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. They were to have 13 children.
Charles and Hannah Parker and their children emigrated to Nelson, New Zealand, on the Kelso in 1849 and settled in Motueka, where Parker worked as a carpenter. Other members of the family joined them at intervals: Parker's mother, brother and three sisters arrived in 1855, and another sister, with her husband and family, in 1859.
Parker soon became involved in the political life of the colony. In 1853 he was elected to the Nelson Provincial Council as member for Motueka and Massacre Bay, a seat which he held until 1857. He then represented Motueka (1857–69 and 1873–76). He also sat in the House of Representatives as member for Motueka and Massacre Bay (1855–56), and for Motueka (1866–75). His resignation in 1856 may have been prompted by concern over the illness of one of his daughters.
Some of the campaigns in which he was involved were marked by bitter political divisions in the Nelson community. Parker was less educated than some of his opponents and had a much lower social standing: his espousal of a more democratic view than that of David Monro's 'Supper Party' was bound to cause conflict. They clashed particularly over land legislation: Parker supported Superintendent John Perry Robinson's programme of liberalising land purchase, while Monro, widely regarded as the representative of the large runholders, opposed it. In an election campaign in 1866 Parker was characterised by an opponent as 'a firebrand and a chartist'. As a member of the House of Representatives he opposed all forms of class privilege, and spoke in favour of the secret ballot and against plural voting. In the 1871 parliamentary election Munro and Parker both stood for Motueka. Munro was declared elected on the vote of the returning officer but Parker eventually won the seat after an electoral petition.
Parker also served as a justice of the peace, and as a member of school committees and the Motueka road board. Originally an Anglican, he did not support an established Anglican church in New Zealand. According to family tradition he became a Methodist in the 1860s after the local vicar refused to bury one of his sons, who had died unbaptised.
Parker eventually became a man of modest substance. By 1882 he owned 53 acres of land in Waimea County, valued at £550; he had also leased some 5 acres from the bishop of Nelson. He was a forceful character who made his own contribution to the development of Motueka, where he died on 29 June 1898.