Lives of the fellows

Edmund Alexander Parkes

b.29 March 1819 d.15 March 1876

Born at Bloxham, Edmund Parkes was the son of William Parkes of Warwick and the nephew of Anthony Todd Thomson, F.R.C.P. His mother, Frances Parkes, daughter of Thomas Byerley, was a relation of Josiah Wedgwood and the author of a popular handbook entitled Domestic Duties. He was sent as a boy to Christ’s Hospital. As a student at University College Hospital, he worked in his uncle’s laboratory and passed his examinations with distinction. He qualified in 1840 and spent the years 1842-45 as assistant surgeon to the 84th Foot in India and Burma, an experience that provided material, after his return, for his M.D. thesis on dysentery and hepatitis and for a work On Asiatic and Algide Cholera in 1847. Parkes was created professor of clinical medicine at University College and physician to the Hospital in 1849, and the next decade witnessed a considerable increase in his literary activity. As well as making several contributions to the Medical Times and producing a new edition of Thomson’s Diseases of the Skin, he edited the British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review from 1852 to 1855. In the latter year, the Government sent him to Turkey to found a new hospital at Renkioi, and he remained as its super-intendent until the end of the Crimean War. In 1860 he published The Composition of the Urine in Health and Disease.

Parkes resigned his chair at University College Hospital to become the first professor of hygiene at the Army Medical School, founded in 1860, under Sidney Herbert’s auspices, at Fort Pitt, Chatham, and transferred to Netley in 1863. In 1864 his Manual of Practical Hygiene appeared. This went into many editions, was translated into several languages, and stimulated research in military hygiene throughout Europe. Parkes sat on General Eyre’s "Pack Committee" to improve army kit. In 1863 he was appointed to the General Medical Council. At the Royal College of Physicians, he delivered the Goulstonian and Croonian Lectures in 1855 and 1871. In June 1876, Jenner read to the College the Harveian Oration which Parkes had been engaged in writing at the time of his death. On his death, his modesty, wisdom, and ability evoked a chorus of eulogy even more flattering than that normally accorded in his day to deceased members of his profession by their fellows. A former colleague at University College, in an ecstasy of adulation, went so far as to describe him in a lecture as "pure as a sunbeam, strong as a man, tender as a woman." Parkes married in 1850 Mary Jane Chattock of Solihull, who died without issue. He himself died at Bittern near Southampton. In 1895, Hermann Weber, F.R.C.P, presented to the College £3,000 for the foundation of a "Weber-Parkes Prize" to be awarded triennially for an essay on a subject connected with tuberculosis.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1876; B.M.J., 1876; Medical Times and Gazette, 1876; D.N.B., xliii,294]

(Volume IV, page 76)

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