Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parkes, Edmund Alexander

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PARKES, EDMUND ALEXANDER (1819–1876), professor of hygiene and physician, born at Bloxham in Oxfordshire on 29 March 1819, was son of William Parkes, esq., of the Marble-yard, Warwick, and Frances, daughter of Thomas Byerley, the nephew and partner of Josiah Wedgewood. Frances Parkes wrote several very useful books, among others ‘Domestic Duties,’ which passed through many editions. Parkes was educated at Christ's Hospital, London, and received his professional training at University College and Hospital. His student's career was distinguished, and in 1841 he graduated M.B. at the university of London. In 1840 he became a member of the College of Surgeons. At an early age he worked in the laboratory of his uncle, Dr. Anthony Todd Thomson, and acquired a taste for original research and considerable manual dexterity. For Thomson he afterwards lectured on materia medica and medical jurisprudence.

In April 1842 he was gazetted assistant-surgeon to the 84th (York and Lancaster) regiment, and, when twenty-two years of age, embarked with it for India, where he passed somewhat less than three years, serving in Madras and Moulmein. During this period he obtained considerable experience of tropical diseases, particularly of dysentery, hepatitis, and cholera. In September 1845 he retired from the army, and, returning home, commenced practice in Upper Seymour Street, whence he subsequently removed to Harley Street; but he never attained a large practice. In 1846 he graduated M.D. at the university of London. He took as the subject of his thesis the connection between dysentery and Indian hepatitis. This paper, entitled ‘Remarks on the Dysentery and Hepatitis of India,’ contained advanced views on the pathology of the diseases, and was a most valuable essay. In 1847 he published a work ‘On Asiatic and Algide Cholera,’ which was written chiefly in India, where he had witnessed two violent epidemics; and in the following year a paper on ‘Intestinal Discharges in Cholera,’ and another on the ‘Early Cases of Cholera in London.’ In referring to the two former works, Sir William Jenner, in his observations on the labours and character of Dr. Parkes, delivered before the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘Having regard to the age of their author, the circumstances under which the materials for them were collected, and their intrinsic merits, these two works are among the most remarkable in medical literature.’ In 1849 he wrote on ‘Diseases of the Heart’ in the ‘Medical Times,’ to which he was subsequently a frequent contributor; and in the same year he was elected special professor of clinical medicine at University College, and physician to University College Hospital. At the opening of one of the sessions of the college he delivered an introductory lecture on ‘Self-training by the Medical Student.’ ‘His published lectures tell something of the worth of his clinical work; but those who followed his teaching can alone tell how great was the influence he exercised over his class in inciting them to work, to accurate observation, and, above all, to the discharge of their daily duties as students of a profession on the proper exercise of which so much of the weal or woe of mankind must for ever depend’ (Jenner). In 1851 he completed and edited a new edition of Thomson's ‘Diseases of the Skin,’ and in 1852 he published a paper on the action of ‘Liquor Potassæ in Health and Disease.’ He also at that time wrote much for the ‘Medical Times.’ In 1855 he delivered the Gulstonian lectures on pyrexia at the Royal College of Physicians; they were published in the ‘Medical Times’ of that year. In the same year he was selected by the government to proceed to Turkey to select a site for, organise, and superintend a large civil hospital to relieve the pressure upon the hospitals at Scutari during the Crimean war. He finally selected Renkioi, on the Asiatic bank of the Dardanelles, and remained there till the close of the war in 1856. The results of his successful administration are recorded in his published report. From 1852 to 1855 he edited the ‘British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review.’ In 1860 an Army Medical School was established at Fort Pitt, Chatham, and Parkes, who had been frequently consulted on the scheme by Sidney Herbert (afterwards first Lord Herbert of Lea) [q. v.], secretary of state for war, accepted the chair of hygiene. On closing his connection with University College, he was appointed emeritus professor, and a marble bust of him was placed in the museum. In the same year (1860) he published a work entitled ‘The Composition of the Urine in Health and Disease, and under the Action of Remedies.’ It contained all that was known on the subject carefully collected up to date.

At the Army Medical School at Chatham Parkes organised a system of instruction which has now stood the test of more than thirty-two years' trial. He was a graceful speaker and an interesting lecturer. His colleagues regarded him as the soul of the school. Soon after his death Surgeon-general (now Sir Thomas) Longmore wrote that ‘the influence Dr. Parkes exerted on those who had the advantage of his tuition before entering the military services of the country, and thence indirectly on the public services themselves, was beneficial to an amount which can hardly be overestimated.’ In 1863 the school was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley; and in the following year Parkes published the first edition of the ‘Manual of Practical Hygiene,’ a monument of industry, research, and clearness, the value of which is appreciated throughout the civilised world. It reached during his lifetime a fourth edition, which was considerably altered and enlarged, so as to fit it for civil as well as for military life. It reached an eighth edition in 1891, and has been translated into many European languages.

Parkes must be regarded as the founder of the science of modern hygiene; his labours in the field of military hygiene have been acknowledged throughout Europe. Baron Mundy, the professor of military hygiene at the university of Vienna, concluded his biographical notice of him with the words: ‘All the armies of the Continent should, at parade, lower their standards craped, if only for a moment, because the founder and best teacher of military hygiene of our day, the friend and benefactor of every soldier, Edmund Parkes, is no more.’

Parkes commenced in 1861, at the request of Sir James Gibson, K.C.B., an annual ‘Review of the Progress of Hygiene,’ which regularly appeared in the ‘Army Medical Department Blue-Book,’ and formed one of its most important features up to 1875. The reviews present an invaluable record of the progress of the science. At the same time Parkes was constantly engaged in protracted inquiries connected with hygiene, on behalf of the government. He was a member of General Eyre's ‘Pack Committee,’ which substituted the valise equipment for the cumbrous and oppressive knapsack. As an adviser of the government, he contributed more than any other man to the diminution in military mortality. In 1863 he was appointed by the crown to the General Medical Council, in succession to Sir Charles Hastings. He was a member of the council of the Royal Society, of which society he was appointed a fellow in 1861, and he was elected to the senate of the university of London.

His practical scientific inquiries threw meanwhile much light upon many disputed physiological questions. In three papers in the ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society’ (two in 1867, and one in 1871) he described the ‘Effects of Diet and Exercise on the Elimination of Nitrogen.’ He confirmed independently the observations of Fick and Wislicenus, which gave the death-blow to Liebig's theory that muscular work implies the destruction of muscular tissue by oxidation, the amount of urea formed indicating the extent of the muscular tissue destroyed. Parkes proved that the elimination of urea is not dependent on the amount of muscular exercise, but on the consumption of nitrogenous food, and on the transforming action of the gland-cells, especially of those of the liver, and that muscular tissue does not consume itself as a fuel doing work. His experiments on the effects of alcohol on the human body (in which he was assisted by Count Wollowicz) are recorded in three papers (in 1870, 1872, and 1874), on the ‘Effects of Brandy on the Body-temperature, Pulse, and Respiration of Healthy Men;’ and he completed a ‘Comparative Inquiry into the Effects of Coffee, Extract of Meat, and Alcohol on Men marching.’ He also published an excellent report, on the evidence collected during the Ashantee campaign, on the value of a spirit-ration for troops. In 1868 he published in the ‘Lancet’ a very sensible ‘Scheme of Medical Tuition’ (afterwards republished and dedicated to Sir George Burrows). He justly placed great value on the practical study of chemistry and physiology in the laboratory; on the teaching of the methods of physical examination before the commencement of clinical work; on the necessity of engaging the attention of the student in the wards; and on the utilisation of the out-patient department for teaching purposes. He proved, moreover, the inefficiency of the examinations of the licensing bodies. He delivered the Croonian lectures before the College of Physicians in March 1871, selecting for his subject ‘Some Points connected with the Elimination of Nitrogen from the Human Body.’ For some years he delivered a short course of lectures on hygiene to the corps of royal engineers at Chatham. In 1871 he made, with Dr. Burdon-Sanderson, a report on the sanitary state of Liverpool.

Parkes died on 15 March 1876, at his residence, Sydney Cottage, Bittern, near Southampton, from general tuberculosis, and on the Tuesday following he was buried by the side of his wife at Solihull, near Birmingham. In 1850 he married Mary Jane Chattock of Solihull. She died, after severe suffering, in 1873, without issue.

On 26 June 1876 Sir William Jenner, bart., delivered before the Royal College of Physicians the Harveian oration which Dr. Parkes was engaged in writing at the time of his death. The last work from his pen was a manual ‘On Personal Care of Health,’ which was published posthumously by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. A revised edition of his work on ‘Public Health,’ which was a concise sketch of the sanitary considerations connected with the land, with cities, villages, houses, and individuals, was edited by Sir William Aitken, kt., in 1876.

Parkes's wisdom, moderation, and rare sweetness of character won the love and respect of all who knew him. Sir William Jenner said of him that ‘the desire to possess his esteem has been that which has encouraged me from my earliest student days. … He taught me, as a student, to desire knowledge for itself, to desire to be good in itself and for itself, and not for anything which might follow it. … The excellence of his life was so evident, his work was such earnest work, performed so unostentatiously and manifestly from such high motives, and the charm of his manner was so great, that few of his fellow-students could escape being better men from associating with him.’ Several memorials were established in Parkes's memory. At University College, London, a museum of hygiene was founded, of which the original trustees were Sir William Jenner, bart., Dr. (now Sir Edward) Sieveking, and Dr. Poore. It was opened in 1877, and was formally incorporated under license of the board of trade; it was removed in 1882 from University College to new premises in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square.

At Netley, a portrait of Dr. Parkes, by Messrs. Barraud & Jerrard, was placed in the anteroom of the army medical staff mess; a triennial prize of seventy-five guineas, and a large gold medal bearing Parkes's portrait, was established for the best essay on a subject connected with hygiene, the prize to be open to the medical officers of the army, navy, and Indian service of executive rank, on full pay; and a bronze medal, also bearing the portrait of Parkes, was instituted, to be awarded at the close of each session to the best student in hygiene.

Besides the works already mentioned, Parkes contributed largely to various periodicals: To the ‘Medical Times and Gazette,’ ‘Lectures on Clinical Medicine, delivered at University College Hospital,’ commencing vol. xx. p. 469, 1849, continued in vol. xxi. for 1850, also on 22 April 1852, 8 July 1854, and 28 Feb. 1857; ‘On the Decomposition of Chloride of Sodium by Acetic Acid in the Presence of Albumen,’ vol. xxii. p. 84, 1850; ‘On the Formation of Crystals in Human Blood,’ vol. xxvi. 1852; ‘On the Precipitation of Albumen by Acids and Neutral Salts,’ 1852; ‘On Recurrent Watery Diarrhœa with Choleraic Attacks,’ 1852; ‘On Pigment Deposit in the Skin, without Disease of Suprarenal Capsules,’ vol. xxxviii. 1858; ‘On the Value of Albuminuria as a Symptom of Kidney Disease,’ 1859; ‘On Acute Sthenic Pneumonia left without Treatment,’ 1860; ‘Composition of the Urine in Health and Disease, and under the Action of Remedies,’ 1860; ‘The Detachment of the Epithelium in Cholera,’ 1866. To the ‘Madras Quarterly Medical Journal,’ vols. v. and vi.: ‘Remarks on Cholera, with Post-mortem Examinations of a few Cases.’ To the ‘British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review:’ ‘On the Elimination of Lead by Iodide of Potassium,’ April 1853; ‘On the Action of Liquor Potassæ on the Urine in Health,’ January 1853, January 1854, and October 1854. To the ‘Lancet:’ ‘Critical Days in Pneumonia—Value of Bleeding,’ and ‘Treatment of Pneumonia by Wine and Ammonia,’ 1855. To the ‘Departmental Reports:’ ‘Report on “Carniset,” a concentrated Food,’ 1861; ‘Reports on Liebig's “Extractum Carnis,”’ 1863. He also published his inaugural lecture at the Army Medical School, entitled ‘On the Care of Old Age,’ 1862.

[Lancet, 1876–82; Medical Times and Gazette, 1876–82; British Medical Journal; published works of Dr. Parkes; Records of the Army Medical School, Netley; information from Dr. Parkes's colleagues; Transactions of the Royal Society; ‘In Memoriam,’ an address by Sir William Aitken, M.D., F.R.S.]

W. W. W.