Thomas Heazle Parke


Thomas Heazle Parke (1857–1893)
Parke, Thomas Heazle (1857–1893), army medical officer and explorer in Africa, was the second son of William Parke JP, of Clogher House, Drumsna, co. Roscommon, and Henrietta, daughter of Henry Holmes of Newport House, Isle of Wight. The family, said to be of Kentish origin, settled in Ireland in the seventeenth century. Born at the family residence on 27 November 1857, Parke spent his early days in the neighbourhood of Carrick-on-Shannon, co. Leitrim. He was privately educated from 1869 in Dublin, and in 1875 he moved to the school of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and attended the City of Dublin Hospital; at a later date he studied at the Richmond, Whitworth, and Hardwicke hospitals as an intern surgical pupil for six months. He became a licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in 1878, and of the King and Queen's College of Physicians in Ireland, and a licentiate in midwifery in 1879. For a time he acted as dispensary medical officer at Ballybay in co. Monaghan, and as surgeon to the Eastern Dispensary at Bath. In February 1881 he was gazetted as surgeon in the army medical department and saw service in the Tell al-Kebir campaign of 1882. During the cholera epidemic in Egypt in 1883, when two-fifths of the English soldiers were prostrated by the disease, he acted as senior medical officer at the Helwan cholera camp near Cairo; his report on this epidemic won approbation. He accompanied the desert column sent to rescue Gordon in 1884–5, marching with the convoy for Gakdul under Colonel Stanley-Clarke, and taking part in all the engagements which occurred in crossing the Bayuda Desert. He was present at Abu Klea on 17 January, at the action of Gubat on the 19th, and at the reconnaissance at Metemmah on the 21st. Decorated for these services, he was subsequently employed at Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt.

Towards the end of January 1887, when stationed at Alexandria, Parke offered to accompany the Emin Pasha relief expedition formed under the leadership of Henry Morton Stanley who badly needed the services of a medical officer. Duly commissioned by the khedive, on 4 February he set sail with his new commander for Zanzibar, where the main body of the expeditionary force was collected. To oblige Stanley's employer, the Belgian king Leopold II, they went from Zanzibar by sea round the Cape of Good Hope, and thence to the mouth of the Congo. They ascended the lower river to the head of its navigation in steamers, and thence marched overland for 200 miles to Stanley Pool. From that place there was a long river voyage up the Congo, and its affluent, the Aruwimi—nearly 1000 miles in all—to the point on the latter selected by Stanley as his base. Here an entrenched camp was formed, and the famous march into the Congo Forest was commenced. Parke was always with the advance column and so close to Stanley for most of the time. Although not afraid to remonstrate with this violent and ruthless man, Parke remained loyal to Stanley, recognizing his remarkable qualities. Parke himself was quiet, mature, and sensible and not without humour even in the gravest difficulties.

Throughout the expedition, in addition to all his medical and sanitary responsibilities, Parke commanded his own company, and proved himself as efficient as any in the management of men. On several occasions, the complicated manoeuvres necessary to get all the large, unhealthy, and semi-mutinous expedition together in Emin's domain near Lake Albert meant that Parke was in independent command of sections of the company for long periods. He attracted the devotion of a pygmy girl servant. Stanley asserted that without Parke the expedition would have been a failure. He ministered to the wants of the Zanzibari porters and locally recruited Africans, as well as to the eleven Europeans who accompanied the expedition, with all the patience and skill possible. He attended Stanley in two bouts of severe illness, almost certainly saving his life in April 1889.

On 20 April 1888 Parke and A. J. Mounteney Jephson became the first explorers to see the snow-covered peaks of the Ruwenzori massif. Stanley unfairly glossed over this fact and implied that he himself was the discoverer. On the return of the expedition to the coast Parke successfully treated Emin Pasha, who had fallen off a balcony during a welcoming banquet at Bagamoyo and fractured his skull. On 16 January 1890 Parke returned to Cairo; he was then recovering from fever, and was hardly able to walk upstairs. He landed in England at the beginning of May, when he was warmly welcomed, and received many tokens of cordial recognition from the medical profession and from various scientific bodies. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland awarded him an honorary fellowship, the University of Durham conferred on him the honorary degree of DCL, and he was presented at Birmingham with the gold medal of the British Medical Association ‘for distinguished merit’. He received the gold medals of the Royal Geographical societies of London and Antwerp, and was elected an honorary fellow of those and many similar societies. The only consideration he received from the government was permission to count his time in Africa as full-pay service. After his return he was attached to the 2nd lifeguards in London, and was subsequently employed at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, near Southampton. He was promoted to surgeon-major on 5 February 1893.

The hardships which Parke had undergone during the near disastrous expedition had ruined his health, and during the latter years of his life he had several seizures of an epileptiform nature. He died suddenly on 10 September 1893, at Alt na Craig, while on a visit to Argyll. He was interred in the private burying-ground of the Parke family at Kilmessan, co. Leitrim. A fund was opened to erect a statue of Parke in Dublin.

Parke's account of the Emin Pasha expedition was based on a ‘sanitized’ version of his diary with unkind comments on Stanley removed. The book was actually written by Parke's old friend and tutor, John Knott. J. B. Lyons has established that Knott wrote all the medical and imperial works which appeared in Parke's name after 1890, although this was never publicly acknowledged. Most important were Guide to Health in Africa (1893) and an article in the Nineteenth Century giving Parke's view that Gordon could have been saved in 1885 if Sir Charles Wilson had acted with greater promptness. The medical works were not pathbreaking and the imperial propaganda said nothing new. These publications were a desperate attempt to make some money for Parke and Knott.

Oxford DNB

W. W. Webb, ‘Parke, Thomas Heazle (1857–1893)’, rev. Roy Bridges, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 28 May 2017]

Print | Sitemap
© Julie Green

This website was created using IONOS MyWebsite.