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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Thomas Heazle Parke, Physician, British Army Officer & Author

Thomas Heazle Parke FRSGS, Irish physician, British Army officer and author who is known for his work as a doctor on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, is born at Clogher House in Kilmore, County Roscommon on November 27, 1857.

Parke is brought up in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. He attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1878. He becomes a registered medical practitioner in February 1879, working as a dispensary medical officer in Ballybay, County Monaghan, and then as a surgeon in Bath, Somerset, England.

Parke joins the British Army Medical Services (AMS) in February 1881 as a surgeon, first serving in Egypt during the final stages of the ʻUrabi revolt in 1882. As a senior medical officer at a field hospital near Cairo, he is responsible for treating battle casualties as well as the deadly cholera epidemic that afflicts 20% of British troops stationed there. In late 1883, he returns to Ireland, where he is stationed at Dundalk with the 16th The Queen’s Lancers. He arrives in Egypt once again in 1884 as a part of the Nile Expedition sent in relief of General Charles Gordon, who is besieged in Khartoum by Mahdists in neighbouring Sudan. The expedition arrives too late and Gordon is killed. Parke later negatively recounts this experience in an 1892 journal article titled How General Gordon Was Really Lost. Following the expedition, he spends the next few years stationed in Alexandria, where he notably introduces fox hunting to Egypt, becoming master of the Alexandria Hunt Club.

In January 1887, while in Alexandria, Parke is invited by Edmund Musgrave Barttelot to accompany him on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. The expedition is led by Henry Morton Stanley, and journeys through the African wilderness in relief of Emin Pasha, an Egyptian administrator who had been cut off by Mahdist forces following the Siege of Khartoum. He is initially rejected by Stanley upon his arrival in Alexandria, but is invited by telegram a day later to join the expedition in Cairo. On February 25, 1887, the expedition sets off from Zanzibar for the Congo.

The expedition lasts for three years and faces great difficulty, with the expedition of 812 men suffering from poor logistical planning and leadership. The rainforest is much larger than Stanley expected, leading much of the party to face starvation and disease. The expedition has to resort to looting native villages for food, escalating the conflict between the two groups. Parke, for his part, saves the lives of many in the party, including Stanley, who suffers from acute abdominal pain and a bout of sepsis. Stanley describes Parke’s care as “ever striving, patient, cheerful and gentle…most assiduous in his application to my needs, and gentle as a woman in his ministrations.” Parke also treats Arthur Jephson for fever, and nurses Robert H. Nelson through starvation. Furthermore, after a conflict with the natives, he has to save William Grant Stairs by orally sucking the poison out of an arrow wound.

During the expedition, Parke purchases from an Arab slaver a Mangbetu Pigmy girl, who serves as his nurse and servant for over a year.

After returning to Ireland, Parke receives an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is awarded gold medals from the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal Geographical Society. He publishes several books, including My Personal Experiences in Equatorial Africa (1891) and A Guide to Health in Africa.

In August 1893, Parke visits William Beauclerk, 10th Duke of St. Albans in Ardrishaig, Scotland. He dies during that visit on August 11, 1893, presumably due to a seizure. His coffin is brought back to Ireland, where he receives a military funeral as it passes from the Dublin docks to Broadstone railway station. He is buried near his birthplace in Drumsna, County Roscommon.

A bronze statue of Parke stands on Merrion Street in Dublin, outside the National Museum of Ireland – Natural History. He is also commemorated by a bust in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

(Pictured: Photograph of Thomas Heazle Parke by Eglington & Co., Wellcome Collection gallery)


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Birth of British General & Explorer Francis Rawdon Chesney

francis-rawdon-chesneyFrancis Rawdon Chesney, British general and explorer, is born in Annalong, County Down, on March 16, 1789.

Chesney is a son of Captain Alexander Chesney, an Irishman of Scottish descent who, having emigrated to South Carolina in 1772, serves under Lord Francis Rawdon-Hastings (afterwards Marquess of Hastings) in the American War of Independence, and subsequently receives an appointment as coast officer at Annalong, County Down, where Chesney is born.

Lord Rawdon gives Chesney a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and he is gazetted to the Royal Artillery in 1805. Although he rises to be lieutenant-general and colonel-commandant of the 14th brigade Royal Artillery (1864), and general in 1868, Chesney’s memory lives not for his military record, but for his connection with the Suez Canal, and with the exploration of the Euphrates valley, which starts with his being sent out to Constantinople in the course of his military duties in 1829, and his making a tour of inspection in Egypt and Syria. In 1830, after taking command of 7th Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery in Malta, he submits a report on the feasibility of making a Suez Canal. This is the original basis of Ferdinand de Lesseps’ great undertaking. In 1831 he introduces to the home government the idea of opening a new overland route to India, by a daring and adventurous journey along the Euphrates valley from Anah to the Persian Gulf. Returning home, Acting Lt. Colonel Chesney busies himself to get support for the latter project, to which the East India Company’s board is favourable. In 1835 he is sent out in command of a small expedition, on which he takes a number of soldiers from 7th Company RA and for which Parliament votes £20,000, in order to test the navigability of the Euphrates.

After encountering immense difficulties, from the opposition of the Egyptian pasha, and from the need of transporting two steamers, one of which is subsequently lost, in sections from the Mediterranean Sea over the hilly country to the river, they successfully arrive by water at Bushire in the summer of 1836, and prove Chesney’s view to be a practical one. In the middle of 1837, Chesney returns to England, and is given the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal, having meanwhile been to India to consult the authorities there. The preparation of his two volumes on the expedition, published in 1850, is interrupted by his being ordered out in 1843 to command the artillery at Hong Kong.

In 1847, his period of service is completed, and he goes home to Ireland, to a life of retirement. However, in 1856 and again in 1862 he goes out to the East to take a part in further surveys and negotiations for the Euphrates valley railway scheme, which, however, the government does not take up, in spite of a favourable report from the House of Commons committee in 1871. In 1868 Chesney publishes a further volume of narrative on his Euphrates expedition.

In 1869, Lesseps greets him in Paris as the “father “ of the canal. Francis Rawdon Chesney dies at the age of 82 in Mourne, County Down, on January 30, 1872.