Dr. James Parkinson
James Parkinson (April 11, 1755
to December 21, 1824) was an English physician, geologist,
paleontologist, and political activist.
He is most famous for his 1817 work, Essay on the Shaking Palsy,
a description of the disease which later became known as
James Parkinson was born in Shoreditch, London, England. He was
the son of John Parkinson, an apothecary and surgeon practicing in
Hoxton Square in London. In 1784 James Parkinson was approved by
the Corporation of London as a surgeon.
On May 21, 1783, he married Mary Dale, with whom he had six
children. Soon after, James succeeded his father in his practice in
Hoxton Square. He believed that any wothwhile physician should know
shorthand, at which he was adept.
In addition to his flourishing medical practice, Parkinson
possessed an avid interest in geology and paleontology, as well as
the politics of the day.
Parkinson was a strong advocate for the under-privileged, and an
outspoken critic of the Pitt-government. His early career was
marred by his being involved in a variety of social and
revolutionary causes, and some historians think it most likely that
he was a strong proponent for the French Revolution.
He published almost a dozen political pamphlets in the
post-French Revolution period, when Britain was in political chaos.
Writing under his own name and pseudonym "Old Hubert", he called
for radical social reforms.
Parkinson called for representation of the people in the House
of Commons, the institution of annual parliaments, and universal
suffrage. He was a member of several secret political societies,
including the London Corresponding Society for Reform of
In 1794 his membership in the organization led to his
being examined under oath before the Privy Council to give evidence
about a plot to assassinate King George III. He refused to testify
regarding his part in "The Pop-Gun Plot", until he was certain he
would not be forced to incriminate himself.
The plan was to use a poisoned dart fired from a "pop gun" to
bring the king's reign to a premature conclusion. Fortunately for
Parkinson, the whole affair was soon forgotten, and no charges were
ever brought against him.
Parkinson turned away from his tumultuous political career, and
between 1799 and 1807 published a number of medical works,
including a work on gout in 1805. He was also responsible for the
earliest writings on the subject of peritonitis in English medical
Parkinson was also interested in improving the general health
and well-being of the population. He wrote several medical
doctrines which exposed a similar zeal for the health and welfare
of the people that was expressed by his political activism. He was
a crusader for legal protection for the mentally ill, as well as
their doctors and families.
In 1812 Parkinson assisted his son with the first described case
of appendicitis in English, and the first instance in which
perforation was shown to be the cause of death.
Parkinson's interest gradually turned from medicine to nature,
specifically the relatively new field of geology, and paleontology,
and he began collecting specimens and drawings of fossils in the
latter part of the eighteenth century. He would take his children
and friends on excursions to collect or observe fossil plants and
His attempts to learn more about fossil identification and
interpretation were frustrated by a lack of available literature,
and so he took the decision to improve matters by writing his own
introduction to the study of fossils.
In 1804 the first volume of his Organic Remains of the Former
World was published. Gideon Mantell praised it as "the first
attempt to give a familiar and scientific account [of fossils]". A
second volume appeared in 1808, and a third in 1811. Parkinson
illustrated each volume, sometimes in color, and the plates were
later re-used by Gideon Mantell.
In 1822 he published the shorter "Elements of Oryctology: an
Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, especially of
those found in British Strata".
Parkinson belonged to a school of thought, Catastrophism, that
concerned itself with the belief that the Earth's geology and
biosphere were shaped by recent large-scale cataclysms.
He would cite the Noachian deluge of Genesis as an example, and
he firmly believed that creation and extinction were processses
guided by the hand of God. His view on Creation was that each 'day'
was actually a much longer period, perhaps tens of thousands of
years in length.
On November 13, 1797, Parkinson and a number of other
distinguished gentlemen met at the Freemason's Tavern. The
gathering included such great names as Sir Humphrey Davy, Arthur
Aikin, and George Greenough. This was to be the first meeting of
the Geological Society of London.
Parkinson also contributed several papers to William Nicholson's
"A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts", and in
the first, second, and fifth volumes of the "Geological Society's