Tagged: Revolution Without Bloodshed

James: The man behind the disease (Part 3)

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This post is the third in our four part series on the life of Mr James Parkinson, in observance of 200 years since his first description of Parkinson’s disease.

Here we will look at the bulk of James’ adult life – not only his medical related activities, but also all of the ‘other stuff’ (for which he is not remembered). This is not intended to be an exhaustive history of his life, I am simply trying to share a brief overview of what one amazing man achieved with his life.

In addition, I will include some of the global events that were occurring during this time to provide a bit of context not only to the epoch that James lived in, but as to how those events helped to shape who he was.


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The return of Benjamin Franklin to Philadelphia in 1785. Source: Wikimedia

At the end of our first post about James Parkinson, it was 1785 and the recently married James was the sole medical practitioner at “Parkinson and Son”. His first son,  John William Keys Parkinson, was born that year (11th July – for more on James’ family, please click here). AND Perhaps given the weight of these responsibilities, combined with his disappointment regarding his medical training thus far, James sought out further education.

He found it in the form of evening lectures provided by the great Scottish surgeon, John Hunter. Between October 1785 and April 1786, James attended these session and we should all be very grateful that he did.

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John Hunter. Source: Wikipedia

These lectures were conducted in Hunter’s operating theatre in Castle Street, Leicester Square. They were approximately one hour in length, held three times per week and in all there were 68 of them.

And we are very fortunate today that James attended these lectures as we only know of their content because James wrote them down verbatim in shorthand (his notes were later published by his son John William Keys Parkinson – “Hunterian Reminiscences, Being The Substance Of A Course Of Lectures On The Principles And Practice Of Surgery Delivered By John Hunter In The Year 1785″). These notes were invaluable given that Hunter’s own notes were later destroyed by fire.

It was during these lectures that James was introduced to John Hunter’s collection of fossils and another of the great interest of James’ life began. While most people who know of James Parkinson associate him with the field of medicine, his contributions to the fields of geology and paleontology during his life time were far greater than those to medicine.

And truth be known, James is still something of a rockstar to geologists and paleontologists (no pun intended).

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