Ever wondered who he is? Well, wonder no more…
We’ve all walked past him. We’ve all seen him. Thousands of Dubliners’ lay eyes on him every day, whizzing by on their buses, in their cars, on their bikes. He has been there longer than I’m sure he would care to remember. He has stood and watched rebellion, bloodshed and war, the end of an empire and the birth of a new nation.
He has witnessed governments come and go, buildings rise and fall, technology grow and the city in which he stands expand, bulge and explode around him. He has dodged bullets from the 1916 rising (which hit the building behind him). He could bear testimony to a million clandestine conversations which have taken place in the buildings that surround him and he has been defecated on by a million pigeons.
Some of us have maybe even wondered who he is, what he is doing there. Who put him there? Why does he hold a rifle? Why is he at the front of that ancient old museum? Must have been a former director or something? right?
That guy on the statue
The figure I refer to is that of the wonderful green statue of Tom Parke, which sits in its hallowed spot, the pride of place at the front of the Natural History Museum on Merrion Street, in Dublin.
This beautiful statue by Percy Wood, on the front lawn of the Museum, was erected in 1896 in order to commemorate one of the most famous and illustrious Irish surgeons of the day, Surgeon Major Thomas Heazle Parke, who had died three years earlier in September of 1893.
He was an accomplished (and best-selling) writer, an outstanding surgeon and a notable humanitarian, who was centrally involved in one of the most discussed and infamous African expeditions of the late 19th century. In addition to the statue, Parke’s uniform and some of his personal belongings (his uniform etc) can be seen on the first floor of the Museum.
Parke was born at his ancestral family home, Clogher House, in Co. Roscommon, near Drumsna, Co. Leitrim, on the 27th of November 1857. He received his formal education at the Reverend Edward Power’s private school, which was located at 3 Harrington Street, in Dublin.
After this he studied medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons. Next, he moved to the City of Dublin Hospital in Baggot Street. He then served in the Richmond, Whitworth and Hardwicke Hospitals, before finally getting his license from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in 1878.
The following year he also received his Licentiate of the King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians of Ireland and then his Licentiate in Midwifery. Having obtained all of the necessary qualifications, Parke swiftly went in to practice, working first in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan and then in Bath, England.
However, the sense of restlessness and longing for adventure that was to be such a prominent part of Parke’s life, urged him out of general practice and into the service of the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1881.
In the Army now
A year after joining he served in the Tel-el-Kebir campaign, in an effort to suppress Arabi Pasha’s revolt of 1882. He braved the brutal daily fighting to render assistance to the wounded and maimed in horrific circumstances and conditions, often with artillery shells exploding a few feet away from his tent. His gutsy service during this time earned him the Queen’s medal and the Khedive’s Star, in recognition of his sterling work.
Then in 1883 Parke achieved a great deal of respect and admiration, when he did tremendous work during the horrific Cholera outbreak of 1883 in Egypt, in which roughly a gobsmacking 60,000 people lost their lives.
The seemingly unstoppable flow of victims forced Parke and his staff to extremes to combat the epidemic, even experimenting with Saline injections, which was at that time, a radical treatment. It was an experience that would forever change his attitudes and would be formative in his later writings.
During the years 1884-85 he was involved in the Nile expedition into Equatoria to relieve the besieged Governor, Charles George Gordon, who was holding out against the forces of the great Mahdi at Khartoum.
This expedition took him across the Bayuda Desert, to Gakdul. The following weeks were to see Parke involved in the thick of a protracted and bloody conflict where he and his colleagues worked around the clock to stem the flow of injuries from the battles.
When the conflict was at an end, Parke had faired well, better than many of the others who were part of the campaign. Five officers had gone on the campaign; two were dead and the other three injured, one critically. Parke had escaped unharmed.
Parke was posted back to Alexandria in Egypt and was about to leave for home when he was ordered into local service in the Alexandrian Hospitals. He remained in Egypt for some time and then in 1887, the chance of a lifetime fell his way in the shape of Henry Morton Stanley.
Stanley was to spearhead an ambitious campaign to help bring relief to yet another besieged Governor, this time the near legendary Emin Pasha. Pasha’s real name was Eduard Schnitzer, born in Oppelen, a Prussian province of Silesia, in Poland. He had studied medicine in Berlin and his work as a doctor brought him to the Equatoria region. Here he gained his name, ‘Dr. Emin’, which means ‘faithful one’. The name Pasha, would be a later addition. Whilst in Equatoria, he was promoted to the rank of Mudir.
After the disaster at Khartoum, the power of the Mahdi grew and rumours of the embattled Emin began to reach foreign ears. It was claimed that he was isolated, in need of supplies and men and under siege from hostile native tribes. Soon there was public outcry, demanding an expedition to help relieve Emin. With the stories of the horrors that were taking place in Equatoria ringing in his ears and the promise of adventure and great travel in store, Parke dived upon the opportunity to join the expedition, as its’ chief Medical Officer. Neither he nor any of the other members of the team could have had any idea of the hardships they were about to encounter.
Part 2 here…