Harry Smith Parkes

Harry Smith Parkes

:"For the footballer and Chesterfield F.C. manager of the same name, see Harry Parkes (footballer)."Sir Harry Smith Parkes (1828 - 1885) was a 19th century British diplomat who worked mainly in China and Japan. Parkes Street in Kowloon, Hong Kong is named after him.

Early life

The son of Harry Parkes, founder of the firm of Parkes, Otway & Co., ironmasters, he was born at Birchills Hall, near Walsall in Staffordshire, England. When but four years old his mother died and in the following year his father was killed in a carriage accident. Being thus left an orphan, he found a home with his uncle, a retired naval officer, at Birmingham. He received his education at King Edwards Grammar School.

China (1841-64)

First Opium War

In 1837 his uncle died, and in 1841 he sailed for Macau, to take up his residence at the house of his cousin, Mary Wanstall Gützlaff. At this time what became known as the First Opium War (1839-42) had broken out, and Parkes eagerly prepared himself to take part in the events which were passing around him by diligently applying himself to the study of Chinese. In 1842 he received his first appointment in the consular service. He accompanied Sir Henry Pottinger in his expedition up the Yangtze River to Nanking (Nanjing), and after having taken part in the capture of Chinkiang and the surrender of Nanking, he witnessed the signing of the treaty of Nanking on board the British warship HMS "Cornwallis" in August 1842. By this treaty the five ports of Canton, Amoy, Fuchow, Ningpo and Shanghai were opened to trade.

Diplomatic work

After short residences at Canton and the newly opened Amoy, Parkes was appointed to the consulate at Fuchow. Here he served under Mr (afterwards Sir) Rutherford Alcock. In 1849 he returned to England on leave, and after visiting the Continent and doing some hard work for the foreign office he returned to China in 1851. After a short stay at Amoy as interpreter he was transferred in the same capacity to Canton.

In May 1854 he was promoted to be consul at Amoy, and in 1855 was chosen as secretary to the mission to Bangkok, being largely instrumental in negotiating the first European treaty with Siam (now Thailand).

econd Opium War

In June 1856 Parkes returned to Canton as acting Consul, a position which brought him into renewed contact with Imperial commissioner and governor-general Ye Mingchen, and the conflict between the two men would soon lead to the Second Opium War (1856-60). Ye had now met a man of even greater power and determination than himself, and when, in October 1856, Ye seized the British lorcha "Arrow" and made prisoners of her crew, Parkes at once closed with his enemy. (The cirumstances of the conflict are much disputed. According to J.Y. Wong, it was Parkes' impetuous nature that ignited the conflict [J.Y.Wong, Deadly Dreams, pp 43-66] ) In response to a strongly worded despatch from Parkes, Sir John Bowring, governor of Hong-Kong, placed matters in the hands of Admiral Sir Michael Seymour, who took Canton at the close of the same month but did not have sufficient forces to hold it. In December 1857 Canton was again bombarded by Admiral Seymour. Parkes, who was attached to the admiral's staff, was the first man to enter the city, and himself tracked down and arrested Commissioner Ye. As the city was to be held, an Allied commission was appointed to govern it, consisting of two Englishmen, of whom one was Parkes, and a French naval officer. Parkes governed this city of a million inhabitants for three years.

Meanwhile, the attack at the Taku Forts upon Sir Frederick Bruce led to a renewal of hostilities in the north, and Parkes was ordered to serve as interpreter and adviser to Lord Elgin in July 1860. He accordingly travelled in advance of the army to the city of Tungchow, near Peking, to arrange a meeting between Lord Elgin and the Chinese commissioners who had been appointed to draw up the preliminaries of peace. While thus engaged he, Mr Henry Loch (afterwards Lord Loch), Mr de Norman, Lord Elgin's secretary, Mr Thomas Bowlby the correspondent for "The Times", and others were taken prisoners on 18 September, 1860. Parkes and Loch were sent up to the Board of Punishments prison at Peking, and were separately housed with the lowest class of criminals. After ten days confinement they were removed to a temple in the city, where they were comfortably housed and fed, and from which, after a further detention, they were granted their liberty.

As retaliation, Lord Elgin burned down the Yuanmingyuan, also known as the Old Summer Palace of the emperor. Although regarded as a proportionate punishment at the time, the destruction of the Yuanmingyuan is today widly considered as one of the worst examples of cultural vandalism in British Imperial history.

Following the restoration of the city to the Chinese authorities in October 1861 he returned to England on leave and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1862 for his services; he had earlier been appointed Companion of the Bath in 1859.

Japan (1865-83)

On his return to China he served for a short time as consul at Shanghai, to which post he had been appointed in January 1859, and in April 1865 he was appointed "Her Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary and Consul-General in Japan".

He held the post for 18 years, and throughout that time he strenuously used his influence in support of the Liberal party of Japan. He was friendly toward the Bakufu's rivals and had some influence in the Meiji government as a result. So earnestly did he throw in his lot with these reformers that he became a marked man, and incurred the bitter hostility of the reactionaries, who on three separate occasions attempted to assassinate him. He ran the British mission in a way that encouraged the junior members to research and make deep studies of Japan: in particular Ernest Satow and William George Aston benefited from this to become great scholars of Japan and Japanology. But generally Parkes was not an easy man to work for, nor was he popular with the Japanese officials or common people.

In 1856 Parkes married Miss Fanny Plumer, who would become in 1867 the first non-Japanese woman to ascend Mount Fuji. [Cortazzi, Hugh "et al." [http://books.google.com/books?id=bLI9AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=hugh+cortazzi&lr=&client=firefox-a&sig=ACfU3U29LWcjU7K8hQzLTwyScRVDuQA1Nw#PPA99,M1 "Britain and Japan, 1859-1991," pp. 99] ] -100.] Lady Parkes died in Japan in 1879.

Japanese paper report and collection

In 1869 the then Prime Minister, William Gladstone, requested a report on Japanese paper and papermaking from the British Embassy in Japan. A thorough investigation was carried out by Sir Harry Parkes and his team of consular staff in different Japanese towns, resulting in publication of a government report "Reports on the manufacture of paper in Japan", and formation of a collection of 400+ sheets of handmade paper. The main parts of this set are now housed in the Paper Conservation Laboratory of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Economic Botany Collection of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In 1879 Kew sent duplicate samples to Glasgow, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, but these have been lost. The Parkes paper collection is important because the origin, price, manufacturing method and function of each paper is precisely documented.

Last years

In 1883 he was transferred to Peking. While in Peking his health failed, and he died of malarial fever on March 21, 1885. On 8 April 1890, the Duke of Connaught unveiled a statue of Parkes on The Bund in Shanghai, where it stood until it was removed during the Japanese occupation.


The second daughter of Sir Harry, Mabel Desborough Parkes, was married to Flag Lieutenant (Royal Navy) Egerton Bagot Byrd Levett-Scrivener of Sibton Abbey, Yoxford, Suffolk. [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=ejgMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA363&lpg=PA363&dq=%22egerton+levett%22&source=web&ots=2bdmDaNaI5&sig=jFMy6VsNoHU5mfcI2aqUZ9n6WrA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result Sir Harry Parkes in China, Stanley Lane-Poole, Methuen & Co., London, 1901] ]

See also

* Anglo-Chinese relations
* Anglo-Japanese relations
* List of British ambassadors to Japan



* Gordon Daniels, [http://bookweb.kinokuniya.co.jp/guest/cgi-bin/booksea.cgi?ISBN=1873410360 "Sir Harry Parkes: British representative in Japan 1865-83"] (Folkestone: Japan Library, 1996) ISBN 1-873410-36-0
* Sir Harry Parkes, [http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/scihort/ecbot/papers/parkes1871paper.pdf "Reports on the manufacture of paper in Japan"]
* Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, [http://www.kew.org/collections/ecbot/index.html Economic Botany Collection] Includes illustrations of Parkes papers. More specimens are on display in the Plants+People exhibit in the Gardens.

* Lane-Poole, Stanley and Frederick Victor Dickins. (1894). [ "Life of Sir Harry Parkes."] (Vol. I, China; Vol. II, Japan) London: . [digitized by University of Hong Kong Libraries, [http://lib.hku.hk/database/ Digital Initiatives,] [http://xml.lib.hku.hk/gsdl/db/ctwe/search.shtml "China Through Western Eyes."] ]

*Wong, J. Y. "Deadly Dreams: Opium, Imperialism, and the Arrow War (1856-1860) in China." Cambridge [U.K.] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.


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