World Parkinson’s Day

World Parkinson’s Day takes place annually on 11 April to mark the birth of English surgeon apothecary, geologist,paleontologist, and political activist James Parkinson FGS who was born 11 April 1755 in Shoreditch, London, England. He was the son of John Parkinson, an apothecary and surgeon practising in Hoxton Square in London. In 1784 Parkinson was approved by the City of London Corporation as a surgeon. On 21 May 1783, he married Mary Dale, with whom he subsequently had eight children; two did not survive past childhood. Soon after he was married, Parkinson succeeded his father in his practice in 1 Hoxton Square.

In addition to his medical practice, Parkinson had an avid interest in geology and palaeontology, as well as the politics of the day. He was also a strong advocate for the under-privileged, and an outspoken critic of the Pitt government. He was also 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 nearly twenty political pamphlets in the post-French Revolution period, while Britain was in political chaos. Writing under his own name and his pseudonym “Old Hubert”, he called for radical social reforms and universal suffrage.

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 and the Society of Constitutional Information.In 1794 his membership in the organisation led to his being examined under oath before William Pitt and the Privy Council to give evidence about a trumped-up plot to assassinate King George III. He refused to testify regarding his part in the popgun 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. No charges were ever brought against Parkinson but several of his friends languished in prison for many months before being acquitted.

Parkinson was also interested in improving the general health and well-being of the population. He wrote several medical doctrines that 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. Between 1799 and 1807 Parkinson published several medical works, including a work on gout in 1805. He was also responsible for early writings on ruptured appendix in English medical literature. In 1812 Parkinson also 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.

.In 1817 he wrote, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in which he was the first to describe “paralysis agitans”, a condition that would later be renamed Parkinson’s disease by Jean-Martin Charcot. Parkinson was the first person to systematically describe six individuals with symptoms of the disease that bears his name. In his “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy”, he reported on three of his own patients and three persons who he saw in the street. He referred to the disease that would later bear his name as paralysis agitans, or shaking palsy. He distinguished between resting tremors and the tremors with motion. Jean-Martin Charcot coined the term “Parkinson’s disease” some 60 years later. Although Parkinson erroneously predicted that the tremors in these patients were due to lesions in the cervical spinal cord.

Parkinson was also interested in geology, and palaeontology. He began collecting specimens and drawings of fossils in the latter part of the eighteenth century. He took his children and friends on excursions to collect and observe fossil plants and animals. His attempts to learn more about fossil identification and interpretation were frustrated by a lack of available literature in English, and so he took the decision to improve matters by writing his own introduction to the study of fossils.In 1804, he published the first volume of his book Organic Remains of a Former World. A second volume was also published in 1808, and a third in 1811. In 1822 Parkinson published the shorter “Outlines of Oryctology: an Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, especially of those found in British Strata”. 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 Transactions”. He also wrote ‘Outlines of Orytology’ in 1822. In 1807, Parkinson accompanied Sir Humphry Davy, Arthur Aikin and George Bellas Greenough and other distinguished gentlemen at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London for the first meeting of the Geological Society of London.Several fossils were also named after him.

Parkinson sadly died on 21 December 1824 after a stroke that interfered with his speech, his houses inLangthorne went to his sons and wife and his apothecary’s shop to his son, John. He was buried at St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. Parkinson’s life is commemorated with a stone tablet inside the church of St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. A blue plaque at 1 Hoxton Square, also marks the site of his home.

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