Desmond Parsons

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Desmond Parsons

Hon. Desmond Edward Parsons (13 December 1910 – 4 July 1937) was an aristocratic aesthete, regarded as "one of the most magnetic men of his generation."[1] He had a passionate friendship with James Lees-Milne, was the one true love of Harold Acton and the unrequited love of Robert Byron.

Early life[edit]

Desmond Edward Parsons was born on 13 December 1910, the third child of William Parsons, 5th Earl of Rosse and Frances Lois Lister-Kaye (1882-1984), and the younger brother of Michael Parsons, 6th Earl of Rosse.[1]

He studied at Eton College where he had a passionate friendship with James Lees-Milne.[2] Parsons entered Oxford University and then the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[3][4]

Personal life[edit]

Robert Byron and Desmond Parsons in China

In 1934, Desmond Parsons, a brilliant linguist, went to China to reach his friend, and possible lover, Harold Acton who was in Beijing lecturing at the Peking National University.[3] According to Acton's friends, Parsons was Acton's "one true love of his life".[5][4]

In China Parsons visited the caves at Dun Huang. He removed a wall painting using tools and was caught when he tried to carry it away in his vehicle.[6] He was released after the British government intervened. His photographs of the place were later acquired by the Courtauld Institute of Art.[3]

Parsons was also the great, but unreciprocated love of Robert Byron, a travel writer. In 1934 they lived together in Peking, where Parsons developed Hodgkin's Disease.[7] His brother, who was visiting him, managed to bring back Parsons to Europe where he died on 4 July 1937.[3] Byron died in 1941 when the ship he was travelling was attacked during World War II.[1]


At the beginning of the World War II, Acton sent back to Birr Castle Parsons' collection of Chinese Art.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Payne, Tom (2003). "A brilliant boy who died in terrible times". The Telegraph. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  2. ^ "THE LIFE OF JAMES LEES-MILNE". Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Desmond Parsons and China". Birr Castle. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b Mungello, David Emil (2012). Western Queers in China: Flight to the Land of Oz. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 92. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  5. ^ Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry (2002). Who's who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. Psychology Press. p. 4. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  6. ^ IDP News Issue No. 44: Desmond Parsons in Chinese Archives
  7. ^ Wood, Frances (2009). The Lure of China : history and Literature from Marco Polo to J.G Ballard. p. 179. Retrieved 3 October 2017.