Harry Smith Parkes

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Sir Harry Smith Parkes
Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from the United Kingdom to the Qing Empire
In office
28 September 1883 – 22 March 1885
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by Thomas George Grosvenor
Succeeded by Nicholas Robert O'Conor
Personal details
Born 1828
Died 1885 (aged 56–57)

Sir Harry Smith Parkes (Traditional Chinese: 巴夏禮; Simplified Chinese: 巴夏礼, 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[edit]

The son of Harry Parkes, founder of the firm of Parkes, Otway & Co., ironmasters, he was born at Birchills Hall, in the parish of Bloxwich in Staffordshire, England. When he was four years old his mother died, and the following year his father was killed in a carriage accident. Left an orphan, he found a home with his uncle, a retired naval officer, at Birmingham. He received his education at a boarding-school at Balsall Heath,[1] and in May 1838 entered King Edwards Grammar School.

China (1841–64)[edit]

First Opium War[edit]

In June 1841 Parkes sailed for China to take up his residence at the house of his cousin, Mary Wanstall Gützlaff (née Newell), who was the wife of the missionary and explorer Karl Friedrich Gützlaff.[1] On Parkes's arrival in Macau in October 1841 he prepared for employment in the office of John Robert Morrison, secretary and first interpreter of Sir Henry Pottinger, who was then British minister plenipotentiary and chief superintendent of trade in China. At this time what later became known as the First Opium War (1839–42) had broken out.

Parkes learned the basics of the Chinese language, and in May 1842 joined Morrison in Hong Kong. On 13 June 1842 he accompanied Pottinger on his expedition up the Yangtze River to Nanking (Nanjing), and witnessed the capture of Chinkiang on 21 July and witnessed the signing of the Treaty of Nanking on board the British warship HMS Cornwallis on 29 August 1842. By this treaty the five ports of Canton, Amoy, Fuchow, Ningpo and Shanghai were opened to trade.

Diplomatic work[edit]

Karl Gützlaff was appointed civil magistrate in Chusan (Zhoushan) following the British occupation of the island, and Parkes served as his clerk from September 1842 to August 1843. In August 1843 he passed the consular examination in Chinese in Hong Kong and that September was appointed interpreter at Foochow (Fuzhou). However, there was a delay in opening the port and so he served instead at the consulate in Canton (Guangzhou) and as assistant to the Chinese Secretary in Hong Kong.[1]

In June 1844 he was appointed interpreter at Amoy (Xiamen) and in March 1845 he and his consul, Mr (afterwards Sir) Rutherford Alcock, were transferred to Foochow, where Parkes was attacked by stone-throwing Manchu soldiers on 4 October. In June 1846 he assisted Alcock to secure compensation of $46,163 from the Fukien (Fujian) authorities for British property looted and destroyed during a riot.[1]

In August 1846 Alcock and Parkes were again transferred, this time to Shanghai, where Parkes acted as interpreter. In 1847 he began to study the Japanese language and in March 1848 accompanied the British vice-consul at Shanghai to Nanking to negotiate the punishment of some Chinese men who had assaulted three British missionaries at Tsingpu (Qingpu). Following this he was appointed interpreter at Shanghai on 9 April 1848 and after a period of leave from 1850–1851 which he spent in Europe, he took up the post of interpreter at Amoy, to which he had been appointed in July 1849.[2]

On 21 November 1851 he was appointed interpreter at Canton, travelling there in February 1852. While there, he acted as Consul in the absence of Sir John Bowring, and in August 1853 he was placed temporarily in charge of the Canton vice-consulate.

In 1854 Parkes was appointed Consul at Amoy. In 1855 he accompanied Bowring to Siam (now Thailand) as joint secretary to the mission to conclude a commercial treaty with the kingdom. The treaty, the first European treaty with Siam, was signed in Bangkok on 18 April and Parkes travelled to England with the treaty for ratification. He delivered it on 1 July, and was received by Queen Victoria on 9 July 1855. He spent the rest of 1855 helping the Foreign Office with Chinese and Siamese business. Parkes exchanged the ratified Siamese treaty in Bangkok on 5 April, and arrived in Canton in June where he was to be acting consul during Alcock's absence.[1]

Second Opium War[edit]

Parkes' position as acting Consul at Canton 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).

On 8 October 1856 the Chinese-owned lorcha Arrow was boarded by officials of the Chinese water patrol as she entered the Pearl River. It had been learnt that several pirates were aboard, sailing under the protection of the Red Ensign, so it was boarded by the water patrol, who arrested 12 Chinese sailors and took down the flag. Parkes sent a protest to Ye Mingchen, in which he pointed out that lowering the British flag was an insult; Ye replied that the Arrow was owned and crewed by Chinese and the flag had not been flying at the time.[3] Parkes considered this action a violation of the treaty rights and sent dispatches to the governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring, in which he portrayed the action as an insult to the British flag.

The demands for public redress which he made to Ye Mingchen could not be acceded to without a loss of face, but Parkes rejected anything less.[4] Bowring saw the episode as an opportunity to enforce the British right to enter the city of Canton, which had been established under the treaty of Nanking but had previously been denied. The deliberate escalation of the Arrow incident into war had the object of forcing the removal of obstacles to trade and diplomacy in Canton.

Ye Mingchen refused to capitulate, despite minor reprisals, and the Royal Navy breached the city's walls on 29 October, following which Parkes accompanied Admiral Sir Michael Seymour in entering Ye Mingchen's yamen. The British did not have enough forces to permanently occupy Canton, but kept warships on the river and artillery overlooking the city. On 16 December Chinese forces set fire to the European settlement outside the city, and Parkes retreated to Hong Kong, where he spent nearly a year. He was severely criticised in Parliament during this time, the Earl of Malmesbury stating in the House of Lords on 26 February 1857 that "If it were not for the serious consequences involved in this matter, I do not know that I have ever met anything which I should consider more grotesque than the conduct of Consul Parkes throughout these transactions".[5]

In November 1857 British reinforcements assembled in Hong Kong. James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin had been appointed high commissioner and plenipotentiary in China, and the British forces acted together with the French, who were seeking to avenge the killing of a missionary. Parkes was attached to Sir Michael Seymour's staff, and on 12 December was one of the party which delivered an ultimatum to Ye Mingchen's officials. When the ultimatum expired, a bombardment of Canton began on 28 December, and the walls were secured on 29 December. On 5 January 1858, when the city was entered in force, Parkes led a party of sailors which captured Ye Mingchen.

On 9 January the Chinese governor of Canton, Po-kuei, was nominally reinstated, but the actual government of the city was assumed by a European commission of two Englishmen, one of which was Parkes, and a French naval officer. As Parkes was the only Chinese speaker he became its leader. The commission established a court, administered a police force, and on 10 February opened the port. Throughout 1858, and despite the signing of the Treaties of Tianjin on 26 June, the Chinese authorities in Kwangtung (Guangdong) remained hostile to the Europeans in Canton, mobilising militias and putting a large bounty on Parkes's head. Parkes was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) on 6 December 1859.

Beijing campaign[edit]

The attack at the Taku Forts upon Sir Frederick Bruce on 25 June 1859 led to a renewal of hostilities in the north, and on 6 July Parkes was requested to join Lord Elgin in the Gulf of Pechihli. He sailed on 21 July, and was appointed Elgin's joint Chinese secretary alongside Thomas Wade.

On 1 August 1860, attached to General Sir James Hope Grant, Parkes was sent into Pehtang (Beitang), where he took possession of the evacuated fort. He performed some reconnaissance during the advance to the Taku Forts, and after the successful assault on the main north fort on 21 August, assisted in negotiating the surrender of the remaining Chinese positions. He arrived in Tianjin on 24 August, where he arranged for the provisioning of the Allied forces, and also conducted interviews with the Chinese imperial commissioners. After discovering that the commissioners at Tianjin did not hold plenipotentiary powers from the Emperor as they had believed, the allied armies advanced on towards Tungchow.

Parkes travelled ahead of the army and parleyed with the Chinese authorities at Tungchow on 14 September and again on 17 September, obtaining an agreement that the armies should advance to a position about 5 mi (8.0 km) from the city. On 18 September he left Tungchow to mark out the site of the proposed British encampment. When he observed a Chinese military force assembling at the site, Parkes returned to Tungchow to remonstrate with the Chinese commissioners. Receiving a hostile response, he and his party attempted to return to the British headquarters, but were taken prisoner even though they were protected by a flag of truce.

After being brought before the Manchu general, San-kolin-sin (Senggelinqin), Parkes was taken to Beijing along with Lord Elgin's private secretary Henry Loch, Nal Singh, a Sikh sowar, and two French soldiers. There he and Loch were brought before the Board of Punishments, placed in chains in a common prison, and tortured.

On 29 September, on the orders of Prince Gong, Parkes and Loch were removed to more comfortable quarters in a temple, where they were pressed to intervene in the negotiations with the British commanders. Parkes refused to make any pledges, or to address any representations to Lord Elgin, and on 8 October Parkes, Loch, and six others were released, shortly before an order from the emperor for their execution arrived.

As retaliation for the murder of other prisoners who had also been captured under a flag of truce on 18 September, Lord Elgin burned down the Yuanmingyuan (also known as the Old Summer Palace) of the emperor.

Following the restoration of the city to the Chinese authorities in October 1861, Parkes left the city on 9 November and sailed from Taku for Shanghai on 28 November.

Parkes returned to his post at Canton in January 1861 and was occupied arranging the cession of Kowloon to the British Crown. The Treaty of Tientsin had opened three Yangtze ports to trade, and between February and April 1861 Parkes accompanied Vice-Admiral Sir James Hope in an expedition on the river, setting up consulates at Chinkiang, Kiukiang (Jiujiang), and Hankow (Hankou), and trying to reach an agreement with the Tai'ping rebels at Nanking.

In April 1861 he returned to Beijing and travelled to Nanking in June for further meetings with Tai'ping leaders. On 21 October 1861 the allies returned Canton to Chinese authority, ending Parkes's duties as a commissioner. In November he travelled to Shanghai and in December met Tai'ping leaders again, at Ningpo (Ningbo) and in January 1862 left to return to England, where his brief captivity had made him famous. On 19 May 1862 he was made Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1862 for his services.

He left England in January 1864, arriving in Shanghai on 3 March where he finally took up the consulship to which he had been appointed on 21 December 1858.

Japan (1865–83)[edit]

Attack on the delegation of Sir Harry Smith Parkes to the Meiji Emperor, 23 March 1868.

In May 1865, during a trip to the Yangtze ports, he received the notification of his appointment as "Her Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary and Consul-General in Japan", to succeed Alcock.[6]

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.

While in Japan, Lady Parkes became known, in 1867, as the first non-Japanese woman to ascend Mount Fuji.[7] Lady Parkes fell ill and died in England in November 1879, while there to make a home for the returning family. Though urgently summoned by telegraph, Sir Harry did not reach London until four days after her death. "She hoped to the last that I should have reached in time. I have now six children to take charge of," he wrote to Frederick Victor Dickins, "and feebly indeed shall I replace her in that charge, while the Legation will have lost that bright and good spirit to which it owed whatever attention it possessed."[8]

Japanese paper report and collection[edit]

In 1869 the then Prime Minister, William Ewart 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 the publication of a government report, "Reports on the manufacture of paper in Japan", and the formation of a collection of 400+ sheets of handmade paper. The main parts of this collection 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 was precisely documented.

Korea (1883–84)[edit]

Parkes was Minister to Korea in 1883 and 1884. He represented the British in negotiations which produced the United Kingdom-Korea Treaty of 1883; and under the treaty's terms, he was the first diplomatic representative to the Korean court.[9]

Last years[edit]

In 1883 Parkes was transferred to Peking. While in Peking his health failed, and he died of malarial fever on 21 March 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.


While in England, Parkes met Miss Fanny Plumer, granddaughter of Sir Thomas Plumer (the first Vice-Chancellor of England) at the home of a mutual friend. "She was a beautiful girl," wrote a friend about her, "tall, well-proportioned, and graceful, her coloring rich and soft, her features expressing sensitiveness and the power of warm emotion; her dark brown eyes full of intelligence and speaking earnestness of purpose. She possessed in a large degree the power of fascination in which all her family were remarkable." After a six-week courtship the two were married on New Year's Day, 1856, at St Lawrence's Church, Whitchurch, and the couple left England on 9 January.[10]

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. Mabel Parkes Levett died in a fall from her horse in 1890. Her older sister Marion was married to J.J. Keswick of the Keswick family interests and partner in the Hong Kong trading firm of Jardine Matheson.

Selected works[edit]

In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about Harry Smith Parkes, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 20 works in 30+ publications in 4 languages and 400+ library holdings.[11]

  • Observations on Mr. P.P. Thoms' rendering of the Chinese word ... Man. (1852)
  • File concerning Harry Parkes' mission to Bangkok in 1856 from the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, London by Harry Parkes (1856)
  • Papers, 1853–1872

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Oxford DNB (2004)
  2. ^ Lane-Poole, Stanley. (1901). Sir Harry Parkes in China, p. 138.
  3. ^ Li, Chien-Nung; Ssu-Yu-Teng, J. Ingalls (1956). Political History of China, 1840–1928. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0602-6. 
  4. ^ Wong, pp. 43–66
  5. ^ Hansard 144 (3): 1350, col. 2. 1857.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ The first British Ambassador to Japan was appointed in 1905. Before 1905, the senior British diplomat had different titles: (a) Consul-General and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, which is a rank just below Ambassador.
  7. ^ Cortazzi, Hugh; Gordon Daniels (1991). Britain and Japan, 1859–1991: Themes and Personalities. Routledge. pp. 99–100. ISBN 0-415-05966-6. 
  8. ^ Lane-Poole, p. 318.
  9. ^ Korean Mission to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, D.C., 1921–1922. (1922). Korea's Appeal, p. 32., p. 32, at Google Books
  10. ^ Lane-Poole, pp. 131–133.
  11. ^ WorldCat Identities: Parkes, Harry Sir 1828–1885


This article incorporates text from OpenHistory.Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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