Parkinson, Thomas Carlyle

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Thomas Carlyle Parkinson

MB ChM 1906

Thomas Carlyle Parkinson was born in Sydney and came to the Sydney Medical School in 1901. For each of the five years he came first in his year. During his undergraduate terms he obtained the Renwick Scholarship for Natural Science and Comparative Anatomy and the John Harris Scholarship for Anatomy and Physiology. Dr Parkinson graduated in 1906 and was awarded the University Medal with special distinction.

In 1906 he was Resident Medical Officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, in 1907 he was Resident Pathologist to the same hospital and in 1908 became a Junior Medical Officer at Callan Park Hospital.

Dr Parkinson showed a strong interest for scientific investigation and both as a student and during his post-graduate career he wrote articles for the Medical Society Journal. In 1908 he was awarded the James King Travelling scholarship and travelled to England to further his studies.

Parkinson had experienced the impact of plague outbreaks in Sydney in 1901-2 so it is not surprising that when Parkinson went to London to broaden his experience he chose to join C.J. Martin’s team at the Lister Institute where work on improved plague vaccine was a major preoccupation. Martin had taught in the Department of Physiology in Sydney before moving to Melbourne in 1897, and then returning to Britain as Director of the Lister Institute in 1903 where he made opportunities for many young Australian graduates.

Parkinson worked at the Lister Institute until October 1908, when he was appointed to a position on the Indian Plague Commission. He worked alongside Sidney Rowland, a bacteriologist at the Lister’s Isolation Laboratory at Elstree. The project involved growing large quantities of plague bacillus then grinding it before extraction by chemical treatment. The dangers of this technique were well recognized: there had been two deaths from typhoid at the Lister in 1903.

Parkinson's untimely death is described in “War in Disease” the official history of the Lister Institute by Harriett Chick, who was on the staff at the time.

The organism...was grown in an isolated laboratory and if any worker suspected that he had received a small splash, for instance while inoculating a horse, he immediately had a bath of lysol. But close familiarity with the agents of death seems often to breed something close to contempt for danger, and even the best workers may, like rock climbers, have an off day and make a slip in a familiar practice. In 1909, an Australian guest worker, Thomas Carlyle Parkinson, working under Rowland, complained of feeling desperately ill. He was living at the time in Queensberry Lodge, where several of the bachelor workers were accommodated. It was thought at first that he had influenza and Hartley and Rowland looked after him. When it was realized that his lungs were infected, Martin came out from Chelsea and recognized that Parkinson had pneumonic plague. There was nothing they could do to influence the result; within three days of falling ill Parkinson died.

Hartley was given large doses of Haffkine’s plague serum, neither he or any the contacts became ill, and later on isolation bungalows were erected to house staff working with dangerous pathogens. Both Rowland and Macfadyen (who had invented the grinding technique) later died of laboratory infections while working on other organisms.

Parkinson died on February 4th, 1909. His obituary in The British Medical Journal said that his "acquaintances will remember him as a keen worker, but his comrades realise that they have lost a good and trusted friend. He lost his life striving in the interests of others, doing a man's work as a man should."

A prize in the Department of Pathology commemorates Parkinson’s untimely death.