I have long had an interest in medical history and the personalities of those who taught medicine. The Scottish medical schools were renowned for their bedside teaching which was inspired by a Dutchman called Herman Boerhaave.  Caleb Parry studied in Edinburgh and worked in Bath when it was at the height of its popularity as a spa.
Young ParryWebThe rich and famous came to take the health-giving waters which emerge from the only hot springs in Britain.  Known to the Romans, Bath suffered a decline during the Middle Ages, only to have a resurgence when the Georgians advocated sampling the waters for a whole battery of complaints. Caleb Parry had great integrity and treated the wealthy visitors for their illnesses yet, at the same time, cared for the needy who came to Bath seeking a cure.
Parry was born in Cirencester where he went to school with Edward Jenner. The two had a lasting friendship until Parry’s death. They enjoyed interests outside medicine including geology, fossils and natural history. In 1773 Caleb Parry chose to study  medicine, but entry to Oxford and Cambridge was not possible as his father was a dissenting minister. The two senior universities only allowed entry to members of the Church of England. For his studies Parry chose the prestigious Edinburgh Medical School where his teacher was William Cullen who, departing from tradition, taught in English instead Latin. Parry became President of the Edinburgh Medical Society where he was known for his eloquence. 
Parry married, had a large family of nine children and bought a house in The Circus, one of Bath’s finest streets. A very sociable man, he was involved in two medical societies which promoted discussion. He was a handsome man of great charm with a fund of anecdotes.  He was known for his kindness to patients. His eminent clients included William Herschel, the Astronomer Royal and Edmund Burke, the philosopher, of whom Parry commented his ‘eloquence was like a torrent’. Jane Austen often mentions Parry who treated one of her relatives for gout.
Caleb Parry was interested in  breeding fine-wooled sheep and he bought land outside Bath to build a home. One of his fleeces won second prize at the Bath and West Show. At this time he met Sir Joseph Banks, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society. Tragically in 1816 Parry had a stroke, paralysing his left side and affecting his speech. He suffered pain and frustration for six more years but his mind remained alert. His youngest son, William Edward, was an outstanding Arctic explorer and sailed his ship, HMS Hecla, down Lancaster Sound to Melville Island, British Columbia in 1819. Caleb Parry  corrected and altered, with his left hand, the journal of his son, William’s Arctic exploration.
In studying Caleb Parry I felt that I came to know him and have some idea of the world in which he lived. The eighteenth century was a stimulating period when man was questioning many traditional beliefs and increasing his knowledge of the exciting natural world around him.

 Gillian Hull

 

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