Thomas Heazle Parke was born at his ancestral family home, Clogher House in Kilmore County Roscommon. He grew up in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim and went on to study medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. He worked in a variety of hospitals including the City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street as well as the Richmond, Whitworth and Hardwicke Hospitals, before finally receiving his license in 1878 and his Licentiate of the King’s and Queen’s College of Physicians of Ireland in 1879.
Thomas spent a short period of time working in practice before his restless spirit got the better of him and he signed up with the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1881. He was sent to Egypt and braved intense daily battles to treat those wounded during the Tel-el-Kebir campaign of 1882. He also participated in the desperate fight to relieve the doomed General Charles George Gordon in Khartoum in 1885. He was particularly well respected for the incredible work he did during the Egyptian Cholera epidemic of 1883. Roughly 60,000 people lost their lives in the epidemic but Parke worked tirelessly to save all he could.
In 1886 Parke joined Henry Morton Stanley on his Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, one of the last major European expeditions into the interior of Africa in the nineteenth century that was designed to rescue the besieged governor of Equatoria.
The expedition would cross “darkest Africa” and last a total of three years. It would be remembered for its ambition, the deaths of many of its members and the disease unwittingly left in its wake. Parke’s courage and medical training was highly valued by his fellow expedition members. On one occasion his quick thinking saved the life of a colleague who had been struck in the chest with a poison arrow. The wound was very near his heart but Parke swiftly grabbed the man and sucked the poison out by mouth.
Despite many members of the expedition perishing, Stanley’s relief was considered a success. Parke became the first Irishman in history to cross the African continent and was commonly known as the ‘ man who had saved Stanley’. Stanley himself later claimed that “without Parke, the expedition would have been a failure”, calling him “the cleverest of his profession that has ever been in Equatorial Africa”.
On returning to Ireland, Parke was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland as well as gold medals from the British Medical Association and the Royal Geographical Society. In later life he published his memoirs before dying in Scotland in 1893. He was given a hero’s funeral as his coffin was drawn on a gun carriage from the Dublin docks to Broadstone station.