Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Caleb Hillier Parry

Despite a successful medical practice in the once fashionable town of Bath, Caleb Parry would be largely forgotten were it not that in 1786 he reported on five cases of exophthalmic goiter. This was almost fifty years earlier than the better-known description by Robert Graves, leading to a later suggestion that Graves’ disease should really be called Parry’s disease.  The idea never caught on, not even when it was first suggested, and would count for even less in this scientific age that does not care for eponymous names. As consolation, however, Dr. Parry, seems to have been the first to diagnose Hirschprung’s disease, and shares with Moritz Romberg the honor of having facial hemiatrophy eponymously named after him.

Born in Gloucestershire in 1755, Parry entered the faculty of medicine in Edinburgh in 1773, graduating in 1778 after a stint of two years in London. The following year he settled in Bath and became physician to the Bath General Hospital (later the Royal Mineral Hospital). After a slow start he developed a successful medical practice, and like other physicians of his time would have prescribed mineral waters for his more affluent patients.

Edmund Burke was one of his patients; and Jane Austen mentioned him in her letters to her sister Cassandra. He also treated John Hunter for angina and early on made the connection between angina and coronary heart disease, publishing in 1799 an Inquiry into the Symptoms and Causes of the Syncope Anginosa, called Angina Pectoris. He wrote treatises on pathology and on the arterial pulse, ministered to the poor, studied rabies, and suggested that a tax be levied on dogs so as to decrease their number.

As his medical practice became more successful, he was able to pursue other learned interests. He built a house on his land outside the city, assembled an extensive medical and classical library, and was the founder of the Bath Geological society. In order to improve the quality of British wool he became greatly interested in sheep, their breeding, and their diseases. He carried out experiments to produce a fine quality of wool; won several prizes for his fleeces; wrote numerous papers on the subject; and become a fellow of the Royal Society and vice-president of the Merino society of London.

Like many of his contemporaries, he suffered from gout and kidney stones, believed to be caused by drinking port wine brought from Portugal in lead caskets. He most likely was hypertensive and in 1816 was severely paralyzed by a stroke. He died in 1822. He exemplifies the typical eighteenth century physician, often learned, with diverse scientific interests, and earning a living by treating the wealthy, often in fashionable town such as Bath that would have attracted the elite of English society.


Further reading

Gillian Hull. Caleb Hillier Parry 1755-1822: a notable provincial physician. J Roy Soc Med 1998; 91:335

Rolls R (2003). Caleb Hillier Parry (1755-1822). JLL Bulletin: Commentaries on the history of treatment evaluation (http://www.jameslindlibrary.org/articles/caleb-hillier-parry-1755-1822/)



GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief


Summer 2017  |  Sections  |  Physicians of Note

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