Liverpool Bite-size Histories: Henry Park (The Surgeon) 1745-1831

Henry Park was born on March 2nd, 1745, in Water Street, one of two boys and three girls, and he was baptised in the nearby St Nicholas Church. Henry’s father was an apothecary but his sudden death while away from home had a devastating effect on the family which was greatly exacerbated by the fact that he left no will; in the days when women were disenfranchised in every conceivable way, her husband’s estate which lay more in land than in money, devolved to his eldest son, Edward, who was no more than three years old, leaving Mrs Park (née Lyon) with a vastly reduced income and five children to care for - Mary aged 12 was the eldest and Henry who was the youngest had not yet reached his first birthday. Despite her financial woes, Henry’s mother ensured that both of her sons received a good education, beginning school at a very early age in the school run by the Reverend Henry Wolstenholme.

Henry was barely three years of age when he started school and at the same time began a friendship with another boy who would become the Reverend H. Roughsedge. The two boys were in the habit of calling each other Harry and Bob and were still doing so many years later in a friendship which would last an astonishing 80 years - Henry was always known thereafter as Harry to his associates and friends. The standard of education at Wolstenholme School was extremely high, and after mastering the basic subjects Harry Park went on to study Greek, Latin and mathematics at which he excelled. Harry remained in the school until the age of 14 when he was placed in the care of Mr Bromfield at the Liverpool Infirmary. Dr James Bromfield was an uncle by marriage but in later years when Park was vastly more experienced he looked back on his early days in the Infirmary and was less than complimentary about Bromfield’s skills as a doctor. Park was probably correct about his mentor’s lack of expertise but may not have realised that Bromfield’s true role lay in politics, and it was his political acumen which first gained the Oyl Mill Field as a site for the proposed Infirmary. Bromfield had been Mayor in 1746 and as a Town Councillor knew only too well the necessity for a hospital in the town and he had contributed generously both to the building fund and the maintenance fund. Despite Park’s misgivings, Bromfield remained in his post as Senior Surgeon from the opening of the Infirmary in 1749 until 1763 when he retired - he died the following year. Although Park may have been a little harsh on Bromfield, he was undoubtedly correct when he surmised that the level of care by the medical officers was sadly lacking; Park was always known for his sunny disposition and his criticisms came in the form of comic tales of his early years working in the Infirmary which, in his own unique way, were more revealing and scathing than any formal critique. The deficiencies of the medical officers left Park very much to his own devices at the Infirmary but he turned the situation to his own advantage by devoting himself to practical and theoretical studies of medicine revealing an unusual aptitude for the profession. Park was barely 17 years of age when, as part of his apprenticeship, he was given the responsibility of caring for the prisoners-of-war incarcerated in the Liverpool Tower, the greater number of them French prisoners from the wars of 1746 in North America, sometimes called King George’s War. It was indicative of how little the prisoners were cared for when Park found himself the only doctor in a prison housing 600 inmates, all of them suffering from malnutrition and living in appalling conditions. It was an onerous burden to shoulder without help or supervision but far from crumbling beneath the strain the young Park thrived among the prisoners whose cheerful and positive attitude mirrored his own and as he worked among them the young man came to admire the fortitude and spirit of the French prisoners who called him affectionately le jeune Médicin.

Park took the opportunity to learn the French language while he worked in the Tower while the prisoners made their own diversions carving cocoa-nuts and beef-bones with their pen-knives into works of art which were highly-prized outside the prison. The prisoners were later allowed to sell their carvings outside the prison walls but at that time selling was forbidden and they showered their carvings on Park as a means of thanking him for his efforts on their behalf. In the belief that the presents would be never-ending Park was in the habit of giving them away to friends, but the supply dried up when the prisoners were one day removed to another prison and the young doctor regretted all his days that he had never kept some mementoes for himself - he realised too late that they were remarkable works of art which are still prized today by collectors.


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The fascinating life tale of Henry Park is featured in Liverpool Forgotten Landscapes, Forgotten Lives by John Hussey.

To read more, the book is available to purchase here