James Parkinson

James Parkinson (1755 – 1824) was an English surgeon, apothecary, palaeontologist, geologist and political activist.

Most famous for his 1817 masterpiece An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in which he referred to a disease as paralysis agitans. This would later be coined Parkinson’s disease by Jean-Martin Charcot in 1877.

In addition to taking over his father’s medical practice in Hoxton, London he was also a doctor for more than twenty-five years at Holly House, a private mental asylum.


  • Born 11 April 1755 in London to John Parkinson, an apothecary and surgeon (a general practitioner in modern terms). This day is now known as World Parkinson’s Day
  • 1783 – married Mary Dale with whom he had six children
  • 1784 – qualified as a surgeon approved by the City of London Corporation
  • 1787 – elected a fellow of the Medical Society of London
  • 1794 – accused of being part of the Popgun plot – an unsuccessful plan to assassinate King George III. He was found innocent.
  • 1817 – published his most notable work: An Essay on the Shaking Palsy
  • Died 21 December 1824 after a stroke

Medical Eponyms

  • Parkinson disease (1817)
  • World Parkinson’s Day (April 11)
  • Dr James Parkinson Tulip (1980) Red and white tulip developed by JWS Van der Wereld, a Dutch horticulturalist who had Parkinson disease. The tulip has now become the official symbol within the Parkinson’s community.

Involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported; with a propensity to bend the trunk forwards, and to pass from a walking to a running pace: the senses and intellects being uninjured.


The images of James Parkinson on the internet, are in all likelihood not the James Parkinson of Parkinson disease. Parkinson died in 1824, The first photograph made in a camera was taken in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

The wrong James Parkinson of Parkinson disease
The wrong James Parkinson of Parkinson disease

Extra-medical Interests


Parkinson was a strong supporter of the principles of the French Revolution and adopted quite radical ideology. He published many pamphlets that called for the reform of Parliament under the name “Old Hubert”. Due to associations with several secret political associations he was investigated for being part of a plot to assassinate King George III.

Palaeontology and Geology

Towards the end of his career his interest transitioned from medicine to geology and palaeontology. He eventually owned one of the most important collections of fossils in Britain. His name is also commerorated in several fossil organisms such as the snail Rostellaria parkinsoni and an ammonite called Parkinsonia parkinsoni

  • 1804 – Organic Remains of a Former World. Volumes I, II (1808) and III (1811) respectively
  • 1822 – Outlines of Oryctology: an Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, especially of those found in British Strata

Medical Publications


  • Fresquet JL. James Parkinson. Historia de la Medicina.
  • Lees AJ. Unresolved issues relating to the shaking palsy on the celebration of James Parkinson’s 250th birthday. Movement disorders: official journal of the Movement Disorder Society. 2007;22(S17):S327-S334. [PMID 18175393]
  • Parkinson J. An essay on the shaking palsy. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences. 2002;14(2):223-236. [PMID 11983801]
  • Gardner-Thorpe C. James Parkinson (1755-1824). J Neurol. 2010 Mar;257(3):492-3 [PMID 20127352]
  • Lawden M. Parkinson’s facies. Pract Neurol. 2011 Oct;11(5):316. [PMID 21921011]
  • Stott SR. The wrong James Parkinson. Pract Neurol. 2015 Apr;15(2):148. [PMID 25561574]

eponymictionary CTA


the person behind the name

Emergency Medicine Trainee based in Perth, Western Australia. Keen interest in ultrasound, rural health and water-based activities.

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