- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Caleb Hillier Parry

Born  1755-10-21
Died  1822-03-09

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British physician, born October 21, 1755, Cirencester, Gloucestershire; died March 9, 1822, Sion Place, Bath.

Biography of Caleb Hillier Parry

Caleb Hillier Parry was the son of a non-conformist minister in Cirencester and the eldest of ten children. He was educated at Cirencester Grammar School, where he formed a lifelong friendship with Edward Jenner 1749-1823). When Jenner in 1798 published An Enquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae, he dedicated his historic work to Parry.

At the age of 15 years, Parry went to Dissenter's Academy, Warrington, Lancashire, where he met his wife, and in 1773 went on to Edinburgh to study Medicine. After spending two years in London with Dr Thomas Denham of the Middlesex Hospital, Parry returned to Edinburgh, obtaining his medical doctorate in 1778 with a thesis on rabies.The same year he baecame a licentiate of the College of Physicians of London and married. The following year he commenced general practice in Bath, where he spent the rest of his life. He was also appointed as physician to the Puerperal Charity Hospital and subsequently to the Casual Hospital in that city.

As a physician Parry excelled as physiologist and skilled experimentor. He had life-long habit of taking detailed notes and his notes and books detail the life of a busy physician who worked long hours but still found time for research.

His major contribution to medicine was the recognition of the cause of Angina. He conducted a series of experiments on sheep to investigate the circulation and the effects of impairment of the vascular supply. He was the first to suggest the correct mechanism although his explanation was ignored for more than 100 years. His book An inquiry into the Symptoms and Causes of Syncope Anginosa was based part upon lectures that he had given to the Gloucestershire Medical Society. In it, he expounded the concept that ischaemic heart disease resulted from energy demands of the myocardium, which the vascular system was unable to supply. In his work on the pulse, published in 1816, he correctly concluded that the pulse wave was generated by the rhythmical contractions of the left ventricle. He first observed that slowing of the heart occurred following pressure on the carotid artery.

His “unpublished medical writings” which appeared 3 years after his death, contained the first recorded cases of congenital idiopathic dilation of the colon - Hirschprung’s disease, and facial hemiatrophy - Parry-Romberg - as well as a detailed account of exophthalmic goitre which he first noted in 1786.

Parry spent much of his spare time collecting fossils. The conclusions, which he drew from his collection, were published in 1781. He was active in farming and was honoured for his promotion of the wool industry, winning many prizes for his sheep at their annual shows.

Parry was a founder member of the Geological Society, and belonged to the short-lived Philosophical Society. He was an active member of the Bath and West Society, having several of his papers published in their Journal. His broad scientific contributions were recognised by his election to the Royal Society.

A successful physician he had distinguished patients including the astronomer Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), and admiral George Brydges Rodney (1718-1792). Parry also enjoyed a happy marriage and family life. His son, Charles Henry Parry (died 1860) became a physician. He was the elder brother of the famous Polar explorer Admiral Sir William Edward Parry (1790-1855), rear admiral in the royal navy. Later generations of his family have included distinguished members of the Navy and the Church.

In 1816 Parry suffered a stroke which left him with aphasia and progressive paralysis. He died in 1822.

We thank Thomas Wesselman for information submitted.


  • Proposals for a History of Fossils in Gloucestershire. 1781.
  • On the effects of compression of the arteries in various diseases and particularly in those of the head.
    Memoirs of the Medical Society of London, 1792; III.
  • An Inquiry Into the Symptoms and Causes of the Syncope Anginosa Commonly Called Angina Pectoris, illustrated by Dissections.
    Bath, R. Cruttwell; London, Cadell & Davis, 1799.
    This was a paper read before the Gloucester Medical Society in 1788, but not published until 1799.
  • An Experimental Inquiry into the Nature, Cause and Varieties of the Arterial Pulse.
    Bath, 1816; London, Underwood, 1816.
    German translation by Elieser Salomo von Embden (1775): Experimentaluntersuchung über den arteriösen Puls. Hannover, 1817.
  • Elements of Pathology and Therapeutics.
    London, 1815; new edtition by his son Charles Henry Parry in 1825.
  • Collections from the Unpublished Medical Writings of the Late Caleb Hillier Parry.
    Posthumous. London, Underwood, Fleet Street, 1825.
  • Enlargement of the thyroid gland in connection with enlargement or palpitation of the heart.
    Collections from the unpublished papers of the late Caleb Hillier Parry 1825: 111-125
  • P. Kligfield:
    The early pathophysiologic understanding of angina pectoris.
    American Journal of Cardiology, New York, 1982, 50: 1433-1434.
  • Sholem Glaser:
    The Spirit of Enquiry. Bath, 1999.

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