Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parkes, Harry Smith
PARKES, Sir HARRY SMITH (1828–1885), diplomatist, was born on 24 Feb. 1828 at Birchill's Hall, Bloxwich, near Walsall, Staffordshire. His grandfather, John Parkes of Halesowen, was a clergyman of the church of England, and his father, Harry Parkes, an ironmaster of Walsall, who married a daughter of George Gitton, postmaster and printer, of Bridgnorth. Both parents died in 1832–3, and their three children, of whom Harry was the youngest, were brought up by their father's brother, a retired naval officer, at Birmingham. In 1838 Parkes entered King Edward's Grammar School, under Dr. James Prince Lee [q. v.]; his schoolfellows included J. B. Lightfoot and B. F. Westcott, both subsequently bishops of Durham. In 1841 Parkes was invited to join his two sisters in China, where they were already settled with their cousin, the wife of the Rev. Charles Gutzlaff, a well-known linguist and explorer, who was afterwards secretary to the British chief superintendent of trade in China. Arriving at Macao in October 1841, Parkes applied himself to the study of Chinese, and in May 1842 was received into the office of John Robert Morrison [see under Morrison, Robert], secretary and first interpreter to Sir Henry Pottinger [q. v.], the British plenipotentiary at Hongkong. Hostilities had been intermittently carried on between China and England since Commissioner Lin had driven Captain Elliot and the British merchants out of Canton in 1839, after confiscating the opium stores. In 1842 Sir Henry Pottinger resolved to take decisive measures, and proceeded up the Yang-tsze-Kiang with the object of attacking Nanking. Parkes was attached to his suite, and sailed with him on 13 June 1842. During the voyage his knowledge of Chinese, slight as it then was, enabled him, although only a lad of fourteen, to be of service to the commissariat, and he was often sent ashore to forage for cattle and other provisions. He joined in various junk-captures, and was a spectator at Pottinger's side of the assault of Chinkiang (21 July). He managed also to be present at the negotiations for peace at Nanking, and witnessed the final signing of the treaty on 29 Aug. Throughout the expedition he had been thrown among the chiefs of the campaign, with whom his charm of manner and energy of character had ingratiated him, and he had gained an unusual experience of men and affairs.
From the autumn of 1842 to August 1843 he was stationed at Tinghai, the chief town of Chusan, studying Chinese under Gutzlaff, who acted as civil magistrate of the island during the British occupation. In September 1843 Parkes entered the British consulate at Canton, under Robert Thom [q. v.], in order to learn the routine of consular duties, and for the next nine months was variously employed either at Canton or as assistant to the Chinese secretary at Hongkong. In the latter capacity he attended Pottinger at the signing of the supplementary treaty at Hu-mun-chai on 8 Oct. 1843, and in January 1844 took delivery from the Chinese authorities of the instalment of 3,000,000 dollars then due for the war indemnity. Four months later he acted as interpreter at Pottinger's farewell interview with Kiying, the governor-general of Canton. In June 1844 he entered upon still more responsible duties on his appointment as interpreter to her majesty's consulate at Amoy. In those early days of British relations with China, a consul was confronted with much difficulty and even danger. He was at once diplomatic agent, magistrate, and the head of his nation at his port; his distance from his official chief at Hongkong, and the slowness of pre-telegraphic communications, compelled him sometimes, on his own responsibility, to take measures of serious consequence; and, since he seldom knew any Chinese, a vast amount of labour and responsibility fell upon his interpreter, who had to conduct all official intercourse, and draw up every letter and notification to the local authorities. Parkes, however, enjoyed work and responsibility, and thoroughly satisfied his first chief, Captain Gribble, and won the admiration of Mr. (afterwards Sir) Rutherford Alcock, who succeeded to the consulate at Amoy in November 1844. Beyond the ordinary but often harassing details of consular duty, Parkes's residence at Amoy was signalised by the successful accomplishment of a complicated negotiation by which a site for a new consulate was acquired at Amoy on the evacuation by the British troops of the island of Koolangsoo, where the consul had hitherto resided.
In March 1845 Alcock and Parkes were transferred as consul and interpreter to Foochow, where the presence of a Tartar garrison and a turbulent population added to the dangers and difficulties of the small foreign community. Parkes had visited Foochow in the previous year, during his convalescence from a severe attack of fever, and had then witnessed an unprovoked attack upon some officers of his ship. Similar outrages were not uncommon, and in October 1845 he was himself insulted and stoned by some Tartar soldiers. The prompt punishment of the assailants with bamboo and cangue was an earnest of the vigorous policy both of consul and interpreter. Another attack, with robbery, on British merchants, was fined to the amount of forty-six thousand dollars; and Parkes's ‘very efficient services’ in arranging the matter were officially commended. Foochow was notoriously out of the road of commerce and visitors, and it was a grateful change when, in August 1846, Alcock and Parkes were transferred, in corresponding capacities, to Shanghai, which, though only opened to commerce three years before, already showed ample signs of its future prosperity. In encouraging and guiding its development, the new consul followed in the steps of his able predecessor, Captain (afterwards Sir) George Balfour; and Parkes was specially commended, among other services, for his exertions in personally superintending the necessary erection of a beacon at sea. But the enjoyment of a civilised European society in the midst of a mild and tranquil native population was rudely disturbed in March 1848 by a brutal attack on three missionaries—Medhurst, Muirhead, and Lockhart. The last had married Parkes's eldest sister in 1841, and had devoted himself with signal success to the establishment of hospitals for the natives in various ports of China. The three missionaries were beaten and almost murdered near Tsingpu, not far from Shanghai, by a party of turbulent junkmen, and the Chinese authorities met all demands for redress with their customary evasions. When negotiation failed to produce any effect, Consul Alcock, on his own responsibility, announced that no British ship would pay duties, nor should a single Chinese junk leave the river of Shanghai, till the criminals were arrested and punished. Parkes was then sent up to Nanking, with Vice-consul Robertson, to lay the matter before the viceroy, and this unprecedented proceeding, coupled with the blockade of the port by a solitary British gunboat, H.M.S. Childers, brought the Chinese to their bearings. The criminals were captured and punished. Parkes took a prominent part in all these proceedings, at considerable personal risk, and his conduct, both at Shanghai and at Nanking, received the fullest approbation, not only of his immediate superiors, but of Lord Palmerston.
On his arrival in London on leave in April 1850, after a tour through India, Parkes was received at the foreign office with much appreciation of his energetic services, and returned to China in 1851, once more as interpreter at Amoy; but much of his brief tenure of the post was spent elsewhere, at Shanghai, at Formosa, and in carrying out, in February 1852, a bold and successful mission into the interior, to Hinghwa, where the youthful diplomatist more than held his own with the Chinese authorities, and managed to terminate a long-standing negotiation for the granting of a building site for the English colony. As soon as this negotiation was concluded, Parkes took up his new appointment of interpreter at the British consulate at Canton. He was now at the focus of Chinese exclusiveness and intolerance. At all the five treaty ports constituted in 1842, the right of Englishmen to enter the Chinese cities had been claimed by the treaty of Nanking; but at Canton, the official metropolis of Chinese relations with foreigners, this right had for ten years been successfully evaded. Not only was the consul, together with all his fellow countrymen, forbidden to enter the gates of Canton, or hold direct personal intercourse with the Chinese dignitary who presided over the foreign department, but walks round about the city were attended with so much danger to Europeans from the hostility of the populace, fomented by the mandarins, that exercise and excursions were almost unknown by the foreign community, who dwelt penned up in their ‘factories’ on the river bank. The plenipotentiaries at Hongkong had vainly insisted on the full execution of treaty rights. The Chinese in reply urged the danger of popular outbreaks, and the English government deprecated the risk of another war for an unproved advantage. During Parkes's residence there in 1852–4 he was compelled, like others, to accept the situation, though his constitutional courage and love of adventure enabled him to make excursions into the country with impunity. At the instance of the consul, Dr. (afterwards Sir) John Bowring, he drew up a valuable report on Chinese emigration, which was published in the blue-book of 1853 (Parl. Papers, 1853, No. 263); and his report on the Russian caravan trade with China, written in September 1853, and published in the ‘Journal of the Royal Geographical Society’ (vol. xxiv. 1854), was praised by Lord Clarendon. During the absence of both consul and vice-consul in 1853, Parkes took charge of the Canton consulate, and arranged a serious misunderstanding between the French and the English colony with tact and discretion. In recognition of his skill in averting an international quarrel, the foreign office early in 1854 appointed him full consul at Amoy, ‘as a special mark of the satisfaction with which her majesty's government had watched his conduct in the public service.’ He arrived at Amoy in May 1854. But in February 1855 he was summoned south to accompany Sir John Bowring (who had succeeded Sir George Bonham as plenipotentiary at Hongkong) on a special mission to Siam. The conclusion of the first European treaty with Siam was largely the work of Parkes, who, as secretary to the mission, had to conduct the preliminary negotiations for the reception of the envoy, and to educate the Siamese in the rudimentary principles of international obligations, consular jurisdiction, and the very alphabet of a commercial treaty. The difficulty of the task was aggravated by the prejudices of the Siamese ministers; but every obstacle was overcome, mainly by Parkes's firm and resourceful diplomacy. The treaty was signed on 18 April 1855, and Parkes in due course carried it home for ratification. On 9 July he was received by the queen, and explained the results of the mission. After six months in England, during which he was continually employed by the foreign office on Chinese and Siamese questions, he married (1 Jan. 1856) Fanny, fifth daughter of Thomas Plumer, son of Sir Thomas Plumer [q. v.], late master of the rolls, and eight days afterwards the newly married pair sailed for Bangkok, where the ratified treaties were duly exchanged, with much curious pomp, on 5 April; and a supplementary agreement, drawn up by Parkes himself, dealing with various details essential to the execution of the treaty, was signed on 13 May, after considerable and harassing negotiations. The treaty and supplement gained him no little credit in diplomatic circles.
In June 1856 Parkes took up the post of acting-consul at Canton, and four months later the seizure by the Chinese of the lorcha Arrow, on 8 Oct. 1856, coming on the top of a long series of insults, brought the question of Canton hostility, intolerance, and exclusiveness to a crisis (Lane-Poole, Life of Parkes, i. 216–40). The seizure of the Arrow and imprisonment of the crew were unquestionably an affront to the British flag; but Parkes, so far from exaggerating its importance, gave the Chinese commissioner Yeh every opportunity for withdrawing from an untenable position without apology, indemnity, or humiliation. The kernel of the difficulty was the long-standing refusal to admit Europeans, according to treaty, within the walls of Canton. Had Parkes been allowed to argue the matter face to face with Yeh, it is probable that there would have been no war. As it was, the Chinese commissioner treated the affair and the consul's remonstrances with contempt; and Sir John Bowring, the plenipotentiary, after vainly demanding an apology and restitution, placed the quarrel in the hands of Admiral Sir Michael Seymour [q. v.], the naval commander-in-chief on the station, who first tried the effect of small reprisals, and at last, when Yeh continued obstinate and set a reward on British heads, gave orders for the storming of Canton, which was followed by the admiral's forcible entrance into the city, accompanied by Parkes, on 29 Oct. Although Parkes's position was actually subordinate, and he received daily instructions from Hongkong, he thoroughly agreed in Bowring's policy, and doubtless his opinion had considerable weight with his chief; while by the Chinese he alone was credited with the whole initiative. ‘Consul Parkes has opened fire,’ was Yeh's message to the American consulate. A heavy reward was offered for his head; but he held his position in the consulate, with shells flying over it; at the risk of his life he went among the people distributing amnesties and warning them of their danger; and he was injured by an explosion in the attack on one of the forts, when he, as usual, accompanied the admiral with a daring fearlessness to which Sir Michael Seymour bore official testimony.
After the temporary entrance into Canton and the destruction of the river forts, the admiral found his force too weak to hold the city, and had to await reinforcements from England. The Arrow dispute and its consequences were severely handled by the peace party in the House of Commons, and after an adverse vote there, Palmerston appealed to the country; but he did not wait for its verdict (which proved decisively in his favour) before ordering out an expedition to China, and instructing Lord Elgin to proceed to the seat of war to arrange terms of settlement. The expedition was delayed by the outbreak of the Indian mutiny, and no decisive steps were taken in China until the close of 1857. Meanwhile Parkes and his staff were transferred to Hongkong, after the burning of the consulate and factories at Canton, and the year passed with him in practical inactivity. When at last Lord Elgin, in conjunction with the French ambassador, Baron Gros (who also had a grievance to settle on behalf of his own nation), opened negotiations with Commissioner Yeh, and, failing to obtain satisfactory replies, ordered the bombardment of Canton on 28 Dec., Parkes was attached to the admiral's staff, and was not only the first to enter the city after the capture of the walls, but succeeded in tracking and arresting Commissioner Yeh himself, who was transported to Calcutta.
On 9 Jan. 1858 a European commission was appointed to control the government of Canton, and Parkes was one of the three commissioners. His knowledge of the language and people gave him the pre-eminence among his inexperienced military colleagues, and it is not too much to say that for nearly four years he was practically the governor of the city. Of the ability he displayed in this novel and difficult office there has been but one opinion. General Sir Charles van Straubenzee [q. v.], the commander-in-chief of the army in China, stated: ‘His energy is untiring, never sparing himself in any way; personal danger and personal comfort were never thought of when he could in any way advance the public service’ (Life of Parkes, i. 276). He had to carry on the administration through obstinate and treacherous Chinese officials, with a price of thirty thousand dollars on his head, and exposed to frequent attempts on his life. Yet he restored order in the city, induced the inhabitants and merchants to return to their homes, revived trade, administered strict justice, and punished oppression and cruelty; so that ‘a corporal with a switch kept order in the crowded streets without the slightest sign of resistance or animosity, where no foreigner could before pass the gates or even walk in the suburbs or outskirts without suffering insult and contumely from the very children’ (Sir R. Alcock, cited in Life of Parkes, i. 289). Besides restoring tranquillity and trade to Canton, Parkes induced the military commanders to take steps to suppress the bands of ‘braves’ who infested the countryside and even ventured to menace the city itself. He accompanied General Straubenzee in the expedition (January 1859) to Shektsing, which struck a decisive blow at the centre of disaffection; he rode through many villages with a small escort, tearing down hostile proclamations, reassuring the inhabitants, and issuing amnesties and manifestos of goodwill; and he ascended the West River with the allied commanders for nearly two hundred miles, half of which had never been explored by any foreign vessel, visiting numerous cities and villages, and everywhere endeavouring with marked success to conciliate the astonished officials and population. The opening of the West River to foreign trade should have followed this expedition; but to this day the necessary steps have not been taken. Parkes's services during this critical period were recognised by the decoration of a companion of the Bath.
The third war with China found him engaged in this peaceful work of reconstruction and conciliation at Canton. Lord Elgin had concluded the treaty of Tientsin in 1858, but had left the vital question of the reception of a resident British minister at Pekin unsettled, and had allowed the allied army to retire from Tientsin without waiting to see the treaty ratified and put in force. Parkes, who distrusted Lord Elgin's policy, foresaw that difficulties would ensue; and when Frederick Bruce [see Bruce, Sir Frederick William Adolphus], the first British minister to China, attempted to enter the Peiho, 20 June 1859, his gunboats were fired upon by the Taku forts and beaten back with heavy loss. A fresh army was forthwith despatched to China to enforce the treaty, and Lord Elgin and Baron Gros returned to remedy their former errors. Parkes's services were indispensable in the ensuing campaign, and he was temporarily called off from his duties at Canton, where he had secured the Shameen site for the rebuilding of the destroyed British settlement, and had also organised, at the suggestion and with the aid of J. G. Austin, an emigration house for Chinese coolies, whereby the evils of the existing system, with its crimps and cruelty, would be mitigated. His first act in relation to the renewed war was to suggest and carry out the plan of leasing the peninsula of Kowloon, opposite Hongkong, in the first instance as a convenient camping ground for the expected army, and thereafter permanently as a protection to the colony of Hongkong against the piracy which had long found shelter on the opposite coast. To any one unacquainted with the Chinese it would have appeared absurd to attempt to induce the Chinese governor-general to convey by lease a portion of the empire to be used as a depôt for hostile troops; it was done, however, and Kowloon is now permanently British territory. Going up to Shanghai in April, Parkes assisted General Sir James Hope Grant [q. v.] in the first act of the war—the occupation of the island of Chusan (20 April 1860); and, after putting affairs in order at Canton, in view of possible disturbances, he was summoned to the front to act on Lord Elgin's staff. He sailed north on 21 July, and took a prominent part as chief interpreter in the Peking campaign. He was the first to enter the Pehtang fort; he negotiated under flag of truce, but at considerable risk, the surrender of the remaining Taku forts after the successful assault of the first fort on 21 Aug.; arranged for the supplies and transport of the army; and conducted, in conjunction with Mr. (afterwards Sir) Thomas F. Wade, the negotiations for peace with the Chinese imperial commissioners at Tientsin, and subsequently at Tung-chow.
On returning from the latter town, after having apparently settled all the preliminaries of peace, Parkes was treacherously arrested on 18 Sept., in company with Mr. (afterwards Sir) Henry Brougham Loch and several other English and French civilians and officers and the Indian escort, and was carried a prisoner to Peking. Here he was kept in heavy chains for eleven days, subjected to minor tortures before the board of punishments, and herded for four days with the worst felons in the common gaol. He was not, however, confined in a cage, as has been erroneously reported. Throughout his imprisonment he stoutly refused to purchase his life and liberty by making conditions which might compromise Lord Elgin's diplomatic negotiations; nor would he accept his release from prison unless Mr. Loch, who was separately confined, were permitted to share his advantage. After eleven days the two prisoners were placed together in a Chinese temple, where they received a secret message from their friends, worked in the embroidery of some linen, for which they had been allowed to send to the British headquarters. On 5 Oct. they were informed that they were to be executed that evening; but the order was countermanded by the prince of Kung, owing to the defeat of the Tartars at Pa-li-kao and the seizure of the Summer Palace; and on the 8th Parkes and Loch were allowed to rejoin the British camp. A quarter of an hour after the prince of Kung had released them, an express arrived from the emperor himself (who was a fugitive in Mongolia) with an order for their instant execution. With the exception of nine of the Indian escort, most of the other prisoners had died under the cruel treatment of their gaolers.
As soon as Parkes was restored to liberty he negotiated the surrender of one of the gates of Peking, and entered the city, 13 Oct., with General Sir Robert Napier (afterwards Lord Napier of Magdala). He had nothing to do with Lord Elgin's decision to burn the Summer Palace, but he considered it was a just punishment for the treachery and cruelty shown towards the murdered prisoners. The palace had already been so thoroughly looted by the French that its destruction involved less vandalism than is commonly supposed. On 27 Oct. Parkes accompanied the British embassy to its new residence within the city of Peking. It was the last act of the drama in which he had throughout played a prominent part.
After acting as interpreter on 8 Nov., when Bruce was formally introduced to the prince of Kung as the first British minister to the court of Peking, and Lord Elgin took his leave, Parkes returned to his duties as commissioner at Canton, from which he was speedily called away to undertake the responsible and difficult duty of selecting the new ports up the Yang-tsze-Kiang which had been conceded to British trade by the treaty of Tientsin. He accompanied Admiral Sir James Hope [q. v.] up the river in February to April 1861; established consulates at Chinkiang, Kiukiang, and Hankow; and held various communications with the Taiping rebels who were in occupation of a great part of the country on both sides of the Yang-tsze, and, by their lawless incursions, added considerably to the difficulties of the new ports. The opening of the Yang-tsze to foreign trade was the most practical result of the treaty of Tientsin, adding no less than 3,500,000l. a year to the export trade of Great Britain; and the admiral ascribed the success of the operation mainly to the ‘unwearied zeal’ and ‘thorough knowledge’ of the people and language displayed by Parkes in this hazardous and delicate negotiation.
After a brief visit to the embassy at Peking in April 1861, and another interview with the rebel leaders at Nanking in June, with a view to prevent their attacking the British settlements, Parkes returned for the last time to Canton, where he superintended the sale of the new Shameen site to British merchants in September, and thus laid the foundations of the great settlement which has taken the place of the burnt ‘factories’ of former days. On 21 Oct. the British occupation of Canton came to an end, and the city was restored to the Chinese government. After handing over the city to its native officials, Parkes took a well-earned leave of absence, and sailed in January 1862 for home, where, in addition to much official and social ‘lionizing,’ he received in May the added honour of a K.C.B., at the early age of thirty-four.
In January 1864 he left again for China, to take up the post of consul at Shanghai, where he had been appointed as long ago as February 1859, but had been detained by the duties of the commission at Canton. The change from almost autocratic government of a great city to the routine and drudgery of a hard-worked consulate was abrupt and trying; the minute details and the constant pressure of judicial work told upon his nervous and restless disposition; and the anxieties of the Taiping rebellion, then in course of suppression by Colonel Charles George Gordon [q. v.], added to his cares. With Gordon he was on intimate terms of friendship, and their policy was identical; but from Li Hung-Chang, the governor-general, Parkes experienced much opposition, notably in the question of the disbanding of the ‘ever victorious army’ and the establishment out of its remains of a camp of instruction for the protection of Shanghai. The organisation, moreover, of the internal government of the British community at Shanghai gave him no little trouble, and he found himself obliged to put a check upon the ambitious designs of the English municipal council.
In the course of a visit to the ports which he had opened on the Yang-tsze he received from Earl Russell (under date 27 March) the appointment of minister to Japan. He now left the consular and entered upon the higher duties of the diplomatic service, of which he had already acquired some experience in Siam.
Parkes arrived at Nagasaki on 24 June 1865, and landed at Yokohama on 18 July. He was immediately confronted with a grave difficulty—how to obtain the ratification by the mikado of the 1858 treaties. The political condition of Japan at this epoch was confused and divided. Of the daimios, or feudal chiefs, some supported the shogun (tycoon), who had long absorbed the executive functions of sovereignty, and who favoured the extension of foreign relations; while others, who in the end proved the more powerful, supported the mikado, whose secluded life and bounded ideas were understood to encourage a policy of diplomatic exclusion, if not the absolute expulsion of foreigners from Japan. Parkes at once grasped the situation. The Choshiu struggle, which first engaged his attention, revealed to him the waning influence of the shogun; and while negotiating terms for the opening of the ports of Hiogo and Osaka to foreign trade, he conceived the bold policy of going to Osaka with the other foreign representatives, and urging, through the shogun, the ratification of the treaties by the mikado himself. Parkes's energy and firmness, supported by the presence of the allied fleet, carried the day; the treaties were ratified by the mikado on 24 Nov., and thus before the new minister had been six months in Japan ‘he had won the most signal victory British diplomacy has ever gained in the Far East’ (Dickins, in Life of Parkes, ii. 44). The next three years were a period of anarchy and civil war in Japan. The great daimios were determined to get rid of the shogun, and the revolt of the western chiefs was followed by the coup d'état of 3 Jan. 1868, when the shogunate was formally abolished, and Satsuma and other western daimios obtained the direction of the authority of the mikado. Keiki, the last of the shoguns, did not submit without a struggle; but a defeat at Fushimi ended in his flight, and the new government was rapidly organised. The mikado was induced to emerge from his old seclusion, and even to receive the foreign ministers in personal audience on 23 March 1868. On this occasion, while proceeding to the court at Kioto, Parkes, who had already been attacked by a two-sworded Japanese in 1866, and had run considerable risk in suppressing a wild irruption of armed men of Bizen during the civil war, was furiously assaulted by several Japanese swordsmen, who wounded twelve of his escort before they were cut down. The minister himself, though hotly pursuing his assailants, was fortunately untouched. The Japanese government made every reparation in its power, and it was evident that the assault was prompted by mere fanatical hatred of foreigners in general, and had no particular reference to Englishmen or to the British envoy. Parkes's first audience of the mikado was postponed by this accident till 22 May, when he formally presented his credentials to the now fully recognised sovereign of Japan.
Thenceforward, at least up to 1872, Parkes was identified with every forward movement of Japan towards unification and assimilation to western civilisation. How wide and deep his influence was with the Japanese government cannot be stated in detail so long as his despatches remain buried in the archives at the foreign office. Out of eighteen years of diplomatic work as minister to Japan, the continuous despatches of only about eighteen months have been published. Among other matters, he took an active part in helping the Japanese to place their currency and finance on a better footing, advised them in the complicated ichibu question, got a mint founded (where Lady Parkes in 1870 struck the first Japanese coin ever issued by modern machinery), and assisted the government in the capitalisation of the samurai pensions. He was urgent, as early as 1870, for the introduction of railways; and, as doyen of the corps diplomatique, it fell to him to congratulate the mikado on the opening of the Hiogo line in February 1877, nine years after he had seen the port of Hiogo (Kobé) opened to foreign trade. He also initiated the system of lighthouses round Japan in 1870. To other nations his mediation was often valuable, and the Austrian government expressed its gratitude for his aid in their treaty of 1869. Among the delicate negotiations of his first period of residence in Japan, the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869 involved nice questions of state receptions and other formalities, all of which were settled to the satisfaction of both courts. Shortly after entertaining the prince, Parkes was waylaid by two fanatics, and cut at with a sword; but the blow missed, and the English minister captured one of his assailants. In May 1871, for the first time in history, the mikado granted a private interview to a foreigner, when he expressed his deep gratitude to Parkes for the help he had afforded the reconstituted Japanese state.
From the summer of 1871 to February 1873 Parkes was on leave in England, but not idle. He was an important witness before the House of Commons' committee on the consular service, and he was requested to attend the celebrated Iwakura embassy in its visits to various English cities, as well as at its presentation to the queen. On his return to Japan the effects of the experiences of the Japanese envoys in the west were speedily felt. They had hastily absorbed a number of crude ideas and accepted not a little injudicious advice, and they were less ready than before to listen to the counsels even of so trusted a friend as Parkes, who found himself more frequently at variance with the Japanese government than heretofore. The filibustering expeditions to Loochoo and Formosa in 1874 were against his advice; and it was with no little pleasure and relief that he received the mikado's message of thanks to his old colleague, Sir Thomas Wade, for the able manner in which he had solved the difficulty and averted a war between China and Japan. Parkes was more successful in persuading the Japanese to follow his counsels when there seemed grounds for expecting an invasion of Yezo by Russia. A sign of the improved tranquillity of the country was seen in 1875, when the English guard, which had been maintained at Yokohama since 1864, was withdrawn, along with the French troops. The visitation of cholera in 1878, however, led to protracted discussions on quarantine, and Parkes was absurdly accused of causing the deaths of eighty thousand Japanese. All he and the other European ministers did was to bring the quarantine regulations in line with the treaties, which the Japanese were disposed to override. In 1879 Parkes was suddenly called home by the serious illness of his wife, who had returned to England in the previous year, and who died in November 1879, four days before her husband's arrival in London. He remained in England until January 1882, busily engaged in advising the foreign office on the question of the revision of the treaties with Japan, and returned to Yokohama with the additional honour of the grand cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, never before conferred upon any representative of the crown for service in the Far East. He was received with enthusiasm by the foreign residents of all nationalities, and presented with an address of welcome, in which the foreign community indignantly repudiated the attacks which had recently been levelled at him by some Americans and Englishmen, whose object was to drive him from Japan, in order to secure a less vigilant and more compliant envoy, who would leave the field more open to the interested policy of the American legation. That the revision of the treaties, the main subject of discussion during the last year of his tenure of the legation, came to nothing, was not due to any factious opposition on the part of Parkes; but when it was proposed to abolish the consular extraterritorial jurisdiction, and confide the lives and property of foreigners to the protection of the then immature and inexperienced Japanese law-courts, the British minister could do no less than protest. Not until eleven years had elapsed after Parkes left Japan was any approach made to a settlement of the treaty revision by the new agreements of 1894.
In the spring of 1883 Parkes was offered the legation at Peking, in succession to Sir Thomas Wade. He was gazetted minister to China in July, and left Japan at the end of August, amid the lamentations of the foreign residents, and after receiving the mikado's personal regrets at his departure and cordial thanks for his long and invaluable help. He was prevented only by the rules of the service from accepting the proffered grand cordon of the Rising Sun, which had not been awarded to even the most distinguished Japanese generals. Parkes was welcomed with enthusiasm by the British community in China; but the arrival of so formidable an envoy, whose past career had been marked by a series of triumphs over Chinese diplomacy, was scarcely so agreeable to the emperor's government, who gave, however, no immediate sign of discontent. Parkes had hardly taken up his residence at Peking when he left for Korea, and, arriving at Söul 27 Oct., was back again in China by 30 Nov., with an admirable treaty. ‘He had outdone his Japanese performance of 1865, and, within two months of his arrival in China, proposed, negotiated, and concluded with the Korean government a new treaty as just and reasonable as it was practical in its provisions’ (Dickins, in Life of Parkes, ii. 207). The treaty, which is ‘a model of clear drafting,’ opened three ports and two cities in Korea, and contained carefully worded provisions for every necessity of commercial relations with the ‘hermit state.’ The British government expressed its ‘entire satisfaction’ with the treaty, and appointed Parkes (7 March 1884) minister-plenipotentiary to the king of Korea, in addition to his China legation. On 21 April 1884 he left Shanghai in order to exchange the ratifications of the treaty with the king.
The Korean treaty was the chief result of Parkes's brief tenure of the legation at Peking. The absorbing event of the time was the French attack upon Tongking. Parkes had, it is true, nothing to do with the negotiations ensuing upon this act of aggression, so far as may be judged from the very meagre selection of his despatches hitherto published; but the peculiar conditions of the struggle, when hostilities went on without any declaration of war, and the duties and rights of neutrals were extremely difficult to define and protect, caused him constant labour and anxiety. The anti-foreign feeling stirred up in China by French aggression led to riots, in which the distinction between French and English was naturally disregarded; and at Canton and Wênchow disturbances took place, the punishment and reparation for which demanded all Parkes's firmness and pertinacity. He had to deal with the tsungli yamên, or foreign board, a body even more bigoted and overbearing than the local commissioners, governors, and intendants, with whom as consul he had formerly negotiated, and stormy interviews at the yamên were no unusual occurrence. But never was his influence more decisively felt by the Chinese ministers than when he demanded and obtained (September 1884) the immediate repudiation of the monstrous proclamation in which the Chinese were instigated to poison the French wherever they found them. His last public service was the acquisition in 1885 of Port Hamilton as a coaling station for the British fleet in the North Pacific. He did not live to witness its ill-judged abandonment in the following year. Worn out by overwork and restless mental activity, he succumbed, after a brief illness, to Peking fever, 22 March 1885, at the age of fifty-seven. His body, after every mark of honour and respect had been paid by the foreign communities and both the Chinese and Japanese governments, was brought to England, and buried at Whitchurch. A memorial bust (by T. Brock, R.A.) was unveiled in St. Paul's Cathedral by his old chief, Sir Rutherford Alcock, in 1887; and a statue was erected at Shanghai and unveiled by the Duke of Connaught in 1890. Of seven children (five daughters and two sons), the eldest daughter died in 1872; another, the wife of Commander Egerton Levett, R.N., was killed by a fall from her horse in 1890; and the younger son, Douglas Gordon, succumbed to fever at Penang in 1894. The eldest surviving daughter married, in 1884, Mr. J. J. Keswick, of the China firm of Jardine, Matheson, & Co.
In person Parkes was short and slight, of a very fair complexion, large head, broad high brow, alert expression, and bright vigilant blue eyes. In character he was extraordinarily tenacious of purpose, restlessly active, prompt and energetic, never losing his presence of mind in danger or difficulty, courageous and daring to a fault. Earnest, religious, zealously devoted to his country, and possessed of very clear views as to her interests and imperial duties, his work became the absorbing passion of his life, and any obstruction to that work was visited with impatient wrath and indignation. The admiration and devotion which he inspired among a distinguished band of assistants, some of whom were largely trained by himself, is proof enough that he was a just and generous, as well as a hardworking, exacting, and masterful chief.[S. Lane-Poole and F. V. Dickins's Life of Sir Harry Parkes, 2 vols. 1894, with portrait, where all other authorities are cited; private information.]