Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parkes, Josiah

PARKES, JOSIAH (1793–1871), inventor of the deep-drainage system, brother of Joseph Parkes [q. v.], and third son of John Parkes, a manufacturer, was born at Warwick on 27 Feb. 1793. He was educated at Dr. Burney's school at Greenwich, and at the age of seventeen went into his father's mill, and there devoted himself chiefly to the machinery department. In 1820 the manufactory at Warwick was discontinued, and Parkes removed to Manchester, where he was intimate with Dr. Henry and the quaker chemist, John Dalton [q. v.], and occupied himself with inventions for the prevention of smoke, which he abandoned in order to carry out, near Woolwich, a new process for refining salt. On 11 March 1823 he was chosen an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and became a member on 26 Dec. 1837. In 1825 he removed to Puteaux-sur-Seine, and there formed an establishment, where he was often visited by Louis-Philippe, then Duke of Orleans. When the revolution of 1830 broke out in Paris, Parkes fought on the popular side; but his business was ruined, and he returned to England. His next work was the carrying out, for Mr. Heathcote of Tiverton, of a plan for draining a part of Chat Moss, Lancashire, which he endeavoured to cultivate by the employment of steam power. The steam cultivation was a failure, but it was at Chat Moss that the great principle of deep systematic drainage dawned upon him (Quarterly Review, April 1858, pp. 411–13). His observations on the effect of the deep cuttings on the bog led him to make experiments. He found that deep drains began to run after wet weather, not from the water above, but from the water rising from subterranean accumulations below, and that by draining the stagnant moisture from three or four feet of earth next the surface, it was rendered more friable and porous, easier to work, and more easily penetrated by the rain. The rain carried down air which, being full of ammonia and manure, made the earth below warmer, and therefore more genial to the roots of the crops. He came to the conclusion that four feet should be the minimum depth of the drains, and this is now the generally accepted opinion of the best agriculturists, and the plan advocated by Smith of Deanston of shallow drains has been quite superseded.

A Birmingham manufacturer on Parkes's suggestion produced in 1844 the first set of drain-cutting implements, and in 1843 John Reade, a self-taught mechanic, invented a cylindrical clay pipe as a cheap conduit for the water. Sir Robert Peel in 1846 advanced four millions to be used in draining on the Parkesian principle. By drainage stiff clay soil lands, previously condemned to poor pasturage or uncertain crops of corn and beans, have been fitted to grow roots, carry sheep, and fall into regular rotation.

Parkes had not the art of managing men, and consequently some of his early work, although devised on sound principles, was badly executed, and brought his system into disrepute. He was intolerant of advice and jealous of opposition, and declined to adopt the improvements introduced by John Bailey Denton and others. His last important work was for the war department. The draining, forming and fixing soil-sliding and broken-down sea slopes in the fortifications at Yaverland and Warden Point, Isle of Wight, were commenced in 1862 and completed in 1869. Immediately afterwards he wholly retired from business. He died at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, on 16 Aug. 1871.

Parkes's chief contributions to agricultural literature were: ‘On the Influence of Water on the Temperature of Soils,’ and ‘On the Quantity of Rain-water and its Discharge by Drains’ (Journal Royal Agricultural Society of England, 1845, v. 119–58); ‘On Reducing the Permanent Cost of Drainage’ (ib. 1845, vi. 125–9); and ‘On Draining’ (ib. 1846, vii. 249–72). To the minutes of the ‘Proceedings’ of the Institution of Civil Engineers he contributed five communications: ‘On the Evaporation of Water from Steam Boilers,’ for which a Telford medal in silver was awarded (Minutes, 1838, i. 17–20; and Transactions, ii. 160–80); ‘On Steam Boilers and Steam Engines’ (ib. 1839, i. 54–8, iii. 1–48); ‘On Steam Engines, principally with reference to their Consumption of Fuel,’ for which a Telford medal in gold was awarded (ib. 1840, i. 6–14, ii. 49–160); ‘On the Action of Steam in Cornish Single-pumping Engines’ (ib. 1840, i. 75–8, iii. 257–94); ‘On the Percussive or Instantaneous Action of Steam and other Aëriform Fluids’ (ib. 1841, i. 149, 150, 409–39).

Parkes was also the author of: 1. ‘Lecture on Draining,’ 1846. 2. ‘Work on Draining, with observations upon it by the Duke of Portland,’ 1847. 3. ‘Essay on the Philosophy and Art of Land Drainage,’ 1848. 4. ‘Fallacies on Land-Drainage Exposed.’ 5. ‘A Refutation of a Letter by Lord Wharncliffe to P. Pusey,’ 1851.

[Minutes of Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers, 1872, xxxiii. 231–6.]

G. C. B.