Sir Henry Parkes
Sir Henry Parkes, politician and journalist, was born on 27 May 1815 in Warwickshire, England, youngest of the seven children of Thomas Parks, tenant farmer on Stoneleigh Abbey Estate, and his wife Martha, née Faulconbridge. Forced off their farm in 1823 by debt, the Parkes family moved to Glamorganshire and about 1825 settled in Birmingham, where Thomas was a gardener and odd-job man. Henry's formal education was in his own words, 'very limited and imperfect'; he briefly attended Stoneleigh parish school and later joined the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute. Obliged as a boy to help in supporting the family, he worked as a road labourer and in a brick pit and rope-walk, before being apprenticed to John Holding, bone and ivory turner of Moseley Street. Having served his articles, he began his own business in 1837. On 11 July 1836 at Edgbaston Parish Church he had married Clarinda, 23-year-old daughter of John Varney, butcher. They regularly attended Carr's Lane Independent Chapel under the formidable John Angell James, whose precepts and oratorical style left a permanent impress on Parkes. Another important Birmingham influence was Thomas Attwood's Political Union, which Parkes joined at 17. He heard Attwood, Scholefield and Edmunds orate at Newhall Hill, sported the union badge and in 1833 dedicated a poem on the wrongs of Poland to Attwood's son. In 1840 he became a tide-waiter in the Customs Department, slowly bought tools and in 1845 set up in Hunter Street as an ivory turner and importer of fancy goods. Impressed by what seemed 'flattering prospects' of developing 'a respectable mercantile business', he opened branches in Maitland and Geelong, but both failed and by 1850 he was in financial difficulties, writing remorsefully to his wife of 'too culpable neglect of my business in Sydney'. He had by then become deeply involved in literary and political activities, attractions which highlighted the dullness of a business life. Parkes's...
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