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Peter Parker collection

Call Number: Ms Coll 6

Scope and Contents

The collection includes Parker's letters to his family beginning in 1825, instructions from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, many letters from Sir John Bowring, British consul at Canton and later governor of Hong Kong, and other correspondence relating to Parker's medical, missionary, diplomatic, and personal affairs. Writings include handwritten sermons and addresses. Medical reports and ledgers include Parker's handwritten quarterly reports of Canton Hospital, which contain lengthy case reports on a selection of surgeries. Two volumes of ledgers list patients treated at Canton Hospital with their diagnoses, and another ledger relates to Parker's private medical practice. Images include the buildings and staff of the Canton hospital and lantern slides of patients with large tumors, all dating from after Parker's time. The collection also includes miscellanea, memorabilia, and a box of preserved urinary calculi removed by Parker from patients in the hospital. Associated with the collection are over 80 oil portraits of Peter Parker's patients with noticeable tumors by Western-trained Chinese artist Lam Qua. Most of the Peter Parker Collection has been photographed. See Use in conjunction with this finding aid. The associated Lam Qua portraits of Peter Parker's patients are online at


  • 1825-1947
  • Majority of material found within 1825-1884


Language of Materials

Mostly in English. Some Chinese, Japanese, and French.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Existence and Location of Copies

Journals also available on microfilm. Most items have been digitized. Patrons may be requested to use these surrogates.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has not been transferred to Yale University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Manuscripts were donated by Peter Parker of Barrington, Illinois, May 16, 1960. Portraits and urinary calculi donated in the late nineteenth century by Peter Parker to the Medical School through Moses C. White, professor of pathology and a former missionary to China. These were later transferred by the Medical School to the Historical Library. Some materials, including photographs, were donated in 1966 by Mrs. William W. Cadbury, widow of an early twentieth century medical missionary to Canton.


Organized into seven series: 1. Correspondence. 2. Journals. 3 Sermons, addresses, and other writings. 4. Medical reports and ledgers. 5. Miscellaneous. 6. Photographs, 7. Urinary calculi.

Associated Materials

The Library holds over 80 oil paintings by Lam Qua of Peter Parker's patients with large tumors. They were sent to the Medical School by Mrs. Harriet Parker in 1890 (see Correspondence under Herbert E. Smith, Box 1, Folder 20). They are represented in the Cushing/Whiney Medical Library Digital Library. See


6 Linear Feet (11 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Peter Parker graduated from Yale College in 1831 and from the Medical Institution of Yale College in 1834. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1834, he sailed that year to China as the first Protestant medical missionary to that country. The papers relate to Parker's medical practice at the Canton Hospital and elsewhere, his missionary activities including his sermons, and his work for the U.S. Government as a diplomat to China. Most of the papers have been photographed at Use in conjunction with this finding aid.

Biographical / Historical

Peter Parker, medical missionary and diplomat to China, was born in Framingham, Massachusetts on June 18, 1804. His parents, Nathan and Catherine Parker, were farmers and devout followers of the orthodox Congregational faith. He attended Amherst College and then transferred to Yale College in 1830. After graduation in 1831, Parker studied both theology and medicine and was awarded an M.D. from Yale in 1834. In January 1834 he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in Philadelphia and, under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, he departed a month later for Canton as the first Protestant medical missionary to China. With assistance from American and British benefactors, he opened the Ophthalmic Hospital at Canton in 1835. Parker specialized in treating diseases of the eyes, especially cataracts, but also performed general surgery including the removal of large tumors, and lithotomies. In 1847, he became the first physician to introduce anesthesia to China. With the onset of the Opium War (1840-1842), Parker returned to America in 1840, where he sought financial support for his hospital in the United States and Europe. In Washington, D.C., he met with government officials and urged the sending of an envoy to China. He met and married Harriet Colby Webster in 1841. In 1842, Parker resumed his medical missionary practice at Canton and became involved in diplomatic relations between America and China. In 1844 he served as translator and assistant under Caleb Cushing, U.S. Attorney General, and participated in negotiating the first treaty between the two countries, the Treaty of Wanghia. Dismissed by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1847 because the Board doubted the utility of medical missionaries, Parker continued his hospital until 1855 while acting as a part-time member of the American Legation. Due to a prolonged illness, Parker returned to the United States in 1855 only to sail back to China later that year as American Commissioner to China. Recalled by the U.S. government in 1857, Parker and his wife settled in Washington, D.C., where he was active in organizations such as the Evangelical Alliance for the United States of America and the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. His only child, Peter Parker, was born in 1859. The Rev. Peter Parker died on January 10, 1888.

Guide to the Peter Parker Collection
Under Revision
Finding aid by Todd A. Lane and Toby A. Appel
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Medical Historical Library, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library Repository

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