Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edmund Samuel Parkes (1834–1887)

by Raoul F. Middelmann

This article was published:

Edmund Samuel Parkes (1834-1887), banker, was born on 11 July 1834 in Devon, England, son of Samuel Parkes and his wife Agnes, née Tozer. Educated in London, he acquired commercial knowledge when employed at an early age by a firm of ship-brokers. He then worked in the London and Westminster Bank where he was thoroughly trained in banking. He was later appointed one of the joint managers of the Alliance Bank of London. The liquidation of some difficult Australian business of the bank probably led to his appointment as inspector of the Bank of Australasia, the chairman of directors announcing the commission at a meeting of shareholders on 19 August 1867. By then Parkes was on his way to Melbourne where he had relations.

The Bank of Australasia, established in the 1830s, suffered contraction in the depression of the next decade but recovered during the gold rushes. Despite some local animosity Parkes quickly proved his worth. He was appointed general inspector in 1871 and superintendent in 1876, holding that office until 1887. He was one of the best-educated bankers of Victoria. His extensive knowledge of banking, based on his training and a big private library, was appreciated. His evidence to the royal commission on banking laws shows a clear grasp of the special needs for government influence on banking which was then not fully understood. The commission had been set up to investigate bank lending on mortgage security, especially by those banks whose charters had prohibited it. Parkes suggested that banks should be free to take whatever security they could get but that more frequent (later monthly) disclosures of their balance sheets should allow the public a better judgment of their performances. In effect he recommended more laissez faire in banking and less secrecy about the banks' financial conditions.

Parkes showed his familiarity with American and Continental banking when he suggested that the banks issue notes only after depositing government securities with the government auditors, thus making runs on the banks less frequent. In the 1880s the limited number of local issues by the Victorian government was probably as much to blame for the non-acceptance of Parkes's ideas on banking as his claim that in Victoria 'the public seem to have a contented mind'. Building societies continued to solicit funds from non-members on deposits and to lend on the security of long-term mortgage. Parkes's warnings against this practice were little heeded but the 1893 bank collapse would have been less severe had they been accepted.

Parkes was not only a master of management and finance; for a strict disciplinarian he had a 'large and tender heart'. An Anglican, he was, according to a later writer, 'the spiritual pillar of the Holy Trinity Church at Balaclava'. With his friend F. S. Grimwade, he served on its first parochial committee. A window and reredos commemorate his activities in the church. At Penzance, Cornwall, he had married Nancy Penrose Lawry; they had four sons and six daughters. Predeceased by his wife, Parkes died after a railway accident between Prahran and Windsor on 11 May 1887 and was buried in St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis (Melb, 1888)
  • J. B. Cooper, The History of St. Kilda: From its First Settlement to a City and After, 1840 to 1930 (Melb, 1931)
  • S. J. Butlin, Australia and New Zealand Bank (Melb, 1961)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1887, 3 (65)
  • Royal Society of Victoria, Proceedings, 24 (1887)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 14 May 1887
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Raoul F. Middelmann, 'Parkes, Edmund Samuel (1834–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 July, 1834
Devon, England


11 May, 1887 (aged 52)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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