Desmond Parsons
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Desmond Parsons
Desmond Parsons

Hon. Desmond Edward Parsons (13 December 1910 - 4 July 1937) was an aristocratic aesthete, regarded as "one of the most magnetic men of his generation."[1] He had a passionate friendship with James Lees-Milne, was the one true love of Harold Acton and the unrequited love of Robert Byron.

Early life

Desmond Edward Parsons was born on 13 December 1910, the third child of William Parsons, 5th Earl of Rosse and Frances Lois Lister-Kaye (1882-1984), and the younger brother of Michael Parsons, 6th Earl of Rosse.[1]

He studied at Eton College where he had a passionate friendship with James Lees-Milne.[2] Parsons entered Oxford University and then the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[3][4]

Personal life

Robert Byron and Desmond Parsons in China

In 1934, Desmond Parsons, a brilliant linguist, went to China to reach his friend, and possible lover, Harold Acton who was in Beijing lecturing at the Peking National University.[3] According to Acton's friends, Parsons was Acton's "one true love of his life".[5][4]

In China Parsons visited the caves at Dun Huang. He removed a wall painting using tools and was caught when he tried to carry it away in his vehicle.[6] He was released after the British government intervened. His photographs of the place were later acquired by the Courtauld Institute of Art.[3]

Parsons was also the great, but unreciprocated love of Robert Byron, a travel writer. In 1934 they lived together in Peking, where Parsons developed Hodgkin's Disease.[7] His brother, who was visiting him, managed to bring back Parsons to Europe where he died on 4 July 1937.[3] Byron died in 1941 when the ship he was travelling was attacked during World War II.[1]


At the beginning of the World War II, Acton sent back to Birr Castle Parsons' collection of Chinese Art.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Payne, Tom (2003). "A brilliant boy who died in terrible times". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2017.
  2. ^ "THE LIFE OF JAMES LEES-MILNE". Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Desmond Parsons and China". Birr Castle. Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ a b Mungello, David Emil (2012). Western Queers in China: Flight to the Land of Oz. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 92. Retrieved 2017.
  5. ^ Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry (2002). Who's who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. Psychology Press. p. 4. Retrieved 2017.
  6. ^ IDP News Issue No. 44: Desmond Parsons in Chinese Archives
  7. ^ Wood, Frances (2009). The Lure of China : history and Literature from Marco Polo to J.G Ballard. p. 179. Retrieved 2017.

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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