John Parkinson was born in 1754 in West Ravendale. He was educated at Brigg and Louth Grammar Schools and later went on to study at Oxford University. As an educated and comparatively wealthy young man, Parkinson frequently travelled. He wrote down his experiences in his diary. In the summer of 1792 he embarked on a Northern Tour, accompanied by his friend Edward Wilbraham-Bootle. The tour lasted two and a half years and took them through Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. The two men met a wide range of people on their travels. One of their most significant encounters was with Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.