CodeDS/UK/38
Person NameGoodsir; John (1814-1867); Professor; anatomist
Dates1814-1867
TitleProfessor
Epithetanatomist
HistoryGoodsir was born at Anstruther, Fife, on 20 March 1814, the first of the six children of John Goodsir, medical practitioner. The family was well known in the region: Goodsir's father and grandfather were the leading surgeons in Anstruther. When he was thirteen Goodsir went to St Andrews University, passing in 1830. Goodsir then became an apprentice to Mr Nasmyth, an Edinburgh dentist. Although a gifted dental student Goodsir did not enjoy the work and he left his apprenticeship early to take up studies at the Edinburgh College of Surgeons. Goodsir took his surgical licence in 1835 and returned to Anstruther to join the family practice. He spent the next five years as his father's assistant while continuing scientific studies and building a collection of anatomical, pathological, and natural history specimens. Goodsir's first major scientific work had its origin in his dental apprenticeship. Published in 1839, 'On the origin and development of the pulps and sacs of the human teeth' made his name as a scientist.

Goodsir continued his freelance work until 1841 when he joined the Edinburgh Botanical Society, was elected senior president of the Royal Medical Society, became a member of the Royal Physical Society, and was appointed curator to the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. Goodsir popularized the museum and its collections by giving lectures featuring its specimens. In 1842-3 he gave a series of lectures on pathology which contained ideas on cellular theory later developed by Rudolf Virchow. Also in 1842 Goodsir published the first description of the stomach parasite sarcina ventriculi in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, which confirmed him as an innovative scientific observer.

In 1844 Goodsir took the position of demonstrator of anatomy at the University of Edinburgh as assistant to the ailing Alexander Monro tertius and when Monro retired in 1846 Goodsir was appointed professor of anatomy. His enthusiasm, amiability, and empathy with his students attracted hundreds of pupils to his department. His teaching was an art to him and the attractiveness of his lectures inspired a devoted following. He was known for lively presentations which included a concern for the arts as well as the sciences. Goodsir improved the quality of the instruction in the anatomy department by extending and improving the dissecting rooms, recruiting additional staff, and giving microscopic demonstrations.

Goodsir published papers on a wide range of subjects including zoology, pathology, microscopic physiology, and developmental theory. In 1845 his most important works were collected and published as Anatomical and Pathological Observations. His health began to decline in 1850 when he showed the first symptoms of what proved to be a wasting condition of the spine. Despite his illness Goodsir took over a lecture series on natural history in 1853 in addition to his other responsibilities. The work exhausted him and he was forced to take a year's leave of absence. After this break Goodsir returned to lecturing and publishing. In 1856 he published a series of papers on the constitution of the skeleton which emphasized the importance of combining embryological study with comparative anatomy. Goodsir's desire to practise medicine was fulfilled when his skill as a microscopist was recognized by patients such as Charles Darwin, who consulted him in 1863 about a serious stomach ailment by sending samples for analysis. Goodsir continued to work until November 1866 when he collapsed while giving a lecture. He died of an atrophied spine on 6 March 1867,

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