Tuesday, September 13, 2011

'Drink deeply of the nectared cup of science': Woodroffe and the Cork Anatomists

Co-inciding with the annual meeting of the UCC Medical Faculty and Alumni Association, the Jennings Gallery at University College Cork Medical School will host an exhibition entitled "An Anatomical School in Cork - John Woodroffe and the Cork Anatomists".

It will be a celebration of the Bicentenary of the first Anatomy School in Cork, founded by John Woodroffe, Surgeon of the South Charitable Infirmary, in 1811, together with an exploration of the contribution of Cork anatomists to the development of anatomical illustration in the 19th century. The exhibition will run from September 15th to October 3rd 2011.

Woodroffe founded the school in Margaret Street Cork and the exhibition will examine his life as a teacher of anatomy, a passionate devotee of epic art and a successful and committed surgeon.
Woodrooffe's former school at 18 Parnell Place, Cork. Seen here on the right of the image. After years in a derelict state, the top floors of the facade were rebuilt and the remainder became part of an (as yet) unopened hotel development. (Image: Septemer 2008, archiseek.com)

By 1828, the school was transferred to Warren's (now Parnell) Place, Cork to a building which (the facade at least) is still standing. At Warren's Place Woodroffe taught Anatomy and Physiology. Henry Baldwin Evanson, Charles Yelverton Haines and Edward Richard Townsend taught Materia Medica, Medicine and Surgery respectively. In keeping with the central nature of plants to medicine, Thomas Taylor was employed to teach Botany.

Michael Hanna, Chair of the Gallery Committee notes that "Woodroffe's contemporaries called it the first 'permanent' school of anatomy in Cork. It gave rise to others and to an unbroken link with the founding faculty of medicine in Queens College Cork".

In the Quarterly Journal of Foreign and British Medicine and Surgery (and of the Sciences connected with them) from 1822, the journal notes the growth of Woodroffe's school in Cork:
"We understand that of late regular courses of lectures have been delivered at Cork by Dr. Woodroffe, on Anatomy, Surgery, Midwifery and the Theory and Practice of Medicine.
Dr. Woodroffe, who sems a clever, enterprising man, and, as we are informed, an excellent lecturer, also gives popular courses on Physiology, and the Anatomy of Painting. We wonder why Dr. W. has the whole monopoly of lecturing."

Always keen to bring science to a more public audience, as an introduction to the study of science, the following qoute of Woodroffe's takes some beating:

"... and why may not I presume to hope, that there are among you some, who, by pursuing a similar plan, in a science which presents to your view such ample materials for investigation, may yet fathom the deep recesses of the mind, detect the subtile agent which directs the phenomena of thought and intellect, or make such discoveries in the obscure and unexplored regions of Physiology, as may transmit your names with honour to posterity, and consecrate this humble spring where you first inbibed the pure elements of science. With such incitements your labours must not, cannot, relax; while youth and energy are yours, ere care shall make its fatal inroads in your hearts, or worldly pursuits prevent your better feelings, let me implore you to devote yourselves religiously to the important task of study; drink deeply of the nectared cup of science; her lucid beams will guide you through your perilous course, and gild with eternal sunshine your future prospects; in after years you will enjoy the proud superiority of a good education, and rest assured that your intellectual acquirements, like the Eagle's plumage, will not only adorn, but support you in your flight." (Cork  Merchantile Chronicle 15 Nov, 1815)


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