John Goodsir

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John Goodsir
John Goodsir.jpg
John Goodsir
Born 20 March 1814
Anstruther, Fife
Died 6 March 1867 (1867-03-07) (aged 52)
Nationality Scottish
Fields Anatomy
John Goodsir's grave, Dean Cemetery

Prof John Goodsir FRS FRSE MWS (20 March 1814 – 6 March 1867) was a Scottish anatomist. He was a pioneer in the study of the cell.[1]


He was born at Anstruther, Fife,[2] the eldest son of John Goodsir, surgeon and his wife, Elizabeth Dunbar Taylor.[3] John was baptised on 17 April 1814.[4] His younger brother was Rev Joseph Taylor Goodsir FRSE. His brother Harold Goodsir perished on the Franklin expedition.[5]

Aged 14 he was initially apprenticed to a Robert Nasmyth, a surgeon and dentist at 78 Great King Street in Edinburgh's Second New Town.[6]

Goodsir then studied Medicine at both St Andrews University and Edinburgh University, gaining a licence as a surgeon (LRCSE). He then moved back to Anstruther where in 1839 he wrote his noted essay on "Teeth".

In 1840 he was appointed Conservator of the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in succession to the great William McGillivray, and lecturer on Diseases of Bone in 1842. He was then lodging at 21 Lothian Street close to the university, together with his brother Joseph, Edward Forbes, and others such as John Hughes Bennett, jointly naming themselves the Brotherhood of the Friends of Truth.[7]

It was about this time (1841–1842) that Goodsir developed his revolutionary lectures on the importance of cellular life and organisation;[8] this innovative approach later won the extravagant praise of Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), who dedicated his masterpiece Cellular Pathology to Goodsir. Four years later, Goodsir succeeded Dr. Alexander Monro (tertius) (1773–1859) in the chair of Anatomy in Edinburgh University. In subsequent years, Goodsir supervised many brilliant medical students, including Thomas Clouston, James Bell Pettigrew and William Turner. At this time, anatomy had fallen into low regard, thanks to the "Burke and Hare" scandal (1828) in which the great scientific anatomist Robert Knox (1791–1862) had been pilloried by the Edinburgh medical establishment; and to the scientific incompetence of the lamentable Alexander Monro (tertius). Goodsir's outstanding anatomical teaching and his extensive research activities (published together as his Anatomical Memoirs,[9] edited by Sir William Turner in 1868) did much to restore prestige to Edinburgh's anatomical traditions. The Anatomical Memoirs also contain a biography by Henry Lonsdale.

In 1842 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh his proposer being Prof James Syme.[10]

Goodsir was unmarried and lived in rooms provided by the University at Old College.[11]

Goodsir is buried alongside one of the central paths in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh next to his former room-mate, Edward Forbes the naturalist.

Artistic Talents[edit]

John Goodsir had considerable talent as a body cast sculptor, including examples such as "Cast From Nature" (1845) which bears a strong resemblance to the Death of Marat but in three dimensional form.[12]


An obituary appeared in the British Journal of Dental Science.[13]


  1. ^ Waterston, Charles D.; Macmillan Shearer, A. (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002: Biographical Index (PDF). 1. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. p. 366. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. Retrieved 28 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Goodsir, John (1886). Stephen, Leslie, ed. Dictionary of National Biography. 8. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 137–139. 
  3. ^ BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF FORMER FELLOWS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X. 
  4. ^
  5. ^,_John_(DNB00)
  6. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory 1828-29
  7. ^,_John_(DNB00)
  8. ^ "The researches of John Goodsir". Nature. 26 (669): 409–410. 24 August 1882. doi:10.1038/026390a0. 
  9. ^ Turner, William; Lonsdale, Henry (1868). The anatomical memoirs of John Goodsir edited by William Turner; with a biographical memoir by Henry Lonsdale. Edinburgh: A & C Black. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 
  10. ^ BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF FORMER FELLOWS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X. 
  11. ^ Edinburgh and Leith Post Office directory 1867-68
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Obituary: Professor Goodsir" (PDF). British Journal of Dental Science. 10 (129): 140–145. 1867. 

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne. 

External links[edit]