Richard Quain

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Richard Quain
File:Richard Quain 1881.jpg
Sir Richard Quain in 1881
Born (1816-10-30)30 October 1816
Mallow, County Cork
Died 13 March 1898(1898-03-13) (aged 81)
Nationality Irish
Alma mater University College, London
Occupation Physician
Known for Quain's Dictionary of Medicine

Sir Richard Quain, 1st Baronet (30 October 1816 – 13 March 1898), was an Irish physician.


He was born at Mallow-on-the-Blackwater, County Cork, and died in Harley Street, London.

Quain was the eldest child of John Quain of Carrigoon and Mary, daughter of Michael Burke of Mallow. He was sent to the Diocesan School at Cloyne for his early education and then, aged 15, apprenticed to the surgeon-apothecary Fraser in Limerick for five years. In 1837 he enrolled in medicine at the University College London, where his cousins, Jones Quain (1796–1865), the anatomist, and Richard Quain, FRCS, held teaching posts. He graduated M.B. with honours in 1840.[1]


He was a cousin of Jones Quain (1796–1865), the author of Quain's Elements of Anatomy and of Richard Quain, who was president of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1868, and left to University College, London, funds with which the Quain Professorships of botany, English language and literature, law, and physics were endowed. A half-brother of the last two, Sir John Richard Quain (1816–1876), was appointed a Judge of the Queen's Bench in 1871.


File:Sir Richard Quain.jpg
Caricature of Sir Richard Quain in Vanity Fair

Quain received his early education at Cloyne, and was then apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary in Limerick. In 1837, he entered University College, London, where he graduated with high honours as MB in 1840, and as MD (gold medal) in 1842. Six years later, he was chosen to be an assistant-physician to the Brompton Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. He retained his connection with that institution until his death, first as full physician (1855), and subsequently as consulting physician (1875).[2]

In 1842, he received the gold medal for achievements in physiology and comparative anatomy, and later he became successively house surgeon and house physician at the University College Hospital and commenced practice in London,[1] being in particular a protégé of professor Charles James Blasius Williams (1805–1889). He soon had a busy practice, numbering an important clientel, with contacts to the most highly recognised persons.

In 1848, Quain was appointed assistant physician at the Brompton Hospital Diseases of the Chest. He was raised to full physician in 1855 and was made consulting physician in 1875. He held the same rank at the Seamen's Hospital, Greenwich, and the Royal Hospital for Consumption in Ventnor.[1]

In 1846, Quain became a member of the Royal College of Physicians and a fellow in 1851. In 1850, he vacated the Chair of Anatomy at the University College London and was succeeded by George Viner Ellis. In 1862 he served as a member of the council of the Royal College of Physicians, 1867 censor, 1877 senior censor. He was an early member of the Pathological Society of London in 1862, being elected its president in 1869. He was also a fellow and vice-president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society and the Medical Society of London, as well as President of the Harveian Society of London (1853) and fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1871.[1] His address to the Society was On the mechanism by which the first sound of heart is produced.

He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1851, and filled almost every post of honour it could offer, except the presidency, in the contest for which he was beaten by Sir Andrew Clark in 1888. In 1881, he was asked by Queen Victoria to attend prime minister Benjamin Disraeli during his last few days. He later, in 1890, became physician-extraordinary to the Queen, and was created a baronet of Harley Street in the County of London and of Carrigoon in Mallow in the County of Cork, in the following year.[3]

He sat on the Royal Commission on Rinderpest (cattle plague) in 1865.[3]

Quain was the author of several memoirs, dealing for the most part with disorders of the heart, but his name will be best remembered by the Dictionary of Medicine, the preparation of which occupied him from 1875 to 1882 (2nd edition, 1894; 3rd, 1902).


Quain's article on fatty disease of the heart was published in 1850, but probably his major contribution was his editorship the multi-authored textbook of medicine, Quain's Dictionary of Medicine,[4] which became the bible of all medical practitioners in the United Kingdom. It was published in 1882 after seven years' meticulous preparation by Quain. The work filled a gap in contemporary medical writing and sold over 30,000 copies; a second edition followed in 1894.

Quain was very prominent in affairs of medicine, being a censor and council member of the College of Physicians and was narrowly defeated by Sir Andrew Clark in 1888 in the election for the position of president. He became physician-extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1890 and was created a baronet in the following year.

He was active on many committees but probably the most important of these contributions was the Royal Commission to enquire into the nature and causes and methods of prevention of the cattle plague. This commission included a number of famous people such as Dr. Henry Bence Jones (1813–1873) and Dr. Edmond Alexander Parkes (1819–1876). Quain vehemently sided with the section that wanted the extermination of the plague at any price and was opposed in this by a number of the members of the commission, including Bence Jones. Quain's work and particularly letters he wrote to newspapers and magazines turned the tide and the recommendations to exterminate were carried out with success.

Appointed a Crown nominee in 1863, Quain became chairman of its Pharmacopoeia Committee in 1874 and took a major part in the preparation of the Additions to the British Pharmacopoeia of 1867 (1874) and of the British Pharmacopoeias of 1885 and 1898. He was chosen as a member of the Senate of London University in 1860 and was one of the organisers of the Brown Institution.

Quain was regarded universally as a fine physician, but apparently achieved his results by intuition and instinct rather than by analysis of the patient's problems. "Utility and progress" was his favourite motto. Quain's renown as a physician was due not only to the sound commonsense that he brought to bear in diagnosis, but also to the good-humoured geniality that he showed to patients and friends,

He was famous for his epigrammatic quotes, and regarded as a fine raconteur and club member of the Garrick and Athenaeum, his broad Irish accent adding colour to the stories he told. In 1890 he was appointed physician extraordinary to Queen Victoria and in 1891 became a baronet.

  • A Dictionary of Medicine. London, 1882. 3rd edition, Longmans Green, 1894. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1883.
  • A Dictionary of medicine : including general pathology, general therapeutics, hygiene and the diseases of women and children ; by various writers ; ed. by Richard Quain ; assisted by Frederick Thomas Roberts and J. Mitchell Bruce ; with an American appendix by Samuel Treat Armstrong. New York : D. Appleton and Co., 1894


  • Quain's fatty heart — Fatty degeneration of the muscle fibres of the heart.[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Power 1901.
  2. Obituary Sir Richard Quain, Bart., M.D., F.R.C.P., F.R.S. BMJ 1898;1:793 doi:10.1136/bmj.1.1942.793
  3. 3.0 3.1 Public Domain Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Quain, Sir Richard". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Review: Dictionary of Medicine". The Lancet: 854–856. 8 November 1882.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Dorland's Medical Dictionary (1938)


  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Quain, Sir Richard". Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 709.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  •  Power, D'Arcy (1901). [ "Quain, Richard (1816-1898)" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). In Sidney Lee (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>