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Biographical entry Kiernan, Francis (1800 - 1874)

MRCS Nov 7th 1825; FRCS Dec 11th 1843 one of the original 300 Fellows; FRS 1834.

2 October 1800
31 December 1874
General surgeon


Born in Ireland on Oct 2nd, 1800. His father was a Member of the London College of Surgeons, and Francis was the eldest of his four children. His parents came to live in England, and he was sent at an early age to the Roman Catholic College at Ware, Hertfordshire, where he laid the foundations of his future successes. Entering as a student at St Bartholomew's Hospital, he began to study anatomy, and so distinguished himself in its pursuit that he began to give private demonstrations in his rooms in Charterhouse Square, where a numerous class of students gathered. As a successful teacher he caused jealousy in many quarters. In 1825 - whether before or after he had qualified is not recorded - the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons passed a resolution refusing to receive certificates from any but recognized teachers. This was a heavy blow to young Kiernan. His large class melted away rapidly. He petitioned the Council to rescind their resolution, and was strongly supported by the Surgeons to St Bartholomew's Hospital, Messrs Vincent, Lawrence, and Lloyd, who stated that the advantages he had derived from having devoted himself to the cultivation of anatomy and surgery in the most celebrated schools of France and Italy rendered him in all respects well qualified to act as a teacher, and therefore strongly recommended him to the favourable attention of the Court of Examiners. Kiernan's petition, however, was not granted by the Council, and William Lawrence indicted their treatment of Kiernan and others in speeches to which the Lancet refers as 'celebrated'. The whole matter is set forth in that journal in the years 1824-1826. Kiernan, deprived of his occupation as a teacher, had now time to devote himself to science. He qualified MRCS in November, 1825, and thenceforward devoted himself to a minute investigation of the anatomy and physiology of the liver, which involved important discoveries and gave him a European reputation. He published the result of his labours in the Philosophical Transactions (1833, cxxiii, 711) and then as a reprint: The Anatomy and Physiology of the Liver (4to, 4 plates, London, 1833). For this he was elected a FRS and awarded the high honour of the Copley Medal. Kiernan was active in the formation of London University in 1837. He was a Member of the Senate from the first, and was early elected one of the Examiners in Anatomy and Physiology, an office which he held for many years. From 1850-1867 he was a Member of Council of the Royal College of Surgeons, having been twice re-elected. In 1860 he was invited by the President to deliver the Hunterian Oration, but declined owing to his shyness as a public speaker. In 1862 he was elected a Member of the Court of Examiners in succession to Edward Stanley (qv), who had died suddenly at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Kiernan had never been a hospital surgeon, and accordingly the hospital surgeons on the Council felt that Richard Partridge (qv) would perhaps be a better examiner. There was a ballot and the votes were equally divided between Kiernan and Partridge, but on another ballot he was elected by one vote.

In 1864 he became one of the College Vice-Presidents by seniority, but in 1865 suffered from a stroke of paralysis, which, though he partially recovered, impaired his speech to the end of his life. In 1867, owing to the state of his health, he declined re-election as an Examiner, but he continued to take a warm interest in College affairs, and shortly before his death sent to the Museum the whole of his collection of microscopical preparations of the liver. This collection had long been known to the public, both at home and abroad. He had been visited by many interested foreigners, and on one occasion a Frenchman, after picking Kiernan's brain, so to speak, published Kiernan's discoveries as his own. This outrageous piece of plagiarism was, however, shown up after long and tiresome correspondence.

Kiernan had travelled in Greece and Italy, was a connoisseur in art, and made a very large and fine collection of engravings of the religious subjects of the Old Masters, which he presented to his nephew, Henry Francis Searle. His collection of portraits he gave to his devoted medical attendant, Edwin Sass. He died unmarried at his residence, 30 Manchester Street, Manchester Square, W, on Thursday, Dec 31st, 1874. The investigations of Kiernan on the liver, and of Bowman on the kidney, are the first-fruits in England of the introduction to natural science of the microscope in its modern form.

In addition to those mentioned Kiernan wrote: A Practical Treatise…on Venereal Disease…to which is Prefixed an Account of the Establishment and Regulations of the Lock Dispensary, 8vo, London, 1815.

Sources used to compile this entry: [For an admirable life of Kiernan by "T M S" (Thomas Stone) see Med Times and Gaz, 1875, i, 22. In this one of Lawrence's suppressed speeches in support of Kiernan as a teacher is quoted. See also Lancet, 1875, i, 69].

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