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Biographical entry Redfern, Peter (1821 - 1912)

MRCS Aug 18th 1843; FRCS Aug 7th 1851; LSA 1844; MB Lond (Gold Medal in medicine) 1844; MD 1847; DSc Queen's University Belfast.

22 December 1912


Born at Chesterfield, the son of Peter Redfern, distinguished for scientific attainments; he was educated privately in classics, and then apprenticed for five years to Richard Collis Botham, who was Surgeon to the Chesterfield Union and Workhouse. Redfern and another apprentice, C E Black, who afterwards graduated with honours at the London University, were reported to Botham as having surreptitiously operated for squint on parish patients by the tenotomy method practised by Stromeyer. Redfern left Botham's house the next day and went to Edinburgh with an introduction to Robert Knox, the anatomist. He there came under the teaching of Goodsir in anatomy and the early development of histology, also under Hughes Bennett in medicine. Redfern gained prizes and gold medals both at Edinburgh and at the London University.

In 1842 Goodsir had lectured on cartilage, and he directed Redfern to make further researches upon that subject - the histological structure, the absence, unlike bone, of repair by the reproduction of its own substance, and the changes it undergoes in disease, of which he published a number of papers based on examination by the compound microscope. Through Goodsir and Knox, Redfern was appointed in 1845, at the age of 24, Lecturer on Anatomy and Physiology at King's College, Aberdeen. He pursued there his observations on articular cartilage, including a series of ninety experiments on the healing of cartilage, chiefly in dogs, between 1849 and 1851. Redfern became widely known as a teacher of anatomy, and in May, 1860, was appointed Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Queen's College, Belfast, in succession to Hugh Carlisle, the first professor. At the original establishment of the College a Faculty of Medicine had not been included, but by 1860 seventy-nine students were in attendance in the Anatomical Department at the back of the Royal Academical Institution, at some distance from the College. Redfern was able to induce the authorities to construct an Anatomical Department and Museum adjacent to the College. By 1866 the attendance of students in anatomy and physiology had risen to 156, and to 325 in 1881-1882, attracted by the teaching of Redfern and his colleagues, Andrews and Gordon. Redfern was an enthusiast who held that a knowledge of anatomy could only be acquired by dissection; he was a masterly lecturer who brought before his class the application of anatomy to medicine and surgery. He took few holidays, even during the last ten years of his life, and often worked far into the night preparing the next day's lecture. He examined for anatomy in the Universities of Aberdeen, Ireland, and London.

Beyond his early work on cartilage he made no further original observations on anatomy, but was occasionally consulted in the early days of the use of the microscope. In 1852 he examined water for the Watford Water Company, and in 1853, mineral and varieties of coal for the Gillespie and Russell trial at Edinburgh over the lease of a supposed bed of coal (see Jour Microsc Soc, 1855, iii, 106).

As regards the physiology of that day, as one of the secretaries at the British Association Aberdeen Meeting in 1859, he read a paper before Prince Albert on the volitional as well as the sensorial power of the spinal cord. Also in 1874 at the Belfast Meeting, celebrated for the Tyndall and Huxley discussions, he was one of the general secretaries. At the British Medical Association Meeting at Belfast in 1884 he gave the address on physiology.

Redfern lived by the seaside, at Temple Patrick House, Donaghadee, where he spent his holidays, surrounded by his family, occupying himself in gardening and planting fruit trees and shrubs. He resigned and retired there as Emeritus Professor after 1893, his colleagues, pupils, and friends marking the occasion by the presentation of his portrait, which now hangs in the Examination Hall of Queen's University.

He had celebrated his ninety-first birthday on Dec 17th, 1912, when he caught cold and died on the following Dec 22nd, the senior FRCS. His portrait is reproduced in Keith's Menders of the Maimed, 1919, and in the British Medical Journal. He left over £96,000. He married into a well-known Aberdeen family, his wife being a distant relative of Joseph Black, the chemist. They had issue three sons and five daughters, one son, Dr J J Redfern, being Physician to the Croydon Hospital.

"On Abnormal Nutrition in Articular Cartilages." - Monthly Jour of Med Sci, Edinburgh, 1849, ix, 967, 1065, 1112, 1275.
"On Normal Nutrition in the Human Articular Cartilages, with Experimental Researches." - Ibid, 1850, x, 214.
"On the Healing of Wounds in Articular Cartilages" - Ibid, 1851, xiii, 201.
"On the Thickness of the Articular Cartilages at Different Periods of Life." - Ibid, 1854, xviii, 21.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit Med Jour, 1913, i, 51].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England