Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Kirk, John (1881 - 1959)

MRCS and FRCS 3 April 1952; MB ChB Edin 1904; FRCS Ed 1914.

27 November 1881
26 September 1959


Born on 27 November 1881 son of the Rev John Kirk and Eliza Walker Lewis of Edinburgh, he was educated at George Watson's College and at Edinburgh University, where he graduated MB ChB in 1904. After graduation he held the post of house-surgeon at the Mildmay Mission Hospital, Bethnal Green before going to New Zealand in 1906.

A deeply religious man, Kirk spent the years 1907 to 1928 in medical missionary work in China under the New Zealand Presbyterian Mission. He became lecturer in human anatomy at the Kung Yee Medical College, Canton and in 1924 was placed in charge of the new department of anatomy the first of its kind in South China. His leaves were spent profitably: in 1914 he took the FRCS, and in 1921-22 he was full-time demonstrator of anatomy at Birmingham University. Kirk was one of a small group of doctors who realised that it was their duty to establish modern medical education in China at a few well-equipped centres, and in 1920 he visited Canada and the USA as a member of the delegation financed by the Rockefeller Foundation to seek support for medical education and research in South China. In the result they founded three university medical schools. For six years Kirk was a member of the council on medical education of the Chinese Medical Association and was president from 1923 to 1925.

In 1928 Kirk returned to England and joined the staff of University College London as a demonstrator of anatomy; in 1930 he became senior demonstrator and was made responsible for the anatomy class for the primary FRCS students. Kirk made the dry bones of anatomy live, and his classes drew students from all over the world; he took a personal interest in his students. He became sub-dean of the Faculty of Medicine and was senior tutor in the Faculties of medicine, science, and engineering, and lecturer in anatomy to the Slade School of Fine Art.

In 1937 Kirk was appointed to the SA Courtauld chair of anatomy at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and retained this post until retirement in 1949. His superb knowledge of anatomy, vast experience, lucid delivery, and sincere interest in his students brought him much affection and respect. He was honorary treasurer of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland from 1937 to 1947 and a vice-president from 1947 to 1949, and examined for the Primary FRCS. On retirement he received the title of Professor Emeritus, and in 1952 he was elected FRCS.

Kirk who was a tall, handsome man, combined natural dignity with deep humanity. In 1908 he married Norah Elizabeth Hughes; they had two sons and one daughter. Kirk died on 26 September 1959 at his home Hopefield, Winscombe Way, Stanmore at the age of 77.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 29 September 1959 p 17 a, and 20 October p 15 c by H W S Wright; Brit med J 1959, 2, 698 with appreciation by E W Walls, p 830 by J W Dickson, p 1028 by W J E Jessop and 1960, 1, 433 by GWH; Lancet, 1959, 2, 571 by Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England