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Biographical entry Wood Jones, Frederic (1879 - 1954)

FRS 1925; MRCS 11 February 1904; FRCS by election 10 April 1930; LRCP 1904; BSc London 1903; MB BS 1904; DSc London 1910, Adelaide 1920, Melbourne 1934; FRACS 1935; FZS.

23 January 1879
29 September 1954
Anatomist, Anthropologist and Medical Officer


Born on 23 January 1879 at Hackney, where his father was a builder and slate merchant, the family prospered and moved to Enfield, but his father died young and "Freddy" was brought up by his mother, whom he resembled in vivid good looks and alert mentality. He was educated at the London Hospital, qualifying in 1904. Having come under the influence of Arthur Keith, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship, he devoted himself to anatomy. As house physician to Sir Henry Head he became interested in neurology, and twenty years later during the first world war did good work in the treatment of nerve injuries and in the elucidation of trick movements. This interest was further displayed in his book The Matrix of the Mind, written with S D Porteous (1928).

From June 1905 to September 1906 he served as medical officer at the cable station on the Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean, a post he took from his love of the sea and desire to study sea-birds and the natural history of an unspoiled island. In fact he produced a masterly study of the formation of coral reefs (Coral and Atolls, London 1910) which replaced Darwin's theory and led to his questioning much of Darwin's teaching. He also met his future wife, Gertrude daughter of George Clunies-Ross the Governor of the Islands.

After a brief period in England, when he assisted Keith at the London Hospital Medical College and was married, he went to Egypt to assist Grafton Elliot Smith and G A Reisner in exploring ancient Nubian cemeteries; their report made great additions to knowledge in palaeopathology and physical anthropology. During 1908-12 he worked in England, as assistant to F G Parsons in the Anatomy department at St Thomas's Hospital and to Elliot Smith at Manchester University. He took the DSc in 1910 and was appointed the first Professor of Anatomy at the School of Medicine for Women (Royal Free Hospital) London in 1912.

He held this post till 1919, but for much of 1914-18 was working in the RAMC at the Special Military Surgical Hospital at Shepherd's Bush. He was Arris and Gale Lecturer at the College in 1915, 1916, and 1919, enlarging the earlier lectures to form his book Arboreal Man (1916), which sought to change ideas on man's primitive origins; his clinical work led to his stimulating and successful book Principles of Anatomy as seen in the Hand (1920), followed much later by his similar Structure and Function as seen in the Foot (1944).

He was elected in 1919, through the help of Sir Henry Newland FRCS, to the Elder chair of Anatomy at Adelaide University, in succession to Archibald Watson FRCS, and spent eighteen years in Australia, where he became very much at home. He was elected FRS in 1925. He resigned his post at Adelaide in 1926 on appointment as Professor of Physical Anthropology at the Rockefeller University in Hawaii, but after three years there he became (1930) Professor of Anatomy at Melbourne University, in succession to R J A Berry. During 1932-33 he went on leave from Melbourne to be Director of the American sponsored Peiping University Medical College in China. It was at this time that he applied unsuccessfully to succeed Keith as Conservator of the Hunterian Museum.

During his years in Melbourne Wood Jones explored most of the islands off the coast of Victoria, often taking parties of his students to survey the fauna and flora for the McCoy Society. A film which he made at this time is deposited at the Department of History of Medicine at Melbourne University (1968).

He came back to England in 1938 to succeed J S B Stopford as Professor of Anatomy at Manchester. When he retired in 1945, he was invited to fill the newly endowed Sir William Collins chair of Comparative and Human Anatomy at the College, with the Conservatorship of the Hunterian Museum, the intention being that he should restore the war-damaged Museum, which he successfully achieved. He retired from the Professorship in 1951 but continued as Honorary Conservator.

He died after some months of failing health from cancer of the lung on 29 September 1954 aged 75, survived by his wife, who died on 12 October 1957, fifty years after their marriage.

Wood Jones was elected a Hunterian Trustee in 1944, was Arris and Gale Lecturer in 1947, and was awarded the Honorary Medal of the College in 1949. He served for many years on the Council of the Zoological Society.

Freddy Wood Jones was a ready writer and a skilful artist, who illustrated his own papers. Though he qualified as a surgeon, he might have achieved more as a research zoologist. His best work was done in comparative anatomy and zoology, and his happiest years were probably those spent at Cocos Keeling or in vacation cruises from Melbourne exploring the Australian islands. His views were always original and stimulating and usually expressed without reserve or regard for persons, since he enjoyed controversy without animosity. He was essentially a humble, friendly person interested in the pursuit of truth in natural history.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Memoirs: by Sir Arthur Keith Ann Roy Coll Surg Engl 1954, 15, 335 with good portrait; by Sir Wilfrid LeGros Clark (1) Journal of Anatomy 1955, 89, 255-260 with portrait, and bibliography by FWJ's personal assistant Miss Jessie Dobson MSc at p 260-267, and (2) Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 1955,1,119-129 with bibliography and portrait; by S Sunderland and K F Russell Medical Journal of Australia 1954, 2, 877 with a list of his published books. Portraits: The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons owns a portrait painted by McInnes in 1937; the Royal College of Surgeons has a good likeness painted posthumously by A Egerton Cooper from a photograph taken in the 1930s by Dr Julian Smith. Informal photographs, such as those reproduced in the Journal of Anatomy 1955 and in Sir Cecil Wakeley's Wood Jones memorial lecture, Ann Roy Coll Surg Engl 1964, 34, 359-369, give a better impression of his sensitive, quizzical appearance].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England