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Biographical entry Cave, Alexander James Edward (1900 - 1999)

MRCS and FRCS 1959; MB ChB Manchester 1923; MD 1937; DSc 1944; DSc London 1967.

13 September 1900


Alexander James Edward Cave was professor of anatomy at St Batholomew's Hospital and an acknowledged world expert in comparative anatomy. He was born in Manchester on 13 September 1900, the eldest son of John Cave, a schoolmaster and Therèse Anne, née D'Hooghe. He was educated at Manchester High School and Victoria University, Manchester, where he was much influenced by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith and J S B Stopford in anatomy. It was to anatomy that he returned on qualification, becoming first demonstrator and then lecturer at Leeds, before moving to University College London to be senior demonstrator of anatomy.

In 1935 he moved to the College, first as assistant conservator of the museum and then as Arnott demonstrator under Arthur Keith, until he was appointed professor of human and comparative anatomy in 1940. He held this post throughout the war, during which time he was responsible not only for the museum, but also for the allocation of anatomical subjects to evacuated metropolitan medical schools.

After the war he was appointed professor of anatomy at St Bartholomew's, and for the next two decades taught generations of Bart's medical students, with whom he was a popular and entertaining figure. They honoured him by making him treasurer and later president of the students' union and president or vice-president of the rugby, soccer and swimming clubs.

In the field of anatomy he was an enthusiast for comparative anatomy, devoting his time to studies of the rhinoceros, elephant, whale and dolphin, on which he became the unchallenged world expert. As the years passed Cave became an expert on palaeontology and wrote extensively on ancient Egypt and the archaeological material in the Hunterian Museum, as well as the pathology and posture of Neanderthal man. He was invited to help the dean and chapter of Canterbury Cathedral to examine relics supposed to be those of Thomas à Beckett (which he showed not to be) and was later invited to Salford to examine the skull of St Ambrose Barlow, his report enabling the Catholic bishop of Salford to authenticate the relic. He continued to contribute erudite and exact papers to the Journal of Zoology long after his retirement in 1967.

Innumerable honours came to him, including his election to the Fellowship. He was an examiner for the conjoint and the primary over a period of 30 years; he was the Wood Jones medallist in 1978, and from 1956 he was an assiduous Hunterian trustee. In 1948 he served as vice-president of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He was president of the Linnean Society from 1970 to 1973, vice-president and silver medallist of the Zoological Society of London and honorary associate of the British Museum (natural history) from 1974.

He married Dorothy May Dimbleby in 1926, by whom he had a daughter, Veronica. Dorothy predeceased him in 1961 and in 1970 he married for the second time, to Catherine Elizabeth Fitzgerald. His funeral Mass was celebrated by his grandson, Father Peter Madden.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England