Correspondence and Papers of the Goodsir Family

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The correspondence and papers of the Goodsir Family includes material relating to John Goodsir, Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University, his father John Goodsir, surgeon of Anstruther, his grandfather John Goodsir, surgeon of Largo, and his brothers Harry Duncan Spence Goodsir, surgeon, and Rev. Joseph Taylor Goodsir. Among the correspondence are letters from and relating to Henry Mackenzie, the author of The man of feeling. Among the papers are notes by Harry D. S. Goodsir on crustacea; Goodsir diplomas; the dissecting room notebook of Professor Goodsir, and notes of his lectures; and, diary of Joseph Taylor Goodsir covering the years 1850-1870. At Dc.5.129 is a medical notebook with a description of rickets, circa 1769, owned by John Goodsir, surgeon of Anstruther. At Gen. 1428 are Professor Goodsir's lectures on anatomy, 1862-63. At E2006.29 are four sets of Chinese anatomical diagrams from the collection of Professor Goodsir.

Administrative / Biographical History

The family of Goodsir had been settled on the east coast of Fife for several generations and the name was said to have been German. John Goodsir was born in Anstruther, Fife, on 20 March 1814. Goodsir was the son of Dr. John Goodsir of Anstruther and the grandson of Dr. John Goodsir of Largo in Fife. He was educated in Anstruther and then at St. Andrews where he followed four years of an Arts course but did not take a degree. In 1830 he was apprenticed to an Edinburgh surgeon-dentist and at the same time he attended medical and anatomy classes and learned practical surgery. In 1835 he took charge of the practice, and that year also obtained the license of the Royal College of Surgeons, though he did not take the M.D. degree. He then joined his father in practice in Anstruther. While there in dental practice, Goodsir wrote his first piece of scientific work, On the origin and development of the pulps and sacs of the human teeth (1839). He also gave time to research in marine zoology, geology and archaeology, and wrote on anatomy and physiology. In 1840 Goodsir went to Edinburgh and in 1841 he was appointed Conservator of the Royal College of Surgeons Museum, and in 1842 he moved to the University becoming Curator of the University's Anatomical Museum. On the death of Alexander Monro, tertius (1773-1859), he was elected as Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University. His enthusiasm soon raised the Anatomy Department from the bad state into which it had fallen under Monro. He described the anatomy of the horse and electric fish, and in 1847 he began a course of summer lectures on the invertebrata. Goodsir investigated cellular physiology and pathology and insisted on the importance of the cell as the centre of nutrition. He claimed that the cell was divided into a number of departments. His work influenced that of the German physiologist Rudolf (Carl) Virchow (1821-1902) who offered insights into pathological processes. In 1853, Goodsir's health began to deteriorate - wasting of the spinal cord - and much of his lecturing tasks were delegated to assistants, although he continued with his museum work. John Goodsir died at Wardie, Edinburgh, on 6 March 1867. Goodsir's brother Harry Duncan Spence Goodsir succeeded him as Conservator of the Royal College of Surgeons Museum. Harry Goodsir sailed with the ill-fated Franklin Expedition in 1845, and perished with it.

Conditions Governing Access

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Note

The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Dictionary of national biography, Vol.8. Glover-Harriott (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1908). (2) The university portraits, compiled by D. Talbot Rice (Edinburgh: University Press, 1957). (3) Goodsir, John The new encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol.5. Micropedia, 15th ed. (Chicago and London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991). (4) Virchow, Rudolf (Carl) The new encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol.12. Micropedia, 15th ed. (Chicago and London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991).

Other Finding Aids

An important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987.

Related Material

The Index to Manuscripts shows, at various shelfmarks, references to diplomas of Professor Goodsir at Da.Cyl., letters of Goodsir, class certificates signed by him, notes of his lectures on anatomy taken down by others, and various anatomy class lists.

Additional Information

The biographical history was compiled using the following material: (1) Dictionary of national biography, Vol.8. Glover-Harriott (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1908). (2) The university portraits, compiled by D. Talbot Rice (Edinburgh: University Press, 1957). (3) Goodsir, John The new encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol.5. Micropedia, 15th ed. (Chicago and London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991). (4) Virchow, Rudolf (Carl) The new encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol.12. Micropedia, 15th ed. (Chicago and London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991).