- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Sir Richard Quain, Baronet

Born  1816
Died  1898

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Irish physician, born October 30, 1816, Mallow-on-the-Blackwater, Cork County; died March 13, 1898, Harley Street, London.

Biography of Sir Richard Quain, Baronet

Richard Quain was the eldest child of John Quain of Carrigoon and Mary, daughter of Michael Burke of Mallow. He was sent to the Diocesan School at Cloyne for his early education and then, aged 15, apprenticed to the surgeon-apothecary Fraser in Limerick for five years. In 1837 he went to London and enrolled in medicine at the University College, where his cousins, Jones Quain (1796-1865), the anatomist, and Richard Quain, FRCS, held teaching posts. He graduated M.B. with honours in 1840.

Quain obtained his doctorate from the University of London in 1842 and received the golden medal for achievements in physiology and comparative anatomy. Later he was successively house surgeon and house physician at the University College Hospital and commenced practice in London, being in particular a protegé of professor Charles James Blasius Williams (1805-1889) at the University College. He soon had a busy practice, numbering an important clientel, with contacts to the most highly recognized persons.

In 1848 Quain 1848 was appointed assistant physician at the Brompton Hospital Diseases of the Chest. He was raised to full physician in 1855 and was made consulting physician in 1875. He held the same rank at the Seamen's Hospital, Greenwich, and the Royal Hospital for Consumption in Ventnor.

In 1846 Quain became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, a fellow in 1851. In 1862 a member of the council of this body, 1867 censor, 1877 senior censor. He was a co-founder of the Pathological Society in 1862, being elected its president in 1869. He was also a fellow and vice president of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society and the Medical Society of London, as well as President of the Harveian Society (1853) and fellow of the Statistical Society. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1871. His address to the Society was On the mechanism by which the first sound of heart is produced.

Quain’s article on fatty disease of the heart was published in 1850 but probably his major contribution was his editorship the multi-authored textbook of medicine, Quain’s Dictionary of Medicine which became the bible of all medical practitioners in the United Kingdom. It was published in 1882 after seven years' meticulous preparation by Quain. The work filled a gap in contemporary medical writing and sold over 30,000 copies; a second edition followed in 1894.

Quain was very prominent in affairs of medicine, being a censor and council member of the College of Physicians and was narrowly defeated by Sir Andrew Clark in 1888 in the election for the position of president. He became physician-extraordinary to Queen Victoria in 1890 and was created a Baronet in the following year.

He was active on many committees but probably the most important of these contributions was the Royal Commission to enquire into the nature and causes and methods of prevention of the cattle plague. This commission included a number of famous people such as Dr. Henry Bence Jones (1813-1873) and Dr. Edmond Alexander Parkes (1819-1876). Quain vehemently sided with the section that wanted the extermination of the plague at any price and was opposed in this by a number of the members of the commission, including Bence Jones. Quain’s work and particularly letters he wrote to newspapers and magazines turned the tide and the recommendations to exterminate were carried out with success.

Appointed a Crown nominee in 1863, Quain became chairman of its Pharmacopoeia Committee in 1874 and took a major part in the preparation of the Additions to the British Pharmacopoeia of 1867 (1874) and of the British Pharmacopoeias of 1885 and 1898. He was chosen as a member of the Senate of London University in 1860 and was one of the organisers of the Brown Institution.

Quain was regarded universally as a fine physician, but apparently achieved his results by intuition and instinct rather than by analysis of the patient’s problems. “Utility and progress” was his favourite motto. Quain's renown as a physician was due not only to the sound commonsense that he brought to bear in diagnosis, but also to the good-humoured geniality that he showed to patients and friends,

He was famous for his epigrammatic quotes, and regarded as a fine raconteur and club member of the Garrick and Athenaeum, his broad Irish accent adding colour to the stories he told. In 1890 he was appointed physician extraordinary to Queen Victoria and in 1891 became a baronet.

Quain was a cousin of Jones Quain, author of Elements of descriptive and practical anatomy, and of Richard Quain (1800-1887) who was president of the Royal College of Surgeons and who left £75.000 to University College, London. Richard Quain is eponymic for Quain's fatty degeneration of the heart.


  • A Dictionary of Medicine. London, 1882. 3rd edition, Longmans Green, 1894.
    New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1883.
  • A Dictionary of medicine : including general pathology, general therapeutics, hygiene and the diseases of women and children ; by various writers ; ed. by Richard Quain ; assisted by Frederick Thomas Roberts and J. Mitchell Bruce ; with an American appendix by Samuel Treat Armstrong.
    New York : D. Appleton and Co., 1894 Biographical etc:
  • Julius Pagel, publisher:
    Biographisches Lexikon hervorragender Ärzte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.
    Urban & Schwarzenberg, Berlin and Vienna, 1901.
  • August Hirsch, publisher:
    Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker.
    2nd edition. Berlin, Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1929.
    First published in 6 volumes 1884-1888. 3rd edition, München 1962.
  • Barry G. Firkin and Judith A. Whitworth:
    Dictionary of Medical Eponyms.
    The Parthenon Publishing Group. 1989. New edition in 2002.
  • Jones Quain (1796-1865):
    Elements of descriptive and practical anatomy.
    London, W. Simpkin & R. Marshall, 1828. 11th edition 1908-1929.

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