Press Release

Press Release: An Anatomical School in Cork

“An Anatomical School in Cork”

John Woodroffe and the Cork Anatomists

This exhibition at the Jennings Gallery, UCC, celebrates the founding of the first Anatomy School in Cork two hundred years ago this year.  John Woodroffe was a Military Surgeon and an art enthusiast who believed passionately that a good understanding of anatomy was the first critical step to being a successful surgeon and also – a successful artist! He welcomed art students to his courses, including many who went on to be household names in Victorian Britain - Daniel Maclise, John Hogan and others. Many of his students went on to become famous anatomists, writing and illustrating superb anatomical atlases. Perhaps the most famous of these was Joseph Maclise, Daniel’s brother. At least one – Richard Butcher – became a President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. 

Using contemporary newspaper reports and other sources, the exhibition brings John Woodroffe to life as a teacher of enormous presence, a surgeon, an intellectual leader and controversial figure in Cork during the 1820s and 1830s. It charts the growth in medical education in the city such that by the time Woodroffe left in 1841, there were four medical schools employing seventeen teachers and supplying students to all the great medical schools in Dublin, Edinburgh and London.  For the first time, it shows a portrait of John Woodroffe and quotes at length from his lectures and letters.

The exhibition reveals the human bones excavated in Cove Street in 1980 and demonstrates that they were part of a teaching skeleton, probably from Woodroffe’s Cove Street school, and compares the copper hinges and nails that held them together with a female skeleton carved by John Hogan out of pinewood when he was a student at Woodroffe’s school. On a series of 8 panels, it demonstrates how anatomical illustration styles changed as the century wore on, and how the influence of the Cork anatomists persisted through multiple editions of their work.

For the first time, it presents a series of annual reports from the South Charitable Infirmary from 1814 to 1839  which show in detail how hospitals were run in those times and how they were funded. From these reports, we can see that Woodroffe regularly lectured to the public (on more than one occasion “specially adapted to a Female Auditory”) to raise funds for the hospital, acted as steward at fancy dress balls and even squeezed a few pounds out of his wealthier students from time to time, all to the benefit of the Infirmary.

This is a must for anyone with an interest in Cork’s intellectual history, particularly in that vibrant period between the ending of the Napoleonic Wars and the founding of Queens College Cork.


The Jennings Gallery

Áiléar Jennings

College of Medicine and Health, Brookfield Health and Science Complex, College Rd, UCC